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Friday, July 13th, 2018


‘Historic moment’ for people on the move, as UN agrees first-ever Global Compact on migration

For the first time ever, United Nations Member States have agreed an all-encompassing Global Compact to better manage international migration, address its challenges, strengthen migrant rights and contribute to sustainable development.

After more than a year of discussions and consultations among Member States, local officials, civil society and migrants themselves, the text of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was finalized on Friday.

In a statement, Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the agreement, calling it “a significant achievement.” He said it reflected “the shared understanding by Governments that cross-border migration is, by its very nature, an international phenomenon and that effective management of this global reality requires international cooperation to enhance its positive impact for all. It also recognizes that every individual has the right to safety, dignity and protection.”

“This comprehensive framework comprises a range of objectives, actions and avenues for implementation, follow-up and review,” added the UN chief, “all aimed at facilitating safe, orderly and regular migration, while reducing the incidence and impact of irregular migration.”

Calling today a “historic moment,” General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák, spelled out the Compact’s enormous potential.

“It does not encourage migration, nor does it aim to stop it. It is not legally binding. It does not dictate. It will not impose. And it fully respects the sovereignty of States,” he stressed.

Instead, he continued: “It can guide us from a reactive to a proactive mode. It can help us to draw out the benefits of migration, and mitigate the risks. It can provide a new platform for cooperation. And it can be a resource, in finding the right balance between the rights of people and the sovereignty of States.”

“And, in December,” Mr. Lajčák added “it will formally become the first comprehensive framework on migration the world has ever seen.”

Also taking the floor, Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, drew attention to the profound issues that migration raises, such as sovereignty and human rights; around what constitutes voluntary movement; the relationship between development and mobility; and how to support social cohesion.

“This compact demonstrates the potential of multilateralism: our ability to come together on issues that demand global collaboration – however complicated and contentious they may be,” she pointed out.

Louise Arbour, Special Representative for International Migration, asserted that as human mobility will always be with us, “its chaotic, dangerous exploitative aspects cannot be allowed to become a new normal.”

“The implementation of the Compact will bring safety, order and economic progress to everyone’s benefit,” she underscored.

The agreement will be formally adopted by Member States at an Intergovernmental Conference, which will be held in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 10 and 11 December. Ms. Arbour will serve as the Conference’s Secretary-General.

“This is not the end of the undertaking but the beginning of a new historic effort to shape the global agenda on migration for decades to come,” Director General of the UN migration agency, IOM, William Lacy Swing said on Friday.

“Throughout the process, UN Member States have clearly recognized that migration is always about people. The migrant-centred approach adopted with the commendable guidance of co-facilitators from Mexico and Switzerland, and of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on International Migration, is unprecedented,” added the IOM chief.

Arrêté au Togo pour des faits présumés d'escroquerie: Le transfèrement de KGB reporté à la semaine prochaine

L’homme d’affaires Bernard Godonou Kikissagbé alias KGB, recherché par la Justice béninoise, est toujours détenu au Togo où il est arrêté.

Son transfèrement ne sera effectif que la semaine prochaine, selon des sources proches de la Police républicaine. Annoncé pour être remis, ce vendredi 13 juillet à la frontière de Hilla Condji, le présumé escroc de renommée internationale, KGB est retenu dans les liens de la Justice togolaise qui tient au bouclage, en bonne et due forme, des formalités avant l’exécution du transfèrement. Cette information est tombée dans la soirée aux environs de 18h30mn alors qu’une délégation de la Police républicaine constituée, entre autres, du directeur départemental de l’institution policière et du directeur général adjoint de la Police judiciaire, François Fontèclounou, attendait à la frontière après avoir effectué, dans la matinée, un déplacement infructueux vers la partie togolaise. Suite au report, l’impressionnant dispositif sécuritaire mis en place s’est replié. En cavale depuis plusieurs mois, KGB a fini par être rattrapé dans son retranchement par les forces de l’ordre togolaises. L’homme d’affaires est recherché pour répondre des faits présumés d’escroquerie, qu’il aurait commis à l’échelle internationale.

