Police said Sunday that 13 people were killed and many others seriously burned when an overturned petrol tanker exploded in western Kenya as crowds thronged to collect the spilling fuel.
The fuel truck collided with another vehicle and toppled over late Saturday near Malanga, some 315 kilometres (195 miles) northwest of Nairobi, on the busy highway between Kisumu and the border with Uganda.
Onlookers rushed to the scene with jerrycans but the cargo exploded, engulfing those around in a terrible fireball.
“It burst into flames as they scooped fuel that was flowing,” said Charles Chacha, a local police chief in Siaya County where the accident occurred.
“We counted twelve bodies at the scene. Another person died in hospital from their injuries.”
Fire crews arrived on the scene two hours later to douse the inferno while those injured in the blast were taken to hospital.
“Many others have been taken to hospital with serious burns and they include young children,” Chacha said.
The cause of the explosion is not yet known.
Images broadcast by Kenyan media showed the blazing tanker lighting up the night sky and in the morning following, crowds gaping at the twisted, smouldering wreckage.
Deadly fuel truck accidents along perilous roads are not uncommon in Kenya and the wider East Africa region.
In 2009, more than 100 people were killed when a petrol tanker overturned northwest of Nairobi and an explosion consumed those gathering to collect leaking fuel.
More recently, at least 100 people were killed when a tanker exploded in Tanzania in 2019 while in 2015 more than 200 perished in a similar accident in South Sudan.
Kenya announced Tuesday that flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu had been suspended, just days after Somalia said diplomatic ties with its neighbour had been normalised following months of tension.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) said commercial flights to and from Somalia would be paused for three months, without giving a reason.
“All flights between Kenya and Somalia are suspended expect medevac flights and United Nations flights on humanitarian missions only,” the regulator said..
KCAA director general Gilbert Kibe told AFP the suspension was “a decision by the government” but gave no further details.
The directive appeared catch some Somali aviation officials and travel agents by surprise.
“We had not been given a prior notice, and there’s been no explanation about the reason so far,” an airport tower operator in Mogadishu told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The suspension comes a day after Somalia said shipments of khat from Kenya remained on hold. Khat is a narcotic leaf popular in Somalia.
Somalia announced last week that bilateral ties with Kenya had been restored, citing “the interests of good neighbourliness” as motivating its decision.
Nairobi said it took note of the statement and was looking forward “to further normalisation of relations by the Somali authorities.”
Mogadishu cut off diplomatic relations in December after Nairobi hosted the political leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by Somalia’s central government.
Somalia has long bristled over what it calls Kenya’s meddling in regions over its border, while Nairobi has accused Mogadishu of using it as a scapegoat for its own political problems.
The pair have also engaged in a long-running territorial dispute over a stretch of the Indian Ocean claimed by both nations believed to hold valuable deposits of oil and gas, and have sought international arbitration over the matter.
Eritrean soldiers fighting across the border in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region killed hundreds of people in a massacre last year in a likely crime against humanity, Amnesty International said Friday.
The rights watchdog spoke to survivors of the atrocities and used satellite images to piece together the bloody events of last November in the ancient town of Axum in a new report.
“The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops carried out multiple war crimes in their offensive to take control of Axum,” said Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International.
“Above and beyond that, Eritrean troops went on a rampage and systematically killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood, which appears to constitute crimes against humanity.
“This atrocity ranks among the worst documented so far in this conflict.”
Tigray has been the theatre of fighting since early November 2020, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accusing them of attacking federal army camps.
He declared victory after pro-government troops took the regional capital Mekele in late November, though the TPLF vowed to fight on, and clashes have persisted in the region.
Tigray has been without internet and difficult to access since the start of the conflict, making claims and counter-claims of violence hard to confirm.
The presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is widely documented but has been denied by Addis Ababa and Asmara.
Eritrea fought a brutal border war with Ethiopia in 1998-2000, back when the TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition.
Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 in large part for initiating a rapprochement with Eritrea, whose President Isaias Afwerki and the TPLF remain bitter enemies.
Amnesty said it had spoken to 41 survivors and witnesses of the violence who said that on November 19, 2020, Ethiopian and Eritrean military forces took control of Axum “in a large-scale offensive, killing and displacing civilians with indiscriminate shelling and shooting.”
“In the nine days that followed, the Eritrean military engaged in widespread looting of civilian property and extrajudicial executions.”
