How COVID-19 Pandemic Is Changing Daily Life In Kenya

A man cycles in an empty street in Eastleigh, Nairobi, on May 7, 2020, following the Kenyan government’s announcement of partial lockdown in two COVID-19 coronavirus hotspots, Eastleigh in Nairobi and Mombasa City for at least 15-days, where there shall be no movement into and out of the places. SIMON MAINA / AFP.

 

Since Kenya confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 13, authorities have adopted various measures to curb the spread of the virus while stopping short of imposing a full lockdown.

AFP spent a day this week exploring how the measures are impacting the capital Nairobi and its 4.3 million inhabitants, as the health crisis exacerbates social inequalities and batters the economy of the regional powerhouse.

– 6:45 am, Ndenderu police checkpoint –

The sun has just risen and morning mist envelops a valley on the outskirts of Nairobi. On this road heading north towards the Rift Valley region armed police monitor vehicles and pedestrians.

“The only people who can go through are the ones with the authorisation: the lorries carrying food, doctors, etc,” explains police inspector Julius Kariuki Mugo.

Edward, a 25-year-old driver, shows a stamped pass from his boss that enables him to continue on his route to deliver flour to a town 75 kilometres (45 miles) northwest.

Since April 6 Kenya has blocked movement in and out of Nairobi, three coastal towns, and the northeastern county of Mandera. Two refugee camps have also been cordoned off, as well as one suburb in Nairobi and one in Mombasa.

After initially creeping up slowly, virus cases this week began to jump, with authorities fearing rampant community transmission in slums and poor areas of the capital and second city Mombasa.

There have been 582 cases and 26 deaths, and Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe has urged citizens not to make a “mockery” of two months of efforts as social distancing fatigue sets in.

– 8:30 am, central Nairobi –

Normally congested during rush hour, central Nairobi is quiet.

In a store that sells bicycle spare parts, brothers N. Shah and S. Shah, both in their fifties, are feeling the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

“We’re doing 10 percent of our usual business,” says N. Shah.

“People don’t have money. If you don’t have money to pay your rent, you don’t have money for shopping,” says S. Shah.

READ ALSO: Thousands Of Migrants Stranded Worldwide By COVID-19 Pandemic – UN

Their neighbour, A.J. Shah, does not know how he will pay his rent and the salaries of his four employees with business at “around 15 percent” of its normal level.

His shop sells food and cleaning products to hotels and restaurants. Even if hotels reopen, it is unclear who would actually stay in them.

“The crisis is hitting everywhere,” he says. “Who is going to come to visit the wildlife?”

– 11:00 am, physiotherapy practice –

Since mid-March, Kenyan authorities have closed schools and encouraged working from home, which many have taken up.

But it does not make sense for everyone.

“For us, working from home is not an option,” says Victoria Choi, who runs a physiotherapy practice in the Westlands neighbourhood with her husband Bernard.

Only one client is allowed in the office at a time, and all must use hand sanitiser and wear masks.

Like many parents, Bernard and Victoria have rearranged their schedules to take care of their two youngest children — girls aged 15 and nine.

Their social lives have also taken a hit.

“I miss going out with the boys,” Bernard says, adding that “having a beer alone in the house in front of the television” is not exactly a substitute.

– 1:00 pm, Java cafe –

An institution in Nairobi, the Java chain of restaurants has continued operating, albeit at a much reduced pace.

“We’ve been affected a lot since we’re only doing takeaways” and home deliveries, explains Pamella Gavala, deputy manager of this franchise.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 150,000 In Europe

Java, with 2,500 employees in total and 50 restaurants in Nairobi alone, plans to reopen gradually after the government last week approved a supervised resumption of restaurant activity.

To comply with the new rules, employees must be tested for COVID-19 and customers must undergo temperature screening.

Once inside, no more than two people can sit at tables which have been spaced out to allow for physical distancing.

– 3:00 pm, Foodplus supermarket –

Grocery stores, one of the few sectors still booming during the pandemic, have also had to make changes.

Masks are required, thermal screening takes place at the entrance and shopping carts are regularly wiped down with disinfectant.