 Désiré C. VIGAN A/R Mono-Couffo

World Cup, Africa’s disappearing football spaces and wildlife

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In a few hours a rather dramatic World Cup 2018 will end in Russia.

Africa had a mixed outing. None of its representatives this year – Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal – made it past the first round.

As the laments poured about what many African football fans consider a disappointing show, and questions were asked why the continent fared worse this time than the recent past World Cups, I asked myself a different question: “How do, especially poor, African children today get to learn to be footballers and eventually play at the World Cup?”


A couple of Africans have made the journey from poverty to global football stardom. Few of them more remarkable than Liberia’s George Weah. He grew up in Clara Town, a poor suburb of the capital Monrovia, and played football in West Point, Liberia’s biggest informal settlement.

He made his way through the humble fare of Liberia football, and eventually got to star for Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan in the 1990s. Then he moved to England later and played for Chelsea and then Manchester City.

Weah is the only African to be Fifa’s world player of the year or to have won the Ballon d’Or for Europe’s best player. He is still the one and only player ever to hold the African, European and World crowns for the best footballer at the same time in 1995.


 Then, of course, last December he won the Liberian presidential election, and became the West African nation’s leader. Weah thus became the first ever World Footballer of the Year to become president of a country.

Weah would not have played his way out of poverty and a difficult childhood, without a patch of grass to dribble the ball on.

But as Africa rapidly urbanises, everyday one reads stories of city and town parks, and school playgrounds, grabbed or legally purchased by developers to meet the soaring demand for housing.

If you watch sports TV in Africa, you will notice that the advertisements that run during English Premier League – and indeed during the World Cup – of stars who rose Weah-like from humble beginnings, they show them playing football as children not on grass fields, but street alleys in tough neighbourhoods.


It would seem as if the dream of a small patch of field for the less privileged children in our African urban areas has died.

But the shrinking of spaces where inhabitants of this fair planet can make a life, and enrich others in the process, is happening beyond football fields and green parks.

The same process that is taking them away in the cities, is also killing forests that we need for our rain, the habitats for wildlife, and the water sources for us all.

In the wildlands, these precious spaces are being mined, grabbed or degazetted to supply the food, fuel, and housing needs of Africa growing populations.


Like the children in the cities and towns who are losing their playing fields and street alleys where they played football, wildlife and nature are losing the spaces where they thrived.

In the process we are breaking an important link between sports and nature that we had made.  This link is well illustrated by the fact that we named more than half the national football teams (and other sports clubs) in the world after wildlife!

In Africa, it is nearly three quarters: from Benin’s The Squirrels,  Nigeria’s Super Eagles, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, Cape Verde’s Blue Sharks, DR Congo’s The Leopards, Ivory Coast’s The Elephants, Rwanda’s Wasps, Senegal’s The Lions of Teranga, Sudan’s Nile Crocodiles, down to Uganda’s The Cranes (She Cranes for the women’s side), to name a few.


It’s hard to imagine how Africa would have looked like these past weeks during the World Cup, if all the TV screens were blank. Or, better, if not a single African footballer was at the tournament.

For African wildlife, which is being lost at an alarming rate, such a future is already partly a reality and if we don’t find the balance that enables us to conserve nature, and the system that supports our livelihoods collapses, we might have a crisis that makes it difficult for us to have African football teams at future World Cups. And we might never have another Weah story.

For the continent, those lost school playing fields, the yards in poor neighbourhoods, the habitats for wildlife in the countryside, are a big part of what makes the World Cup special. We should never forget that. We must never get to a place where we can’t hear the chorus about The Lions of Teranga.

Of the successful youth on my mind, and the fond memories of a green Nyeri County

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I am celebrating youth and wisdom this week. I feel inspired and elated by the diligence and intellectual prowess of a young woman who recently graduated from Strathmore University. You may wonder why, at exactly 74 years and five months old, I should be indulging in youthful fancies.

Maybe it is because the lady in question unintentionally triggered in me a flood of fond memories, characteristic of the dodderers of my age.

