30 May 2014

US Embassy Town Hall Meeting

Q. "Should we still have friends and family visit us in Kenya?"
A. "The reality is that there’s no guarantee of safety anywhere in this world. But let me say this: if your friends and family members come to visit you, they will enjoy their time in Kenya and will have an adventure! Yes, Americans should continue to come to Kenya and when they get here, they’ll experience the beauty of this country and her people. My wife and I have relatives arriving for a visit in a few weeks and I personally know folks that are coming soon for work. 
 "The travel warnings issued by the US Embassy in Kenya are so you can have accurate and up-to-date information and so you can make your own decisions. Read them… but have your people come! Indeed, be cautious, but do not be overly afraid."

Robert F. Godec, US Ambassador to Kenya, taking a question from an American citizen

The Q&A interaction quoted above was from a town hall meeting yesterday, hosted by the US Ambassador, Robert Godec and his wife, Lori. I’ve attended several of these in the 12 years I’ve lived in Kenya and find them to be quite informative. It’s also fun to see a crowd of 400 Americans all gathered in one place and to chat with a few of them.

Godec: “Thank you for coming today. Please help yourselves to the snacks and beverages. The purpose of inviting you today is to have an ‘open conversation’ regarding recent events - to answer your questions and to dispel rumors that are currently floating about in the local media."

Sampling of the delicious (!) snacks

Ambassador Godec: “In spite of recent events, let me assure you that the US Embassy in Kenya is going nowhere and will not be closed. Our relationship with the government of Kenya is broad, resilient, and has a solid foundation of many decades. There are challenges, of course, but it is a strong relationship. Chief among the U.S. Embassy's goals are fostering the development of a sound Kenyan economy, strengthening the institutions of Kenyan democracy, helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and promoting US/Kenyan business ties.

“We are obligated to share personally and directly with you, like this forum today. Terrorism is a real threat around the world, not only in Kenya.  We are in daily – and sometimes hourly – communication with the Kenyan government regarding insecurity concerns. We work closely with them and, along with other international partners, provide a wide and robust range of support and security collaboration – such as sharing information, providing equipment, and training. The FBI, US Department of Defense, and several private security firms are also involved here in Kenya."

Ambassador Godec addressing the crowd
Ambassador Godec: “The US government has recently increased security at the US embassy and the Kenya government has done the same for us and other foreign embassies here. The US embassy in Nairobi is one of the largest in the world. Our commitment here is unchanged and unwavering.

“Kenya has challenges just as other parts of the world do. We at the US embassy will do whatever we can to keep you informed. We are here to help and support you. Please take advantage of what we offer by enrolling in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This way you’ll receive our text messages and emails. Also friend us on our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.”

The Godec's backyard was a lovely venue.

Comments by Marion Cotter, the Regional Security Officer at the US Embassy in Kenya:

“The current trajectory of the terror threat and security environment in Kenya is increasing. Over the past six months, we’ve seen the capability, complexity, sophistication, tactics, and types of targets intensify. For instance, in August 2012 Kenya experienced its first explosion from an IED (improvised explosive device). Shortly after that, remote-controlled IEDs were being used. Then car bombs (one of which the FBI dismantled), suicide bombers, and then multiple bombs within a span of minutes. The cumulative effect of all this is concerning and we have therefore issued more travel warnings. As we work with the government of Kenya, a few terror attacks have been thwarted, including one at Parliament.

“Each of us must determine what our individual level of risk-tolerance is, as we live and work in such an environment. At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision. The US embassies around the world use three levels of threat in various countries where we’re located – low, medium, and critical. Kenya has been at the critical level for some time now regarding crime and insecurity, plus terrorism."

Marion also listed a few suggestions for maintaining a low profile and maximizing our personal safety.

Mia Arnold, Consular General at the US Embassy in Kenya, 
gave advice on how to develop a personal contingency plan for emergencies

During the Q&A session, which was quite good and also lengthy, one gal shared that she’s lived in Kenya for 34 years and loves it. Her grandson, who was sitting beside her, is currently here for a visit. This was part of what she had to say:
“I’m so proud of the US involvement in Kenya and I am not afraid to live here!”