At the registers, markers on the ground indicate where customers must stand to keep an appropriate distance.

“They’re more than cooperative,” Daniel Mutuku, the manager of the Foodplus store in the Kilimani neighbourhood said of customers.

– 5:00 pm, La Tasca tapas restaurant –

Normally open from noon “until the last customer leaves”, Maurizio Fregoni’s restaurant in upscale Lavington is almost completely dead.

The 7:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew imposed since March 25 has brought Nairobi’s nightlife to a standstill.

The restaurant is currently relying on a limited takeaway business and hoping for better days for its 14 employees, most of whom are taking unpaid leave.

Fregoni, an eternal optimist, says the quiet period has given him “time to rethink the menu”.

– 7:00 pm, Kibera slum –

This settlement in the heart of Nairobi, home to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans and often billed as the largest slum in Africa, continues to buzz with activity.

Cans of soap and water have been set up in front of stalls and masks are common, though some wear them around their chins.

A handful of cases of the virus have cropped up here and in other slums in the capital, sparking fears of a massive outbreak in the crowded settlements where social distancing is near impossible.

It is residents of such areas who have been hardest hit by the economic slump the virus has caused.

George Juma, a 39-year-old electrician, has not had work in a month.

“Everybody is afraid of the disease so they don’t want to bring you in their home,” he says.

Juma managed to convince his landlord to let him pay rent “when it’s over”. In the meantime, his family of four is scraping by thanks to a food donation from a NGO and the benevolence of vendors who sell to him on credit.

As curfew approaches, a police helicopter shines its spotlight on Kibera.

Joel, 45, rushes to pack up the stall where he sells fried fish — which used to stay open until 9:30 pm.

With the curfew in place, his earnings have been cut “around 25 percent”.

– 9:00 pm, downtown Nairobi –

The city centre is deserted. At the headquarters of the Nation Media Group, a sign broadcasts prevention messages: “Stay home”, “Wash hands”.

Lilian, one of the few people around to actually see the sign, sweeps the streets of the capital.

She will finish at midnight, then sleep for a few hours in a shelter before curfew lifts at 5:00 am so she can take a share-taxi home.

AFP

Five Arrested For Suspected Terrorism In Kenya

 

Kenyan authorities have arrested five people suspected of preparing a terror attack in Nairobi, according to a police report seen by AFP on Sunday.

The group comprises three men — a US citizen, a Somali and their Kenyan driver — and two Somali women who were believed to be on a reconnaissance mission for an attack in the north of the capital, the report dated Saturday said.

Police received information on Friday saying that “suspected terrorists” were carrying out a surveillance operation at a pub on Kiambu Road, a spot popular for its many bars and nightclubs.

READ ALSO: Iran Plane Crash: Ukraine Receives Bodies Of Victims 

Kenyan security forces have been on high alert since the Somali Al-Shabaab group, close to Al-Qaeda, stepped up attacks in the east of the country this month, threatening to target more Kenyan and US interests.

On January 5, the Somali Al-Shabaab group attacked Camp Simba, killing three Americans and destroying several aircraft and warning Kenya to withdraw its forces from Somalia while they still “have the chance”.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission fighting against Al-Shabaab, and has seen several brutal retaliation attacks both on its troops in Somalia and civilians in Kenya.

AFP

Somali Jihadists Attack Military Base In Kenya

 

 

Jihadists from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group on Sunday stormed a military base used by US forces in Kenya’s coastal Lamu region, destroying several aircraft and military vehicles, according to Kenyan police and army officials.

Attackers breached heavy security at Camp Simba at dawn but were repelled and four jihadists were killed, said army spokesman Colonel Paul Njuguna.

Al-Shabaab has launched regular cross-border raids since Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 as part of an African Union force protecting the internationally-backed government — which the jihadists have been trying to overthrow for more than a decade.

The Lamu region, which includes popular tourist beach destination Lamu Island, lies close to the Somali frontier and has suffered frequent attacks, often carried out with roadside bombs.

Njuguna said “an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip” at 5:30am but it was repulsed.