In any case, it is no cliché to say that one of the strongest causes of contentment and reassurance among us ageing and retiring people is the expectation that there are enough serious, strong and intelligent people capable of running the world when we finally retire.

The lady in question is Dr Purity Ngina, the 28-year old Nyeri woman who has just graduated with a PhD in Biomathematics. Truth to tell, I am yet to get my head around the basics of this fascinating specialisation. But those who know my inclinations would, naturally, expect me to be excited about the achievements of a sister that close to home.

I, however, found Dr Ngina’s story particularly heart-warming for a number of reasons, varying from trivial to ideological. Do not laugh when I tell you that Njambi and Ngina (not the Dr but a namesake) were my children’s playmates when we came to Kenya. Then, as it happened, Nyeri was the second “upcountry” region with which I got acquainted, after Machakos, when Kenyatta University sent me there on teaching practice supervision in 1979.

My first revelation was that Nyeri was not just a town but a vast expanse of Kenya, stretching all the way from Othaya through Karatina and north through Nyeri itself to Kiganjo. I am not quite sure now whether it was between Karatina and Kiganjo that I first had my close-up view of the legendary Mount Kenya. Nor, even today, am I intelligently clear about the significance of what was then called divisions, like Tetu. Nyeri itself or Mathira.

But many of the names and places already rang bells in my mind. The Mountain, for example, immediately concretised for me Jomo Kenyatta’s eloquent text, Facing Mount Kenya, that was necessary fare for all of us education students in East Africa. Then, a visit to Tumutumu Girls, Dr Ngina’s alma mater, reminded me of my Dar es Salaam classmate, Miriam, who was one of the early African heads of that august institution. Similarly, I realised that out beyond Nyeri Boys, where the mercurial Father Hillary Wambugu long held sway, was Dedan Kimathi’s home.

But such memories are interminable. I was telling one of my readers recently that one of the first things I fell in love with in Nyeri, where he comes from, was the refined highland green that dominated the hills and valleys of the region. Uganda is famously green, of course, but its greenery tends more towards a saucy, rebellious exuberance that often scares more than it attracts.

Talking about Nyeri green, my long visit was based at the then-brand new and state-of-the-art Greenhills Hotel, itself poised on one of the knolls overlooking downtown Nyeri. I was to revisit the establishment on various assignments and personal calls later, but I have not been now for a few decades. I imagine it has now mellowed into graceful middle age.

But we were talking about youth, and the brilliant lady who has brought profound wisdom to her youthful age. For “PhD” is short for “philosophiae doctor”, which is Latin for “a teacher of the love of wisdom”. We normally associate wisdom with advanced age, but in every age there are people who subvert traditions and rewrite the conventional books.

Dr Ngina appears to be one such person. If age will not come to her with its wisdom, she has brought the wisdom (sophia) to her youth with her scholarly diligence.  But I suppose what most closely connected Dr Ngina’s story with Nyeri, for me, were the echoes of Wangari Maathai, another Nyeri woman, that I heard in the young scholar’s story. The story of the 28-year old PhD walking barefoot to school, in her childhood, and drawing water from a stream was reminiscent of the Nobel heroine’s Tetu stream, from which the tadpoles of her childhood memories have vanished.

Professor Maathai’s PhD was a first of its kind, one of her many firsts. Dr Ngina’s doctorate is also a first of its kind in its own way. All we can wish her is that she will go on to score as many firsts as her illustrious predecessor, minus, we hope, the trials and tribulations that accompanied our elder sister’s struggle.

In the empowerment adventure, Dr Ngina and her other high-achieving colleagues delight the heart by marking a transition from the hypothetical insistence on the “potential” of the Kenyan and African woman to a concrete and practical illustration and proof of her ability. I noted from Dr Ngina’s remarks, reported in the Nation, that she intends to encourage girls to actively and seriously pursue science subjects and disciplines. I think that her being there is already great encouragement.

But, as we say, the struggle continues. In revolution, every arrival is only a preparation for a better and higher departure. While we felicitate and congratulate Dr Ngina and her fellow outstanding achievers, our plea to them is “shime dada zetu” (put in more effort, our sisters). The sky is not the limit. We can go higher.

