Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Tag

Other   Leave a comment

Worldwide the identities of women, children and men are constructed around lies associated with being “Other.” These lies call into question their humanity and eliminates the identity of the individual.

I grew up as Other in the United States and since my departure, in February 2009, I have felt far freer in foreign lands than I ever felt at home. Specifically, in East and Central Africa, I’m recognized as Other based on my country of origin as opposed to my dark skin. Hence, there are no adjectives associated with my existence when people view me; I’m a man as opposed to a black man. Before Africa, my journey took me to various countries in South America where the dynamics of being black can be problematic. However being American provided a measure of protection against being looked down upon.

In childhood my orientation as Other began when I was questioned and searched by two overzealous white cops in my hometown, Harlem, New York – it was an unpleasant and senseless experience; I was ten-years old but looked younger because I was very skinny. Little did I know then that as an adult I would be racially profiled while driving in every city I worked: New York, New Jersey, New Orleans and Los Angeles. On one such stop a white police officer, in response to my voice, asked with an incredulous tone, “did you go to college or something?”

As a pedestrian, on a couple of occasions, my presence caused drivers to lock their doors and roll-up windows, and white women to clutch their handbags. I looked at them and shook my head while marveling at the ability of such Americans to ignore a fact: historically it has been blacks who have had to fear whites – innocent blacks have suffered physical and psychological harm by white Americans and are brutally overpoliced.

In an era when political discourse is increasingly characterized by xenophobic policies and woeful ignorance, people whose humanity is challenged based on such otherness labels as refugee, immigrant, Muslim, transgender, black, Latino – nonwhite – are at odds to find acceptance. And why? Well, it has much to do with a failure of white people to police their fears. However, the true problem isn’t fearful and malicious conservatives, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Thus, it cannot be overstated that to be silent in the face of how Others are demonized is to contribute to a lie.

The last eight-plus years have taught me how to comfortably embrace my otherness – the difference that I represent – and move beyond documenting stories that give credence to unchallenged mainstream opinions. The novelist Chimamanda Adichie gave a Ted Talk in which she warned, “if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Indeed, no people (or country) are one thing. It’s important to note, there’s a beauty to being Other when we appreciate differences and strive to be conscious of life’s complexities, and the situations Others are born into.

The following photographs are simple moments that characterize the daily lives of women, children and men who are often narrowly defined. These are wonderful individuals who permitted me to share in their lives:


Mutonya Village (Butiiti Parish – Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Kabahuma Esther, 18, plays with her son, Kazora Titaus, 8-months.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – Rose Mbabazi, 20, right, and her niece, Revecart Kengonzi, 12, peel cassava grown in their garden.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – Three South Sudanese children stop along a road which runs parallel to a field of maize grown by their parents.



Debeka Village, Ethiopia – Gumi Ayantu, 45, brews freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee beans in a Jabena (a boiling pot made of pottery). On the right her grandchild is entertained by a family member.



Katooke Town Council (Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Imelda Gafabusa, 70, exhausted from working in her field, falls asleep near her front door while waiting for heavy rains to end.



Tocana, Bolivia – Juana Vasquez, 71, heads home after picking coca leaves in the lush hills of the Yungas Valley; a tiny community made up mostly of Afro-Bolivians.



Bagua province (north Amazon), Peru – Gilmer Ugkaju Intakea Edad, 20, bottom, an Awajun, ferries passengers across the Chiriaco river.



Langata (a suburb of Nairobi), Kenya – A rainbow paints the sky.



Ayachucho, Peru – Children enjoy lunch.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – South Sudanese children play a game called “Father or Mother,” which involves hopping around a grid.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – Helen Agok Ageri, 5, candidly strikes a pose bringing her family to laughter.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – A group of South Sudanese girls play a game called “Sikadibaba,” that revolves around chasing and tagging.



Mutonya Village (Butiiti Parish – Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Angela Kabahenda, 21, prepares two of her children, Marian Nabbumba (six-years), right, and Junior Mayalla (four-years), left, for school.


A Child Labors for Gold

La Toma, Colombia – Margie Cecilia, 11-years old, labors for gold with family members at an open-pit mine.



Nyanza district, Rwanda – After an extended peroid of walking and standing Gasaza Siliveri, 97, sits and rests before going out for a scheduled trip.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – Rose Mbabazi, 20, surveys her garden while picking carrots and sweet potatoes.



Tocana, Bolivia – An Afro-Bolivian girl washes her hair.


May 26, 2009 - Tocana, Bolivia - An Afro-Bolivian hunter returns home at dusk.

Tocana, Bolivia – An Afro-Bolivian man returns home from hunting.