“Four terrorists’ bodies have so far been found. The airstrip is safe,” he said, adding that a fire had broken out but had since been dealt with.

Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai said officers were “on high alert” after the attack.

Al-Shabaab ‘lying’

An internal police report seen by AFP said two Cessna aircraft, two American helicopters and “multiple American vehicles” were destroyed at the airstrip.

Local government official Irungu Macharia said five people had been arrested near the camp and were being interrogated.

Neither Kenya nor the US have admitted casualties as yet, despite Shabaab claiming to have killed 17 Americans and nine Kenyan soldiers.

US military officials confirmed the attack and said US and Kenyan forces had repelled the Al-Shabaab fighters.

“Working alongside our Kenyan partners, the airfield is cleared and still in the process of being fully secured,” said the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in a statement.

The nearby civilian airport at Manda Bay, which brings tourists visiting Lamu Island — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — was closed for several hours after the incident, according to the civil aviation authority.

Al-Shabaab said in a statement it had “successfully stormed the heavily fortified military base and have now taken effective control of part of the base”.

AFRICOM accused Al-Shabaab of lying in order to create false headlines.

Shabaab countered with a second statement, saying it had been a ten hour firefight and mocking the US “inability to fend off an attack by just a handful of steadfast Muslim men”.

The group referred to an uptick in US military airstrikes under President Donald Trump, accusing the US of “strafing villages from above and indiscriminately bombarding innocent women and children.”

AFRICOM said in April it had killed more than 800 people in 110 strikes in Somalia since April 2017.

US military network

The Somali jihadists have staged several large-scale attacks inside Kenya in retaliation for Nairobi sending troops into Somalia as well as to target foreign interests.

The group has been fighting to overthrow an internationally-backed government in Mogadishu since 2006, staging regular attacks on government buildings, hotels, security checkpoints and military bases in the country

Despite years of costly efforts to fight Al-Shabaab, the group on December 28 managed to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives in Mogadishu, killing 81 people.

The spate of attacks highlights the group’s resilience and capacity to inflict mass casualties at home and in the region, despite losing control of major urban areas in Somalia.

In a November report, a UN panel of experts on Somalia noted an “unprecedented number” of homemade bombs and other attacks across the Kenya-Somalia border in June and July last year.

On Thursday, at least three people were killed when suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen ambushed a bus travelling in the area.

According to the Institute for Security Studies, the United States has 34 known military bases in Africa, from where it conducts “drone operations, training, military exercises, direct action and humanitarian activities”.

Tanzania Not Sharing Information On Suspected Ebola – WHO

Health workers participating in an Ebola preparedness drill. AFP photo.

 

 

The World Health Organization has accused Tanzania of failing to provide information on suspected cases of Ebola in the country, potentially hindering efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

East African nations have been on high alert over an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has left 2,103 people dead. Four people were diagnosed with the virus in Uganda and later died.

The WHO said it had learned on September 10 of a suspected case of the disease in Tanzania’s port city of Dar es Salaam, and information emerged that this patient’s contacts had been quarantined, and that the person had tested positive for Ebola.

Two other suspected cases were also unofficially reported.

“Despite several requests, WHO did not receive further details of any of these cases from Tanzanian authorities,” the organisation said in a statement issued Saturday.

On September 14 Tanzanian authorities officially reported there was no Ebola in the country, but declined “secondary confirmation testing” at a WHO centre, the global body said.

Then on Thursday, the WHO was made aware that a contact of the initial patient was sick and in hospital.

“To date, the clinical details and the results of the investigation, including laboratory tests performed for differential diagnosis of these patients, have not been shared with WHO.”

‘Very high risk’

The lack of information received by WHO meant it cannot determine the cause of the illness, it said.

“The limited available official information from Tanzanian authorities represents a challenge for assessing the risk posed by this event.”

The WHO determined that because the initial patient travelled widely in the country and due to uncertainty around the cases, the lack of information and the fact that, if confirmed, it would be the first-ever outbreak of Ebola in the country, “the risk was assessed as very high at national level”.

“At this stage, WHO is not aware of signs of a widespread transmission of any illness related to these cases, however investigations, including with the support of WHO Collaborating Centres, should continue to reach a diagnosis and further inform the risk assessment,” said the statement.