Incidentally, I am just realising that a surprisingly large number of my Nairobi lady friends, including my late stage and screen partner, Anne Wanjugu, are originally from Nyeri. But I will not mention any more names, as it would be rather invidious. I have not even met Dr Ngina yet, to talk Biomathematics.

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]

PLAIN TRUTH: Whenever you can, make a choice

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We are living in a time when the systems around us have made it so that having more than just one option in many areas of our lives is a luxury, so why don’t you want to make a decision the few times you actually can?

As you ponder about which of the two good schools near your home has a better menu so that you can enrol your child, there is a woman somewhere in this country whose child goes on foot to a school that is three kilometres away because it’s the closest to them.

As you are torn between the two well-equipped hospitals in your neighbourhood, wondering which one has kinder nurses so that you can deliver your child there, there is a woman who is looking for a traditional birth attendant because she knows she can’t make it to the sole, ill-equipped hospital 37 kilometres away from her home for the delivery.

In all facets of your life, there is always someone who doesn’t have as many choices as you do. And even if you are the lucky, privileged, educated, modern woman who has multiple options when it comes to schools, healthcare or even neighbourhoods in which to settle your family, there are still places where women do not have that many choices.

You have little say about unequal pay at the work place. No matter how many choices you make, you don’t get to say whether or not you get adequate, paid maternity leave. Even political representation as a woman is an issue out of your hands.

So, make a decision every time you can. If you long for a vibrant career or a healthy functioning relationship, then stop saying that you are leaving things to fate to see what will happen.

When faced with the choice of staying home and putting yourself out there, stop saying, “Whatever”. Let your choices not be one of those things that you delegate.

Whether it’s the small things like what coffee to order at the café or the big things like whether or not you want to have children and at which point in your life, let it be your choice.

Remember, even refusing to make a choice is making a choice. It’s making the choice to give up control of your life. Making a choice is taking charge. It’s allowing yourself to make your own mistakes which you can learn from. Create your life experiences one choice at a time.

MY STORY: A long journey to healing


Linda Kaveke was seven months pregnant when a trailer crashed into the car she and her boyfriend Ian Kamau were travelling in on Mombasa Road, leaving her physically and mentally broken.

At the age of 22, Linda became a single mother after Ian succumbed to his injuries, and she was left nursing a broken heart and a broken leg. Despite the severity of the accident that left the femur bone on her knee exposed, her baby bump was unscathed.

“I remember so many people came out of nowhere to help us after the accident. He was taken in an ambulance and I was brought by a good Samaritan to the hospital. That was the last time I really saw him,” said Linda.

Linda remembers being admitted in a hospital bed across from Ian. She kept watching him, waiting for him to wake up. Then at one point the hospital staff rushed to him with machines and closed the curtains around his bed. The curtain never opened again; no one said a word to her, and she never saw him again.

“The bone that broke and tore out of my knee was infected. At some point they said they needed to cut off the leg. But I kept on hoping it wouldn’t come to that so I had to go through a lot of surgeries. I had six surgeries within the first one month. The doctors had to remove this and to put in that. And every time I went into surgery, I was scared of losing my baby too,” says Linda.

After a month in the hospital, Linda had to undergo an emergency C-section. She was eight months pregnant but her water had broken.

In spite of her worries, the baby came out healthy… but she was weighed down by grief, excruciating pain in her leg and the responsibilities of being a new mother. It was the tears that she let out in the silent of the night that offered her some kind of solace.

“I would cry and cry at night. And I would put on a brave smile when people came to see me. But inside, I was weighed down by my troubles.”

Linda Kaveke with her daughter. PHOTO | COURTESYLinda Kaveke with her daughter. PHOTO | COURTESY


The emptiness and pain haunted her through the five months she was admitted in the hospital as she went through more surgeries and medical attention for her leg. Although she had the overwhelming support of family and friends who walked with her through the journey, she still struggled through each day.