Witnesses said the Eritrean forces were easily identifiable, via their vehicles, language and unique ritual facial scars, while they also openly declared themselves as such.
The worst violence unfolded after a small group of pro-TPLF militiamen attacked the soldiers’ base on 28 November and they retaliated, leaving the town strewn with bodies.
“The Eritrean soldiers came into the city and started killing randomly,” said a 22-year-old man who had wanted to bring food to the militia, who he described as young and barely knowing how to fight.
Residents told Amnesty that many victims in Axum carried no weapons and were running away from the soldiers when they were shot.
“I saw a lot of people dead on the street. Even my uncle’s family. Six of his family members were killed. So many people were killed,” said a 21-year-old male resident.
The next day the soldiers allegedly shot at those trying to move the bodies, while carrying out house-to-house raids.
One man told Amnesty he saw soldiers line up six men and shoot them from behind in the street outside his house.
The organisation said it had collected the names of more than 240 of the victims, but could not independently verify the overall death toll. However, corroborating testimonies and evidence made it plausible that hundreds had died.
“Residents estimate that several hundred people were buried in the aftermath of the massacre, and they attended funerals at several churches where scores were buried,” said the report.
Satellite imagery showed signs of mass burials near two of the town’s churches.
“As a matter of urgency, there must be a UN-led investigation into the grave violations in Axum. Those suspected of responsibility for war crimes or crimes against humanity must be prosecuted in fair trials and victims and their families must receive full reparation,” said Muchena.
“We repeat our call on the Ethiopian government to grant full and unimpeded access across Tigray for humanitarian, human rights, and media organisations.”
Somalia announced on Tuesday it is severing diplomatic ties with Kenya, accusing Nairobi of “recurring” interference in its political affairs as Mogadishu prepares for long-awaited elections.
Tensions had been rising between the neighbours and the announcement came as Kenya hosted the leadership of Somaliland, a breakaway state not recognised by the central government in Mogadishu which considers the territory part of Somalia.
Information Minister Osman Abukar Dubbe told reporters that Kenyan diplomats in Mogadishu had been given seven days to leave and that Somalia’s envoys were being recalled from Nairobi.
“The Somali government considers the people of Kenya a peace-loving community who want to live in harmony with other societies in the region. But the current leadership of Kenya is working to drive the two sides apart,” he said in Mogadishu.
“The government took this decision to respond to recurring outright political violations and interference by Kenya against the sovereignty of our country.”
A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabaab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.
Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based jihadist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.
The pair, wearing Islamic prayer caps and face masks, asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.
“Despite mitigation by their defence lawyers on their innocence, the offence committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.
He sentenced the pair men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing jihadist propaganda material on his laptop.
He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.
The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.
A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.
Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amount to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.
The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabaab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the Islamist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.
Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.
In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.
A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.
The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.
But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabaab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.
In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.
In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.
Al-Shabaab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.
That same month, Al-Shabaab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.
Thousands of Burundians on Friday lined the road to the capital Gitega as the body of former president Pierre Nkurunziza was escorted under heavy security for a state funeral after his sudden death earlier this month.
Nkurunziza, who ruled the country for 15 years, died at the age of 55 of what the government said was “heart failure”.
But speculation is rife he may have caught the coronavirus, as his wife had been flown to Nairobi for treatment for the virus just two weeks prior.
The funeral ceremonies began with an “homage by his wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, his children and those close to him” in an intimate gathering at the hospital in the central city of Karuzi where he died on June 8, a governmental source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Nkurunziza died shortly after an election won by his handpicked successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was sworn in last week.
Friday was declared a national holiday for the funeral, and schoolchildren in uniform and citizens lined the roads waiting for the funeral convoy to pass.
The stadium in Gitega where the funeral ceremony is to be held was packed with citizens from across the country, all dressed in white at the request of authorities.
Nkurunziza will be buried at a monument recently built in Gitega at the site of another structure which was to be dedicated to victims of the country’s various crises over the years, but was never inaugurated.
Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, left behind a deeply isolated country in political and economic turmoil.
His 2015 run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while some 400,000 fled the country.
A climate of fear marked by a crackdown on the opposition and media settled over Burundi, while a personality cult grew around Nkurunziza which saw the ruling party name him a “visionary” and “supreme guide for patriotism.”
UN human rights investigators have said the period since 2015 has been marked by likely crimes against humanity committed by state forces, citing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and sexual violence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.