They also warned of a high risk for the region.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak is the second-worst in history after more than 11,000 people died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

But the containment efforts have been hindered from the start by conflict in eastern DRC, as well as attacks on medical teams tackling the haemorrhagic fever amid resistance within some communities to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.

Man Drowns While Trying To Propose Underwater

 

An American man has drowned while proposing to his girlfriend underwater at an idyllic island off the coast of Tanzania, a luxury resort said in a statement Sunday.

His girlfriend Kenesha Antoine posted on her Facebook page footage of Steven Weber proposing to her through the window of their underwater hotel room at the luxury Manta Resort in Zanzibar.

“You never emerged from those depths so you never got to hear my answer, ‘Yes! Yes! A million times, yes, I will marry you!!’,” she wrote Friday in a post confirming his death.

Her video shows Weber swimming up to the window, and pressing a handwritten note against it which read: “I can’t hold my breath long enough to tell you everything I love about you, but everything I love about you I love more every day. Will you please be my wife, marry me.”

He then pulled out a ring as Antoine squealed with joy while filming.

It is unclear what went wrong during the proposal at Pemba Island, a popular honeymoon destination.

“We never got to embrace and celebrate the beginning of the rest of our lives together, as the best day of our lives turned into the worst, in the cruelest twist of fate imaginable,” Antoine wrote.

“Knowing him, always quick with an off-color joke, he’s probably entertaining someone with a story about how he royally screwed up that proposal and died while being extra.”

Manta CEO Matthew Saus confirmed to AFP in an email Sunday that “a male guest tragically drowned while freediving alone outside the underwater room” on Thursday.

“The accident is currently under investigation by the local Zanzibar police authority.”

The couple were staying in the resort’s famed “Underwater Room”, a $1,700 (1,500 euro) a-night floating structure offshore in crystal clear waters, where the bed is surrounded by glass windows looking into the ocean.

Tanzanian Arrested With Tusks From 117 Elephants

In this file photo taken on March 20, 2015 an elephant splashes at sunset in the waters of the Chobe river in Botswana Chobe National Park, in the north eastern of the country.

 

A Tanzanian man has been arrested after authorities found a stash of ivory buried under his house, estimated to come from around 117 elephants, authorities said Thursday.

The suspect, who had been sought by authorities since 2016, had in his possession 338 pieces of elephant tusk, and 75 whole tusks, the minister of natural resources, Hamisi Kigwangalla, said in a statement.

He was arrested along with seven alleged accomplices, and the tusks are believed to have come from Tanzania and Mozambique.

“Until his arrest on Tuesday, he was unable to move this stock, because we have become extremely vigilant,” said Kigwangalla.

READ ALSO: Two Aid Workers Killed In ‘Ambush’ In Western Ethiopia

“I am giving a period of grace of one month for any person in possession of elephant tusks to hand them in to authorities without facing prosecution.”

Since 2016, around 1,000 poachers, some heavily armed, have been arrested in Tanzania whose elephant population plunged 60 percent between 2009 and 2014 due to poaching.

In February a Tanzanian court sentenced Chinese citizen Yang Fenlan — dubbed the “Ivory Queen” — to 15 years in jail for her role in trafficking tusks from more than 400 elephants.

Poaching has seen the population of African elephants fall by 110,000 over the past decade to just 415,000 animals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The slaughter is being fuelled especially by demand in Asia, where ivory is used for jewellery and ornamentation.

Cattle Rustlers Kill 12 In Kenya

 

At least 12 people, including three children, were killed in two attacks in northern Kenya at the weekend by cattle rustlers suspected to be from the Borana ethnic group, Kenyan police said Sunday.

The attacks on two villages in Kenya’s Marsabit County near the border with Ethiopia were on cattle breeders from the Gabra ethnic group, long-time rivals of the Borana, police said in a statement.

“Five male Gabra adults were killed and three others were seriously injured” in one small village on Saturday evening, police said.

The attackers, who took around 500 head of cattle, were “suspected Ethiopian Borana cattle rustlers”, the police said.