“When my baby was born on May 6th, a month after the accident, I was relieved to see her healthy. However, the wound on my leg was open and it would ooze a lot, causing me a lot of pain. And as I went through that pain, I had to wake up all the time to feed the baby and take care of her. It was difficult,” narrates Linda.

“At some point I would ask God, ‘Why me?’”

Linda decided to focus on the baby. Even when she felt like she couldn’t take it anymore, she would push herself to move forward because of her daughter.

Linda’s mum would work during the day and then go to the hospital to help her through the night. After some time, she got a cousin to help during the day.

Linda’s family became the rock that she leaned on even after leaving the hospital. Unable to walk around and carry her child, her family stepped in and took care of both Linda and the baby.

It was Ian’s mother who took her through the process of internal healing. She provided counselling for her, took the time to talk to her and helped her process what she was going through.

“It was hard, I was grieving and she was grieving. She kept on sharing her grief and I didn’t respond. One day, she brought in her fellow counsellor and that broke the ice. I felt comfortable talking to the professional. After a while, Ian’s mum took over,” Linda explains her counselling journey.

Linda admits that counselling is a process that never ends; two years on, she still seeks counselling. She says although many people don’t like it, she now believes in it. It is what has helped her cope and heal.

“I feel like I need to start moving on. I want to go back to my photography work. The doctor’s report is that I am not totally healed, and I can’t fold my leg but there is no pain in my leg now,” she says. “Emotionally, I am not there yet but I am better than I was before. With time I will get to where I want to be – a place where I will wake up and not feel like I am stuck. I will do this by continuing with my counselling, doing more and living for my daughter.”

Ethiopian dissident awaits news of captured brother after Eritrean thaw

* Ethiopia and Eritrea ended “state of war” on Monday

* 80,000 people died in 1998-2000 border war

* Prisoners of war taken by both sides

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA, July 13 (Reuters) – The last time Ethiopian politician Beyene Petros knew for certain his brother Bezabih was alive was 20 years ago when neighbours alerted him to an Eritrean television broadcast about prisoners of war.

Anti-aircraft fire had just shot down Bezabih’s MiG 21 warplane while he was on a bombing sortie and he parachuted into Asmara, Eritrea’s capital.

The decorated Ethiopian air force pilot had already spent eight years in captivity in Eritrea after secessionist rebels shot down his jet in 1984.

So elated was Asmara about his second capture that it paraded him in the streets of the capital, airing footage of their prisoner on state TV. He was handcuffed and paraded to cheering crowds in his flight suit.

Since then: silence.

“This is not only personal, it is a national issue … there has been nothing. Zero – no information,” Beyene, a leading dissident, told Reuters in an interview.

The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea are pursuing a rapprochement.

They speak of love and brotherhood and on Monday announced an end to their nations’ “state of war”. But the Bezabih’s case is a reminder of the animosity and hatred that prevailed between the neighbour states for decades.

It also points to the difficulty of overcoming this legacy.

On Saturday, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki arrives in the Ethiopian capital for a three-day visit during which he will re-open his country’s embassy, closed since war broke out in 1998.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a peace initiative last month. He visited Asmara last weekend and signed a pact with Isaias on resuming ties, a move that ended a near 20-year military standoff after a border war in which estimated 80,000 people died in the war.

Around 70,000 Ethiopians of Eritrean origin were expelled from Ethiopia and both nations took prisoners.

On Monday, Abiy and Isaias announced joint development of Eritrea’s sea ports and the reopening of roads and other links between the two nations. It is not clear whether thorny issues such as border demarcation were discussed during the visit.

After Addis Ababa announced that Prime Minister Abiy was due to visit Asmara, elders from Bezabih’s home town of Hossana in southern Ethiopia sought to meet the leader to urge him to secure the release of prisoners including Bezabih.

A day after Abiy returned from Asmara a demonstration was held in Hossana demanding details of Bezabih’s whereabouts. But Beyene says the Ethiopian government is unfazed.

“My frustration has been that the Ethiopian side did not take this up. The prisoners of war whom this very government sent on missions at the most defining of moments to defend the nation – bad fate befell them and they are forgotten.”

