Learn Swahili on Duolingo

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Duolingo is arguably the best free online language learning platform available. Duolingo can be used through its website or mobile app.

The selection of languages on Duolingo has been fairly limited, but it is quality over quantity. When writing my previous blog post about on-line language learning, I certainly did not imagine a Duolingo Swahili course to be reality only a year later!

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Kenya makes miracles in sevens rugby

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Kenyan players celebrating after stunning Fiji in the 2016 Singapore Sevens final

Kenyan rugby sevens team made national history by winning the 2016 World Sevens Series tournament in Singapore. While Kenya has had a strong rugby sevens team, winning this tournament against all rugby powerhouses was a huge achievement. Kenyans will now have high expectations for the team at the forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where Rugby sevens will feature for the first time.

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Lions killed as human-wildlife conflict increase in Kenya

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Recently there have been number of news reports of lions straying from Nairobi National park into city estates. One such incident led to a serious mauling of a man. While lions straying off the park is not unheard of, it is obvious these incidents are on the rise. This is attributed to increased human activity around the park, particularly building of the Southern Bypass road. Matters will only get worse when the Standard Gauge Railway will pass through much of western parts of the park. After this there will be only more pressure to degazette the park, seen as a prime land by many developers.

So far strayed lions have been returned to the park, but the latest incident saw a lion being killed by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers, sparking international headlines. The day after this, another incident saw Masai morans (a term for a Masai warrior) kill a lion by spears after the lion had killed a cow.  The park has just over 30 lions, so killing of these will have a significant negative effect on the population.

Lions at Nairobi National Park

Elsewhere in Kenya, there were widespread news of lions being killed near Masai Mara last year.

Increasing human habitation near parks and encroachment will inevitably lead to more human-wildlife conflicts around Nairobi NP and other parks in Kenya. Elephants trample fields destroying crops, while lions and other predators kill livestocks, and in the worst case, humans. For rural poor people, wildlife is a nuisance, not an asset (unless they engage in poaching). They are not the ones who benefit from tourism. While foreign tourists bring plenty of money to the country, most of it goes to few hands.

Pastoral Masai have lived among wildlife since long times. They are used to kill wildlife to protect themselves, but in a sustainable way. But not anymore as their population and amount of livestock have grown rapidly. Unfortunately Masai do not kill wildlife only to protect their safety and livelihood, but also use it as political tool.

Local people have the right to protect themselves and their property. National parks are there so wildlife can thrive free of significant human disturbance. But being isolated in relatively small parks has significant negative effects on population ecology. There will always be wildlife outside the parks where they pose a threat to local people. Consequently, managing human-wildlife conflict properly is really important, despite being a difficult issue to deal with.

Visiting Kenya to become cheaper

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Kenya tourism industry has been hit hard last couple of years due to security fears following a series of terrorist attacks. The situation has improved since, and UK and US have lifted most of their travel warnings to Kenya. Recent high profile visits by Barack Obama and the Pope have further helped in restoring confidence in Kenya as a safe destination. To boost renewed interest in Kenyan tourism, the Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta announced lower National Park fees, and waiving of visa fees for visitors under 16.

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Nairobi National Park under threat

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Kenya is known for its wildlife parks, and one of them, Nairobi National Park, sits right next to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Nairobi NP is sometimes said to be the only national park within boundaries of a major city. While that claim is not true, Nairobi NP is still very unique, being a large wildlife habitat attached to a metropolis. One may ask how it has been preserved despite the rapidly growing urban region. The answer is that it won’t be there much longer. The decision to build a railway line through it marks the beginning of the end of Nairobi National Park.

The “postcard” picture of Nairobi National park. Photo source: Wikipedia

While Nairobi National park  is good for wildlife viewing, most tourists prefer visiting famous parks further away, like Masai Mara and Amboseli. However, these cannot be visited on a day trip unless using air charter. Therefore those short on time, like conference guests, may find visiting Nairobi National Park being an ideal option.

Nairobi residents might also like making quick visits to the park, but this is often impractical due to traffic, as getting there may take more time than what’s spent at the park. Then expensive entry fees (especially for foreigners) and other costs (eg. vehicle) may deter people from visiting there. Despite much lower park fees, most locals cannot afford visiting the park as they represent lower social classes.

Nairobi National Park remains somewhat underrated, and some politicians and businessmen see the park as a prime land awaiting to be built. There has been lots of pressure  to give up at least parts of the park for to the sake of “development”.

The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is currently being built from Mombasa to Nairobi, from where it is eventually set to reach Kampala in Uganda. The replacing of old railway network is long overdue. Few would argue about the need of the new railway line. But how and where the track is built, is a different matter.

Instead of following the old railway, the Standard Gauge Railway will bypass Central Nairobi. That won’t be vital since transporting cargo will be the main (and only?) purpose of the new railway line. However this route means the new railway will be of little use in terms of passenger traffic, neither would it be useful as a part of much need commuter rail network.

Earlier this year a small chunk at the edge of the park was degazetted to pave way for railway line. This was mainly due to controversial decision to save Alan Donovan’s African Heritage House from being demolished. But the latest development is still way worse. The next phase of the railway from Nairobi to Naivasha, will cut large chunk of western portion of the park.