El Carmen, Peru – Peruvians participate in a procession honoring Our Lord of Miracles (Senor de los Milagros). It’s a widely attended religious event.


Mother's Day - Peru

Lima, Peru – Peruvians place flowers and clean their mother’s hard-to-reach burial sites, at The Angel Cemetery, on Mother’s Day.



Nairobi (Kilimani), Kenya – Muslims pray at a mosque.


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi, Kenya – A Kenyan woman carries basins and buckets to collect water in the community of Mathare.


Dilemma of Education

Obira Village (Nwoya District), Uganda – Timo, 9, (he has no last name because he has not been baptized yet) helps his mother, Joyce Pacoryema, 42, cover their family’s maize with a tarp; it’s about to start raining.



Yapatara, Peru – In the northern section of the country several Afro-Peruvian men play cards.



El Carmen, Peru – Neighbors relax in their communty.




Empowering Youth In Kenya   Leave a comment

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

In December 2013 approximately 400 youth bunge (Swahili for parliament) members from Garissa, Kenya met to elect local representatives. Garissa is a predominantly Muslim (Somali) town. It is a hub in the ongoing humanitarian food aid program into the northeast of Kenya.


The country’s youth bunges serve as a counterweight to political apathy and unemployment while helping to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow. The youth come together from different villages to join as bunge members. The bunges serve as a youth-owned, youth-led and youth-managed space for young Kenyans to develop leadership skills and promote decision-making about their priorities.

 Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

The bunge model was introduced by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), based on significant research into the causes of Kenya’s post-election violence during 2007/2008, where youth were both victims and perpetrators. “The research showed that youth had no confidence in civil society or in the existing public or private institutions in Kenya. They wanted to run their own organizations and to help strengthen Kenya’s post-election recovery. Simply put, they wanted to be empowered,” says Dwaine Lee, director of the Education and Youth Office at USAID/Kenya.


Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

According to Kenya’s 2009 census over a third of the national population, that numbered 40 million, are youth (defined by the government as 18 to 35) and the vast majority are out of school with no regular work or income. Bunges give them an opportunity to coalesce around what they need and expect from Kenya’s elected leaders.

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Garissa Youth Bunge Forum

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Elephant Orphans and Ivory   3 comments

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Since 2012 the poaching of elephants in Africa has been on the rise, fueled mostly by Far East countries, notably China where much of the material ends up on sale. The number of elephants being poached is now at the highest it has been for two decades, according to a United Nations backed report. Orphaned elephants are one of the effects of the ivory trade.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Elephants also become orphans after they become trapped in wells or due to human related disasters. The most successful orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world is The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Trust has 26 orphaned elephants at its elephant nursery in Nairobi, Kenya.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Baby elephants are extremely difficult to care for and so are attended to 24-hours each day. They are attended to by a team of “Keepers” who represent a family and replace the orphan’s lost elephant mother. Working as a team the “Keepers” prevent the orphaned elephants from becoming too attached to just one person; the animals mirror humans in terms of emotion.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Eventually all elephant orphans are rehabilitated back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo National Park when grown, a transition that is made at each elephant’s own pace; it usually takes between eight to ten years. They live for approximately 70 years in the wild. The Trust’s fostering program is key to the success of its orphans’ project. For a minimum donation of $50 (per elephant) individuals may foster an animal for one year. The program is of great importance given the problem of poaching.

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Despite a 1989 ban on international trade in ivory elephants continue to be killed for their prized tusks. According to a BBC report, last year saw the highest number of large seizures of illegal ivory for more than two decades. In several African countries a fierce battle is being waged by African law-enforcement and conservation groups against poachers.

 Elephant Orphans and Ivory

Kenya is a major transportation hub for ivory. Reportedly, nearly 85% of ivory seized from around the world, that could be traced, had come from or passed through East Africa, much of it via the international airport at Nairobi. Its destination? “Ninety per cent of all the people we have arrested at the airport ferrying ivory are Chinese,” said Julius Kipng’etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. “The destinations of all contraband ivory are always neighboring countries around China.”