In May 1998, Bezabih was plucked out of semi-retirement to lead combat missions as conflict broke out over their disputed frontier, only five years after the Red Sea state formally gained its independence from Ethiopia.

“It is not only my brother, but all prisoners of war. There has to be an exchange of prisoners of war consistent with international law,” Beyene told Reuters, saying an unknown number continue to remain in custody.

Ethiopian government spokesman Ahmed Shide did not answer a phone call requesting comment but Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu said a committee will be created, comprised of officials from both nations, to discuss prisoners of war. (Editing by Maggie Fick and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Golden-girl Chespol retains steeplechase title in Finland

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Kenya’s Cellphine Chespol once again smashed the Championship Record when she staged a dazzling display to retain her 3,000m steeplechase at the ongoing World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland on Friday.

Chespol broke away from Kenyan-born Winfred Mutile of Bahrain and Ugandan Peruth Chemutai with two laps to go before winning in 9 minutes and 12.79 minute to shatter her previous CR from 2016 Poland by 13 seconds.

It was Kenya’s fourth gold medal at the championships.

WOMAN OF PASSION: The woman behind the crowning glory


Veronica Nyabutto, 39 tells Florence Bett-Kinyatti all about the inspiration behind her business, Verushka Wigs.

“I got into the wig business in late 2015. I’d just returned from Nigeria where I’d worked for two years in business development with a private equity firm. Before that, I’d worked with a cargo company then in retail with a local bank for four years. I never felt like I’d settled in, or like I’d found my purpose for my life.

“I was lackadaisical about my work ethic, to tell you the truth, I developed a fighting spirit when I stepped out of my comfort zone and relocated to Nigeria in 2012. I’m a single mum; my daughter was five when I left. The separation was harder on her than it was on me but I had to do what I needed to do to provide for her. I flew in twice every month to spend the weekend with her.

“I returned home in mid-2015. I knew I wanted to get into my own thing, I just didn’t know in what. Whatever ideas I had didn’t take off. I considered blogging but I wasn’t consistent; I thought about importing clothes from Turkey; I looked into farming coffee. I was online one day when I chanced upon a YouTube video of this African-American personality reviewing a wig she’d bought. I couldn’t believe how natural her wig looked. I’d always been into hair extensions, I even sold weaves when I was in university doing my undergraduate in economics. I used to import them from the US and sell them to my schoolmates for about Sh3,000 apiece.

“Anyway, this YouTuber left a link at the end of the video and I ordered two units from that vendor. It cost me about $250. Many people were importing wigs but nobody was customising them to look as flawless as it did on that YouTube video.

“I researched online on how to customise my wigs by hand at home: how to bleach the knots, how to cut the front lace to a client’s natural hairline, how to tint this lace so it looks as close to her skin tone as possible, how to resize the elastic band so it fits her head snugly, how to manipulate the hair to create different styles. It would take me two days to customise one wig. I enjoyed the creativity it asked for.


“This customisation was the gap in the market; it became the value-add of my business and my entry point into the industry.

“I kept one of the customised wigs for myself and sold the other to a friend. She got countless compliments from her friends who then ordered for more customised wigs from me. I later started to make the wigs myself with hair I’d imported from India.

“It was frustrating and labour-intensive work. There was a lot I was yet to learn about the types of lace caps, types of hair and tinting techniques, single knot versus double knot strands, silky versus kinky styles, hair length and density. My clients were also complaining that the wigs were too heavy and too hot.

“I knew the only way to scale up my business was to stop making the wigs by hand and have them professionally made. This would also make them light and comfortable to wear. I travelled to China and Korea in late 2016 to find manufacturers for my wigs. We moved here to Westlands in March 2017.

“All our wigs are made from pure virgin hair from Cambodia and India. There are large factories here where the hair is collected, washed, treated, sorted and exported to China for manufacture. There are some factories in India where the wigs are still hand stitched, strand by strand. It takes them about five weeks to make a full lace wig of 20 inches. The lace front wig takes them two weeks because only the front is stitched by hand, the rest is wefted by machine. We stock both types of wigs.