A question was raised concerning the fact that no one has taken credit for some of the recent terrorist incidents. Godec’s answer was that al-Shabaab (an affiliate of al-Qaeda) often makes very explicit threats for Kenya. “Bear in mind, there are numerous wanna-be affiliates of al-Shabaab and it could be any of them. But ultimately, if a bomb goes off, it’s really not so important who did it.”

A few other issues were addressed -

Westgate shopping mall terrorist attack and siege in October 2013:
  • lack of coordinated response from the local police and military
  • Kenya’s capacity, in general, to respond to such incidents
  • no proper investigation or subsequent prosecution of this incident

And finally, a few other issues:
  • general concerns regarding the Kenya police force (corruption, inadequacy, abuse of office, harassment)
  • the granting of work permits by the Kenya Immigration Department
  • a recent (but quickly contained) polio outbreak

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In a statement to The Associated Press after the town hall meeting, Godec said the embassy is continually evaluating its security posture and updating security based on threat information analysis.

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Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta in a speech on Wednesday, June 4 said his government is committed to protecting the country. The military is planning to station troops on roads potentially used by al-Shabaab to enter Kenya. "Serious tests lie before us," said Kenyatta.

20 May 2014

Escalating terrorism; increased crime and insecurity; horrendous traffic accidents; chaotic demonstrations and riots

Pangani (east side of Nairobi) suicide attack by two terrorists.
Two policeman also died in the explosion just a couple weeks ago.

Last Wednesday, 700 British tourists were evacuated from Mombasa, due to increased intelligence regarding impending terrorist attacks. And sure enough, on Friday, there were two explosions in Nairobi. This time it happened at a large outdoor market near downtown (specializing in used items such as clothing, shoes, and bedding). In past attacks, it's been churches, shopping malls, buses and other public transportation vehicles, car bombs, etc.

In light of the recent escalation of terrorist attacks and other worrying issues in Kenya, I thought it prudent for me to provide an update.

Two buses suffered from bomb explosions
on the same day on Thika Road, heading out of Nairobi.
Six people died in this attack that happened very recently.

Escalating Terrorism

The following is an excerpt from an email I received last Saturday from the Kenya US Embassy: 
US citizens in Kenya should evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas. Violent and fatal criminal attacks, including armed car-jackings, grenade or bomb attacks, home invasions and burglaries, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in Nairobi.

The US government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at US, Kenyan, and other Western interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings (including car bombings), kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels near Kenyan ports. Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.

In the past year and a half, there have been numerous attacks involving shootings, grenades, or other explosive devices in Kenya (mostly in northeastern Kenya). In total, over 100 people have been killed in these attacks and hundreds have been injured. Twenty grenade and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have occurred in Nairobi, illustrating an increase in the number and an advance in the sophistication of these attacks. Friday, May 16, two IEDs exploded at the Gikomba market in Nairobi killing 12 people and injuring 80.

Kenya initiated military action against al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab by crossing into Somalia on October 16, 2011. On June 2, 2012, Kenya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) whereby it formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Kenyan troops within AMISOM are now actively pursuing al-Shabaab in southeastern Somalia.  In response to the Kenyan intervention, al-Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted retaliatory attacks against civilian and government targets in Kenya.

Injured arriving at the hospital

Saturday newspaper report (excerpts): 
US Ambassador Robert Godec said additional Kenya security personnel are patrolling around the embassy and that more US Marines will arrive from Washington next week. "Unfortunately, the security situation in Kenya, especially in Nairobi and Mombasa, continues to worsen. Since the tragic events of Westgate in September 2013, the number of attacks, threats, and warnings is deeply concerning," Godec said, referring to the assault on Westgate Mall by four al-Shabaab gunmen that killed 67 people. Five US citizens were confirmed injured in that attack.

In 1998, Al-Qaida bombed the U.S. Embassy in downtown Nairobi, killing more than 200 people. It was relocated after that attack, and now sits far off the road and is surrounded by thick walls.