Additional photographs by Ric Francis may be viewed at

Elephant Orphans and Ivory

EU Supermarkets Blamed for Kenya Food Waste   Leave a comment

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

The landscape of a farm, just outside the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, is occupied by half a dozen women harvesting French beans for European Union (EU) supermarkets. After collection the women will pre-grade the beans, discarding 10 to 20-percent because of standards set by EU supermarkets. Thereafter a pack-house (where the beans are cut and packaged for shipment), for one of the top exporting horticultural companies in Kenya, will examine and discard another 15 to 35-percent. This practice has contributed to claims that European Union supermarkets are to blame for food waste in Kenya.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

According to an executive with a Kenyan horticultural company, who insisted neither he nor his pack-house be identified because of possible repercussions from EU companies, “we waste on average between 15 to 35-percent of our crops because of the high specifications set for appearance (size, shape and color) by EU supermarkets.” He went on to explain, “if you took all the vegetable and fruit exporters in Kenya and collected all the produce we’re forced to discard because of EU standards, we could feed all of Kenya’s poor and hungry. One hundred percent of our French bean crop is produced for their market. It’s not a Kenyan food. We’re trying to get our people to eat it but the local market will only take small quantities. If the EU would lower its specifications the food we grow would be of greater value, and we could then invest more into feeding Kenyans.” Unfortunately donating the rejected produce isn’t practical for farmers because of transportation and storage costs; it’s used as feed for pigs and cows.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

According to the Kenyan government, 30-percent of Kenyan children are undernourished and 10 million people suffer from food shortages and poor nutrition. Wasted food also represents a major loss of water, energy, fertilizers and land.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

At the pack-house, which received delivery from the farm described at the beginning, approximately a third of each French bean is cut off before being packed in small packets; the beans have a slight curve and packets for EU supermarkets are short and straight.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

In February the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held a three-course meal, in Nairobi, to highlight a campaign to cut massive levels of global food waste. Hundreds of ministers, diplomats and other high-level officials dined on food grown by Kenyan farmers but rejected by United Kingdom supermarkets due to cosmetic imperfections. It was done in support of the global Think.Eat.Save.Reduce Your Foodprint – an initiative launched in January by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners such as Feeding the 5,000.

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste

Food waste is a global issue. A UN study indicates that globally one-third of all food produced, 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted or lost annually, while 925 million people around the world are threatened by starvation.

“Post harvest is the problem in the world, not production,” said the Kenyan executive who refused to be identified. “We can be so much more efficient with feeding people with what we already produce.”

EU Supermarkets and Kenya Food Waste
Additional work by Ric Francis may be viewed on his website

Nairobi’s Mathare Slums   1 comment


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi’s Mathare slums, situated three miles east of the city’s central business district, are considered one of the worst in Africa. They are home to over 600,000 people occupying an area of two miles long by one mile wide. The residents struggle with limited access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

George Gawo, 28, left, stands in what once was his mother’s bedroom. On the right is Peter Gawo, 28, his brother, standing in another section of the family’s burned down three-room shanty. The Gawos attribute the destruction to political violence.

The Mathare slums are notorious for criminal activity, particularly by gang members; it’s  called the most dangerous community in Nairobi. Recently the area has been plagued by fires which have left hundreds homeless. Suspicious fires on Christmas eve, which resulted in over 300 shanties burned and three deaths, triggered what the police have termed retaliatory fires by rival gangs.

Residents expressed fears of further attacks as tension remains high in the area. “The houses were razed because of hatred among people. People on this side and people on the other side are not getting along, but I don’t know what is causing these differences. So many people have been affected,” stated a resident who identified himself as Maish. Many residents fearing for their lives refuse to speak with reporters to avoid being identified by the groups responsible for havoc in the area.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Police have ruled out any political or tribal causes for the burned shanties. However there are those in the community, such as George Gawo, 28, a Luo (Kenya’s second largest ethnic group), who disagree with the police and believe they conducted a poor investigation.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

George Gawo stands amid the ruins of shanties destroyed by a fire.

“There are local leaders who aspire for power. They influence gangs to do such things. Five years ago similar fires occurred in Mathare a few months before the elections, so that the majority tribe forced out the minority. Luos were forced to leave after their homes were torched. Kikuyus (Kenya’s largest ethnic group) were then able to vote their candidate into office,” said Gawo. In 2007 Kenya president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo, in a highly disputed election.

With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013, tribal conflict and violence are a major concern. Hence, many Mathare residents are uneasy about the recent fires. Gawo along with seven siblings and their mother have taken refuge with neighbors and friends following the burning of their three-room shanty. He and three family members were home when the fires started; they quickly fled with no time to grab any possessions. “Many people were in church for overnight prayers so injuries were not many. We lost everything and had to borrow clothes from friends, said Peter Gawo, 23.

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

In the weeks that have followed only a few people have started rebuilding; landlord Muthoni Kamau, 65, stood nearby supervising as three of her tenants removed debris from their shanties. She said twenty of her rented shanties were burned to the ground but was thankful that none of her tenants were injured. Kamau, a Kikuyu, would hear nothing of tribal violence being responsible for the fires. She agreed with the police assertion that the fires were the mindless act of hooligans. Despite the disagreement all agreed that violence was far to common in Mathare.

Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at

Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Mock State Burial – Kenya   Leave a comment

Approximately 500 Kenyan activists held a mock state burial and burnt 221 caskets in front of the Parliament building on January 16. The 221 caskets represented each member of Parliament. The mock burial symbolized the public’s rejection of hefty perks that the outgoing members of Parliament were demanding as a send-off package; the 10th Parliament officially closed on Jan. 15.

Mock State Burial

The members of Parliament had awarded themselves a lucrative package including 9.5 million shillings ($108,758) each and a guarantee of a state burial, however the send-off package was rejected by Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.

Mock State Burial

The mock state burial was also meant to signify the end of one era and the birth of another, with presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 4, 2013.

Mock State Burial

Ric Francis is an independent photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. His portfolio can be viewed at

No Photos!   3 comments

Recently I was online viewing the portfolios of legendary photographers Roy DeCarava, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier Bresson. I marveled at their artistic and documentary oriented bodies of work. I’m an independent photojournalist, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and I appreciate the work of photographers who combine documentary with an artistic vision. Seemingly past generations of photographers could document communities, with an eye towards spontaneity and creativity, without the challenges faced by photographers today. Undoubtedly they too had to deal with the occasional citizen who would just as well have tarred and feathered a photographer than be photographed.

Today, disturbingly, such an attitude is embraced by far too many. It’s not so much that photographers are viewed as annoying, there’s a widespread opinion of photographers as security threats. The public, and law enforcement officials, have become increasingly suspicious of our actions. While paranoia rules so too does misunderstanding. No person taking photographs with criminal intent would blatantly lay on their stomach or stand on a bench (photographers are always searching for a good angle) on a public street and spend hours exposing themselves for all to see. A would-be bad guy surveying a building, to commit an act of terrorism, would discreetly do so using a cellphone camera.

No Photos!

Digital camera technology has ushered in an era in which there is an ease to taking quick point and shoot photographs, and many people do so. However for any photographer who works in a documentary style these can be difficult times. Going out to photograph unposed and candid moments invites not just suspicion, but confrontation or even assault.   Recently after spending two weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I decided to return to Nairobi via bus (1081 miles); I even hitchhiked on the back of Kenyan military  vehicle. I made three overnight stays in small towns along the way so it took three days to arrive in Nairobi. No Photos!From the start it was apparent that taking photographs was an invitation for trouble: at an outdoor bus station I was surrounded and confronted by approximately thirteen Ethiopian men (they appeared to be private citizens), who took issue with me photographing the early morning activity of buses and people coming and going. One man shouted in English, “no photos!” The situation felt unnecessarily tense and unsafe but eventually, with assistance from an English and Amharic speaking bystander, I got them to calm down and go away. This set the tone for the entire trip. Consequently, I had to take photographs zone focusing (estimating the distance from my subjects) while shooting from my hip or discreetly from bus windows. Periodically I would ask permission to take photographs but more often than not was refused or money was demanded. Upon my return to Nairobi I exchanged emails with my ex-wife about the experience, and she reminded me about the long history of foreigners painting unfavorable portrayals of Africans. Indeed, peoples of Third World countries are sensitive to outsiders not only telling their stories – from a Western perspective – but profiting as well. Undoubtedly they’re also worried about strangers committing acts of terrorism. All of which I can understand but it was a frustrating and unnecessarily confrontational experience just the same.

No Photos!

It would be easy to dismiss the problems I experienced as symbolic of living in a region where the rights of photojournalist have not long been respected. However photojournalist in the United States, and elsewhere in the Western world, experience similar problems. Security issues have dramatically altered the manner in which people perceive threats. Such is the nature of the world in which we live. It’s a world in which concerns about safety increasingly clash with basic freedoms. “Those who would sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither,” stated Benjamin Franklin. His words are as apt today as they were during the American revolutionary war.

No Photos!

During my ordeal at the Ethiopian bus station I was told that someone in the crowd suggested I could be a spy. The accuser lacked commonsense. It goes without saying that there are militant groups and unstable individuals who aim to inflict harm upon others. Nevertheless, democratic societies cannot permit themselves to become open-aired prisons in which self-appointed guardians, or law enforcement officials, can prohibit the right of individuals to take photographs, on a public street, be it in Ethiopia, Kenya or the U.S.   The body of work created by photographers of yesteryear provided an important historical, cultural and artistic archive of our collective past. Unhampered access to public places, foreign or otherwise, must remain so for the benefit of future generations.

No Photos!

No Photos!

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