In the other attack, on a nearby village, four Gabra adults and three children between the ages of 13 and 15, including one girl, were killed, with four people injured.

The thieves took around 1,000 goats in the second attack, in which one of the raiders was killed.

Kenyan police units are “pursuing the criminals and holding ground to prevent further attacks and killings,” the statement said.

Kenya started conducting its first national census since 2009 on Saturday, and the authorities said the exercise would continue in Marsabit.

The theft of livestock — and deadly attacks to carry out the crime — are common between cattle herding communities in northern Kenya.

Albino Teen Found Dismembered In Burundi

 

A 15-year-old albino boy has been found dismembered in Burundi a week after going missing, the first such killing in the country in three years, a local albino group said Sunday.

Albinos, who have white skin and yellow hair as a result of a genetic disorder that causes the absence of pigmentation, are killed regularly in some African countries for their body parts, which are used in witchcraft rituals.

The teenager was found dead late Saturday in the northwest of the country along the Rusizi river separating Burundi from DR Congo, not far from his home village.

“The young albino was killed atrociously… His murderers cut his right leg off at the knee, his right arm, and his tongue,” said Kassim Kazungu, the head of the local association Albinos Without Borders.

READ ALSO: Indonesia Police Shoot Suspected Militant After Station Attack

More than 20 albinos have been killed in Burundi since 2008, with the last case in 2016 when a five-year-old girl was found dismembered after being taken from her home.

Kazungu said a four-year-old albino boy had been missing since October 2018 from the village of Cendajuri near the Tanzanian border, but that he had “no hope” of finding him alive.

Some experts believe the demand for albino body parts in Tanzania — where such attacks are the most prevalent — has fuelled such killings in border areas.

China, Ethiopian Airlines Ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 Fleet After Crash

Sunday’s crash was the second involving a Boeing 737 (pictured) in six months. ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

 

As more questions emerge over the safety of the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane after Sunday’s crash, China and Ethiopian Airlines have grounded the fleet.

Ethiopian Airlines said Monday it had grounded its fleet after a crash that killed 149 passengers and eight crew.

“Following the tragic accident of ET 302… Ethiopian Airlines has decided to ground all B-737-8 MAX fleet effective yesterday, March 10, until further notice,” the state-owned carrier said in a statement released on Twitter.

“Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we have to decide to ground the particular fleet as an extra safety precaution,” said the airline, Africa’s largest.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Chaos In Imo As Party Agents Disrupt Collation Process

All 157 people on board died when Nairobi-bound Flight ET 302 came down just six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa.

It ploughed into a field near Tulu Fara village outside the town of Bishoftu, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) southeast of the Ethiopian capital.

Grounded In China

Also on Monday, China ordered domestic airlines to suspend commercial operation of the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

Noting the “similarities” between Sunday’s crash and that of Indonesia, China’s Civil Aviation Administration said domestic airlines had until 6:00 pm local time (1000 GMT) to ground all 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

The Indonesia Lion Air flight had crashed after takeoff from Jakarta in October, killing all 189 people on board.

Operation of the model will only resume after “confirming the relevant measures to effectively ensure flight safety”, the administration said in a statement.

The aviation authority will contact the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, it said.

China is an important market for the US aircraft company, accounting for about one-fifth of worldwide deliveries of Boeing 737 MAX models.

The company has delivered 76 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to Chinese airlines, which have ordered another 104, according to data from the aircraft maker’s website updated through January.

Boeing and joint venture partner Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China operate a plant in the eastern city of Zhoushan that completes the interiors of 737 MAX planes for Chinese airlines.

The factory delivered its first MAX 8 plane to Air China in December. The planes are assembled in Renton, Washington state, and taken to Zhoushan to finish the interior work, according to Boeing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his condolences to the leaders of Ethiopia and Kenya, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a regular briefing.

Four of the Chinese victims are employees of Chinese companies, two work for the United Nations and two were people from Liaoning and Zhejiang provinces on personal trips, Lu said.

“China hopes Ethiopia will find the cause as soon as possible, keep China posted, and properly handle the follow-up work,” Lu added.