Armed Marines have recently begun patrolling the US embassy grounds wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets. The frequency of emergency "duck and cover" drills for embassy employees have increased. The largest US diplomatic facility in East Africa, the embassy has at least 1,300 employees inside it on any given day. Godec said he is reducing the number of Americans stationed in Nairobi. He maintained that the embassy would remain open for normal operations and there were no plans to close it down, stating his foremost interest was to protect American citizens and keep them informed.

Increased crime and insecurity
Excerpt from another email from the US Embassy in Kenya: On April 27, two gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot a security guard during an attempted robbery at an entry gate of a local shopping mall in the Westlands area of Nairobi.  Crime in Kenya is rampant, indiscriminate, at times violent, and happens in all parts of Kenya.

CCTV cameras have recently been installed in strategic
places in Nairobi, in an effort to boost the war on crime.

Horrendous traffic accidents
Kenya has twice the number of traffic deaths, per capita, as does the USA. The majority of these people are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists. In addition, nearly one-third of deaths are among passengers – many of whom are killed in unsafe forms of public transportation.

Ten people lost their lives in this accident just a
few days ago, on the Eldoret-Nakuru highway.

Chaotic demonstrations and riots
Text message I received today from the US Embassy: The student demonstration in downtown Nairobi has turned chaotic. Police are using tear gas. Avoid travel to the area and monitor news for updates.

Riot police were called in to disperse the university students in today's demonstration.
The students threw stones and caused chaos and mayhem.
Several key roads in downtown Nairobi were barricaded and businesses closed their doors.

Biblical perspective
Sunday's church service: Because these acts of terrorism and the increase in crime are on everyone’s mind, it was the theme of our service yesterday. The worship leader chose songs about lifting our heads and living above our circumstances. The service leader read Psalm 7: 9, 10 - “O righteous God, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure. My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.”

The sermon's title was ‘Fear or Faith; Changing our Operating System’. The following are excerpts: "Is my OS faith or fear? Who has the ultimate authority in my life - God and his Faith OS or the enemy and his Fear OS? Fear, at its root, always has a 'What if… ' attitude and leads to captivity and anxiety. Fear operates in the natural and gives authority to my human knowledge and experiences. Fear is a counterfeit Operating System.

"Faith, at its root, has a 'But God says… ' attitude. Faith is a persuasion that what God said is more true than what my five senses tell me. When Peter got out of the boat, he chose to believe what Jesus said (‘Take courage; it is I. Don’t be afraid. Come.’) and shifted his OS from what human sense told him (‘I will sink.’). The opportunity to live in faith certainly comes every day in Nairobi, Kenya… whether it’s crime that is increasingly armed and brazen, the horrendous and dangerous traffic, or the escalating acts of terrorism.

"Remove the cloak of fear! What’s happening in Kenya is counterfeit! God is still in control and he rules and reigns in this land! Do not live in fear. God is faithful. Walk in his authority every day. Live in peace and joy. Walk with power and bear fruit. Chose God’s OS!" Many in the packed auditorium repeatedly shouted ‘Amen!’ and there was much applause.

I hope you'll watch this video of Chris Tomlin's powerful song. We sang it on Sunday and I've had it on repeat play numerous times since then.

Chorus lyrics: I know who goes before me. I know who stands behind. The God of Angel Armies is always by my side. The one who reigns forever; he is a friend of mine. The God of Angel Armies is always by my side.

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

If what you call your 'faith' in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not faith at all - not faith nor trust in Him - only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him. ~C.S. Lewis

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your heart be troubled; do not be afraid. In me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. ~Matthew 6:27; John 14:27; John 16:33

God does not keep a man immune from trouble; He says – "I will be with him in trouble." It does not matter what actual troubles in the most extreme form get hold of a man’s life, not one of them can separate him from his relationship to God. We are "more than conquerors in all these things." Paul is not talking of imaginary things, but of things that are desperately actual; and he says we are super-victors in the midst of them, not by our ingenuity, or by our courage, or by anything other than the fact that not one of them affects our relationship to God in Jesus Christ. 
"Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword separate us from the love of Christ?" Tribulation is never a noble thing; but let tribulation be what it may – exhausting, galling, fatiguing. It is not able to separate us from the love of God. Never let cares or troubles separate you from the fact that God loves you. ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

I've said it before, but it bears repeating - Please pray for me regularly!