Planned Standard Gauge Railway route, cutting deep into Nairobi National Park. Source: Nairobi Star

There has been a wide railway reserve along the track to accommodate its expansion. But previous regimes saw no interest in developing railway (hence the derelict state of the exiting track), letting politically well connected land grabbers to take over railway reserves. Elsewhere the railway reserve has been filled by informal settlements. Thus a route following the existing railway would lead to significant demolition of existing infrastructure. Moreover, SGR cannot follow as tight curvature as the the existing line, thus using the old route would lead to even more infrastructure destruction. Another reason for the alternative route may be to avoid going through Kibera slums, where the existing railway has been subject to frequent vandalism.

Removing the old track would provide more space to lay the new track, but rather oddly, the existing narrow gauge railway will continue to be operated concurrently with SGR, despite little chance of being competitive.

While it looks inevitable that these plans go ahead, it not yet too late to prevent them. There must be better alternatives available. What Nairobi residents should do now is to show their opposition against these plans to save the park. Otherwise new infrastructure will continue encroaching the park, and soon Nairobi National Park will be no more.




Fake bomb forces Air France emergency landing

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The news of the day has that Air France flight AF463 from Mauritius to Paris made an emergency landing to Mombasa due to a bomb scare. After hours of contrasting rumours, and an incorrect statement by Kenya Airports Authority saying the bomb was real, it has now been revealed that the suspected bomb was actually a fake, but resembling what could be a real one. The “bomb” was made of cardboard, with an attached timer. Airport security screening would not caught this item assuming it is assembled afterwards. Some pictures of the bomb have been circulating on the web (not sure if these are authentic).

Air France Boeing 777 at Mombasa Airport after the emergency landing. A Fly540 plane is boarding on the foreground.

While the incident has been described in the media as a “false alarm“, this quite isn’t the case.  The crew on board had a good reason to believe it could be a real bomb, possibly detonating any moment. An emergency landing to the nearest possible Airport was the only option. The crew probably did the right thing not telling the 459 passengers why an emergency landing. (UPDATE: this article by Daily Nation claims that the passengers did indeed know about the suspected bomb when the plane was landing)

But who is behind the fake bomb? A bad joke by a tourist? Serious warning by a terrorist group?  Whichever the case, let the culprit be caught and pay for this stupid act.






Kenya is the hotbed of 3000 metres steeplechase

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This year’s World Championships in Athletics are ongoing and as usual, African (or Africa-born) runners win most if not all middle- and long distance events. But no other event is dominated by one country as is men’s 3000 metres steeplechase. It will almost certainly be won by a Kenyan (of Kalenjin ethnicity), and this year did not make any difference, in fact the four Kenyan participants filled the first four positions on the results table. Usually countries can send a maximum of three athletes per event, but defending champions will get an automatic entrance on top of that.

The winner this year was no one else than Ezekiel Kemboi, who won gold in fourth consecutive World Championships. No other athlete has managed the same in one event, although Usain Bolt has a good chance to achieve the same in 200 metres and relay events to be competed later this week. In addition, Kemboi got three silver medals in World Championships before his gold streak, meaning he has won a medal at every World Championships since 2003! That’s seven editions in total.

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Obama visit to Kenya

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The US President Barack Obama made a quick visit to Kenya and Ethiopia in July 2015. Especially in Kenya Obama’s “homecoming” was much anticipated, since his father Barack Obama (senior) hails from Nyanza region in Kenya, and as such President Obama has number of half siblings and other relatives still living in Kenya. Some Kenyans have felt disappointed and even ashamed that Obama did not visit the country earlier during his presidency, skipping the country during his previous African visits. While finally landing Kenya, he would stay in the capital Nairobi, even though many hoped Obama would visit Kogelo, his paternal home village. Preparations were well underway to host Obama in the village, despite he never indicated visiting there.

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Kenya introduces online visa application, visa on arrival to be scrapped

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Starting from July 1st, 2015 Kenya introduced e-visa, meaning the Kenyan visa will be applied online from now on. Visa on arrival will be available until August 30, 2015, but thereafter every visitor to Kenya must have obtained the e-visa (save those from visa-exempt countries). Visa will be applied through the Kenya E-Citizen portal. Visa application process should take at least two days and up to a week. A visitor may be denied boarding a plane if he/she fails to provide a proof of a granted visa. Thus booking a trip to Kenya on a short notice will be difficult or impossible, as a consequence Kenya will lose potential tourists.

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UK travel advise to Kenyan coast partially lifted

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The government of United Kindgdom has now partially lifted its advise against non-essential travel to the Kenyan coast. Tourist destinations including Lamu and Malindi are still under the advise  (Watamu resort just south of Malindi was left out), as are any areas close to the Somalian border, and Garissa, the town subject to a recent university attack. They also advise against visiting Eastleigh area in Nairobi, but no tourist is likely to go there anyway.

Prior to the latest ruling, Mombasa town and the coast strip north of it were included in the advise against non-essential travelling. The United States has similarly issued a travel warning on Kenya. This warnings have prompted much criticism by the Kenyan government blaming them for the downfall in tourism, not only to coastal Kenya but to the country as a whole.

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