AFP

Pilot Of Crashed Plane Reported ‘Difficulties’, Asked To Return – Ethiopian Airlines

A man carries a piece of debris on his head at the crash site of a Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines flight near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019. A Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines Boeing crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on March 10, killing all eight crew and 149 passengers on board, including tourists, business travellers, and “at least a dozen” UN staff. Michael TEWELDE / AFP

 

The pilot of a Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 that crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, had alerted controllers “he had difficulties” and wanted to turn back the plane carrying 157 people, the head of Ethiopian Airlines said.

The pilot “was given clearance” to return to Addis, Chief Executive Officer Tewolde GebreMariam told journalists in the Ethiopian capital when asked whether there had been a distress call.

Read Also: No Survivors On Crashed Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737

The crash which has claimed the lives of the over 157 persons on board from over 33 countries, came on the eve of a major, annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme opening in Nairobi.

The plane had taken off at 8:38 am (0538 GMT) from Bole International Airport and “lost contact” six minutes later near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres (37 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa by road.

It came down near the village of Tulu Fara outside Bishoftu.

Below is a list of the number victims and their countries. The count, however, is not final.

Africa 

Kenya     32

Ethiopia   9

Egypt      6

Morocco    2

Djibouti   1

Mozambique 1

Rwanda     1

Sudan      1

Somalia    1

Togo       1

Uganda     1

Nigeria    1

 Americas 

Canada        18

United States  8

 Asia 

China     8

India     4

Indonesia 1

Nepal     1

 Europe 

Italy    8

France   7

Britain  7

Germany  5

Slovakia 4

Russia   3

Austria  3

Sweden   3

Spain    2

Poland   2

Belgium  1

Ireland  1

Norway   1

Serbia   1

 Middle East 

Israel       2

Saudi Arabia 1

Yemen        1

 Other 

UN passport  1

 TOTAL 

150

No Survivors On Crashed Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737

This file photo, taken on November 28, 2017, shows an Ethiopian Airline Boeing 737-700 aircraft taking off from Felix Houphouet-Boigny Airport in Abidjan.  ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

 

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed Sunday morning en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, killing all 149 passengers and eight crew on board, state media reported as African leaders offered condolences.

“We hereby confirm that our scheduled flight ET 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi was involved in accident today,” the airline said in a statement, later confirming a report by Ethiopia’s FANA Broadcasting Corp that there were no survivors.

“It is believed that there were 149 passengers and eight crew on board the flight,” it said.

The airline has not provided information on passengers’ nationalities but there are reports people from 33 countries were on board. The crash came on the eve of a major, annual assembly of the UN Environment Programme opening in Nairobi.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, said the plane had taken off at 8:38 am (0538 GMT) from Bole International Airport and “lost contact” six minutes later near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometres (37 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa by road.

The weather in the capital, according to an AFP reporter, was clear when the brand-new Boeing plane, delivered to Ethiopia last year, plane took off.

The Boeing came down near the village of Tulu Fara outside Bishoftu.

An AFP reporter said there was a massive crater at the crash site, with belongings and airplane parts scattered widely.

Rescue crews were retrieving human remains from the wreckage.

Police and troops were on the scene, as well as a crash investigation team from Ethiopia’s civil aviation agency.

In the Kenyan capital, family members, friends, and colleagues of passengers were frantically waiting for news at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

“I am still hoping that all is fine, because I have been waiting for my sister since morning and we have not been told anything,” Peter Kimani told AFP in the arrivals lounge over an hour after the plane was scheduled to land at 10:25 am local time.

His sister is a nurse who he said had gone to Congo. “She travels a lot on missions.”

“We are still expecting our loved one from Addis… we have just received news that there is a plane that has crashed. We can only hope that she is not on that flight.”

Hoping for the best

Among those waiting, Khalid Ali Abdulrahman received happy news about his son, who works in Dubai.

“I arrived here shortly after 10:00 am and as I waited, a security person approached me and asked me which flight are you waiting for. I answered him quickly because I wanted him to direct me to the arrivals, so I told him Ethiopia, and then he said: ‘Sorry, that one has crashed’.”