“I prefer the hair from Cambodia because it has a deeper shade of black, its strands are thicker and have more movement, they have less split ends and it colours better. I eventually want to phase out Indian hair wigs.

“A wig costs Sh30,000 upwards. Price has never been a deterrent to my clients because hair is important to a woman. When a woman loses her hair – through old age or disease – she loses her femininity and confidence. Our wigs restore this lost femininity and confidence. Our wigs are also popular with women who have gone natural and are looking for a low-manipulation protective style for their kinks. They’re also the go-to for women who want to save time getting ready.

“A wig to a woman is like a pair of shoes, she can’t own just one pair. I have several repeat clients who’ve bought different styles of wigs for different occasions – a wig for special events like weddings, a wig for a night on the town, a wig for the gym, a wig for errands, a wig for wearing daily to work.

“I’m currently setting up operational procedures and training more staff as we gear up to diversify our complimentary product offerings and go into partnerships.”

OUT&ABOUT: Inside Lamu’s shopping district

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It’s raining in Lamu Stone Town, the oldest urban town in East Africa – it’s been inhabited for seven centuries. The rain has made it impossible to go island hopping and so, stuck in town, it’s the perfect time to stroll through the main shopping street down the alley where we’re staying.

We have to stop to let a donkey laden with sand in its panniers walk past us. And then we’re in town, on the street that’s the shopping paradise of Lamu – Harambee Street.

Our first stop is at Isaiah Chepyator’s Old Town Art and Recycled Art Gallery housed in a centuries-old building. We first met in 2013 in Koroto in the Tugen Hills near Lake Baringo and have since become good friends.

The watchman-turned-artist sponsored the inaugural Koroto Cultural Festival in 2014. His speciality is carving from recycled wooden dhows, driftwood and broken boats.


My eye catches something else on the wall that looks insignificant but turns out to be the rostrum of a sawfish once so common in the Lamu waters. “An old Bajuni man came to the gallery and I just had to buy it,” says Chepyator.

We take the morning to wander down-town. Opposite his studio is another generations-old woodcarvers’ factory, Amani Handicraft, specialising in hand-carved Lamu wooden doors and furniture. Ahmed Queresh shows his tools while carving a door frame with Ingia kwa salama na amani (enter in peace) chiselled in Arabic among the intricate patterns.

Chepyator then leads me to the recently renovated 700-year old Rawdha Mosque where the huge wooden carved door was carefully cleaned by Queresh and to protect it from direct sunlight, has a canapé fitted above it.

Next stop is at one of Lamu’s famed silversmith – Slim – after the owner Mbarak O. Slim. He brings out a collection of silver rings set with shards of porcelain from old broken plates when traders from the east sailed in with the monsoon winds trading porcelain and silks for slaves, spices, mangrove poles, ivory and rhino horn. He shows off his visitor’s book with Hollywood actors dropping in.

Silver rings with porcelain shards from centuries ago. PHOTO | RUPI MANGATSilver rings with porcelain shards from centuries ago. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT

Past the 19th century Lamu Fort we are at Abubaker Mamen’s shop (near the German post office) for the ubiquitous kanga. The tall man regally dressed in a spotless white kanzu has just come from the mosque. Originally from Pate Island, his father settled in Lamu in search of better prospects.

Mamen trades in pure cotton kangas collected from the island women. “When the cotton mills were working we made our own kangas – and they were pure cotton like these. Now all we get is imported stuff mixed with polyester and they just do not have the same feel or texture.”

It’s turning late afternoon and we drop in at Whispers the coffee shop and adjoining gallery called Gallery Baraka where the owner Kate Baraka displays her signature jewellery pieces and artefacts from around Africa.

Once a prayer hall for the Ismaili community on the island, it was deconsecrated when the Ismailis left the island some 40 years ago and sold off. Digging through the sand-filled rubble, out came the pillars and the arches. The coffee shop serves home baked cakes, ice-creams, sorbets, teas and coffees.

Chepyator points to etchings on the coral wall plastered in limestone with a sketch etched on it by some ancient mariner. It takes a local to know the little-known secrets of an ancient land.