The earnest, heartfelt, and continued prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available and is dynamic in its working. ~James 5:16, Amplified

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[Note: All photos were found in internet searches.] 

09 May 2014

Ngong Hills - A visit to Isaac's home

Issac, who Hannah and I met on Good Friday, lives with his family on Ngong Hills.

When we met Issac, his school shoes were in very bad shape.
So Hannah and I got him another pair at Ngong market.
He was very happy with them, repeating, 'Very nice, very nice'.

Issac's mom, Peninah, gave me this Maasai necklace she made.

We had a nice visit over a cup of hot cocoa.

View of their compound from the front door

07 May 2014

Ngong Hills - Cycling Upper Matasia Road

I love cycling!

Upper Matasia Road winds in and out of the slopes of Ngong Hills. It's a fun ride, with gentle hills. Every twist and turn on the road brings new beauty upon which my eyes feast.

Always fun interacting with kids along the way :)

Gotta stop now and then to smell the 'roses'.

This ride was 20 miles round-trip.

During the ride, I stopped at a small kiosk for a snack.

When I passed back through Ngong town,
I stopped at Harvesters for a bowl of fruit and ice cream.

Such a beautiful - and fun - ride!

05 May 2014

Ngong Hills - KenGen Wind Farm

Ngong Hills wind farm began with two wind turbines commissioned in 1993 as a grant from the Belgian Government. Those two original turbines were retired and the second phase of the Ngong wind farm was commissioned in August 2009 with six turbines, and a capacity of 5.1 MW of power, on the northern part of the Ngong Hills.

The wind farm is owned by Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) and cost $18 million. In April 2013, KenGen began expanding the facility to capacity of 25.5 MW, with additional turbines. On Good Friday, I counted 15 turbines fully installed with many more already delivered to the area and ready. Word on the hills is that there will eventually be 32 turbines.

KenGen is the leading electric power generation company in Kenya, producing about 80 percent of electricity consumed in the country. The company utilizes various sources to generate electricity ranging from hydro, geothermal, thermal, and wind. Hydro is the leading source, with 65 per cent of the company’s installed capacity.

Issac and I standing next to a piece of a turbine

Friendly guys, digging ditches for the cables

Kenya plans to build the largest wind farm in Africa with 350 turbines. The Lake Turkana Wind Power consortium aims to provide 300MW of low cost power. At $800 million, will be the largest single private investment in Kenya’s history.

02 May 2014

Ngong Hills - Hiking with Hannah

The church where we attended the Good Friday service meets in the large striped tent.

We really enjoyed worshiping with the congregation.

After attending a wonderful Good Friday service, my friend, Hannah, and I hiked up to the hills. We had a wonderful time enjoying the views and interacting with a few kids. It was her first time to be up there, but I've had the distinct pleasure of hiking them numerous times. I enjoy a fond fascination with them.

The full Maa word for the hills is 'Enkong’u-e-nchorro-emuny', but it was shortened to Ngong, by early explorers from Europe. A ridge of undulating hills, they are characterized by the four peaks that are the highest. The word means 'knuckles', and sure enough the peaks resemble the knuckles of a closed hand. The tallest peak is 8070 feet above sea level.

Maasai legend has it that the hills were created from a handful of earth that a giant clutched after falling over Mount Kilimanjaro (to the south in Tanzania).

On a clear day the Ngong Hills overlook the city of Nairobi. On the other side, one can view the Great Rift Valley dropping over 4,000 feet below, where Maasai villages dot the flat and arid landscape. The highest peak of the Ngong Hills is 8,070 feet above sea level.

During the years of British colonial rule, the area around the Ngong Hills was a major settler farming region, and many traditional colonial houses are still seen in the area. Local residents report seeing lions in the Hills during the 1990's.

In the 1985 film Out of Africa, the four peaks of the Ngong Hills appear in the background of several scenes near Karen Blixen's house.

Local Maasai graze their cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys on the hills.

View looking toward the Great Rift Valley 4,000 feet below

Issac spent a lot of time with us, and we became good friends with him.