“I was shocked, but shortly after, my son contacted me and told me he is still in Addis and did not board that flight, he is waiting for the second one which has been delayed,” Khalid told AFP.

“I am waiting for my colleague, I just hope for the best,” added Hannah, a Chinese national.

African Union commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said he had learnt of the crash “with utter shock and immense sadness.

“Our prayers are with the families of the passengers + crew as authorities search for survivors. I also express our full solidarity with the Govt & people of Ethiopia,” he said on Twitter.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office tweeted it “would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones.”

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was “saddened” by the news, adding: “My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board.”

Mahboub Maalim, executive secretary of the IGAD East African bloc, said the region and the world were in mourning.

“I cannot seem to find words comforting enough to the families and friends of those who might have lost their lives in this tragedy,” he said in a statement.

For its part, the plane’s maker, US giant company Boeing, said it was “aware” of the accident “and is closely monitoring the situation.”

Ethiopian Airlines said it would send staff to the accident scene to “do everything possible to assist the emergency services.”

It would also set up a passenger information centre and a dedicated telephone number for family and friends of people who may have been on the flight, while Kenya’s transport minister said officials would meet and council loved ones waiting at JKIA.

The Boeing 737-800MAX is the same type of plane as the Indonesian Lion Air jet that crashed last October, 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

The last major accident involving an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane was a Boeing 737-800 that exploded after taking off from Lebanon in 2010, killing 83 passengers and seven crew.

According to reports, Boeing delivered the plane to Ethiopian Airlines last November.

AFP

Police Fire Tear Gas As Strike Strands Travellers At Nairobi Airport

 

Hundreds of travellers were stranded at Nairobi airport Wednesday, and some were treated for tear gas exposure, as striking workers and police faced off at East Africa’s busiest air traffic hub.

After flights began to be grounded from midnight, passengers were advised not to come to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) — East Africa’s busiest according to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) — until further notice.

However, hundreds were already there, some waiting for many hours.

In the terminals, confusion reigned with little information circulating and police firing tear gas as they moved in to arrest a union official they accused of inciting workers.

Several strikers and would-be travellers were treated on-site for exposure to the blinding, choking spray, and some for small injuries sustained in the chaos that ensued as they tried to escape the fumes.

Stranded passenger Christine voiced the bewilderment of many: “Why are police using unnecessary force with teargas at an airport?”

Travellers were then asked by police to leave the building, and gathered in parking and waiting areas outside the airport.

As the strike passed the 12-hour mark, the situation at the airport calmed somewhat as the first plane — to Mumbai — took off around lunchtime.

But hundreds of travellers were still anxiously awaiting news about their flights amid a heavy security deployment.

The workers, who had not given notice of their labour action beforehand, are angry about the planned partial takeover of the airport, operated by state-run KAA, by national carrier Kenya Airways.

— ‘Sabotage’ —
Transport Minister James Macharia told journalists that workers need not worry about the possible change of ownership.

“What they were fearing is that the proposed merger between KQ (the acronym for Kenya Airways) and KAA will result in job losses but we gave assurances that that will not happen,” he said.

“So this (strike) is completely uncalled for because the deal has not happened.”

The minister added that KAA, with the help of security services and staff from Kenya Airways, were replacing striking staff.

“This strike is illegal. It is sabotage and amounts to a criminal activity that must be punished. That is why the union officials have been arrested for inciting workers to go on strike,” said Macharia.

“They should be aware that this is a security installation, you cannot interfere with a security installation.”

Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KUWA) chief Moss Ndiema was arrested at the airport.

According to the KAA, more than 7.6 million passengers and 313,000 tons of cargo passed through JKIA in more than 111,000 aircraft movements in 2017.

The airport contributes just over five percent to Kenya’s gross domestic product.

Kenya Airways chief executive Sebastian Mikosz said 24 departing flights, and two arrivals, had been affected by the strike, but “we expect the situation to normalise during the day.”

“We are set to resume operations, although the process is a bit slow,” he said.

Operations at Kenya’s two other main airports, at Mombasa in the southeast and Kisumu in the west, have also been affected.