Photo Documentary – Life Struggles & Dead Tourism In Kenya

This travel photography essay was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by photographer Christopher Haslett.

Images and commentary from “The Road to Carthage” project by Christopher Haslett

Why do they stay away? Some ask. Violence is everywhere. Take a walk in North London and you’ll see, warns a long-staying Brit. Britain has good hospitals, I argue, and the police will show up.

Who rushed in to save the 142 students? World leaders label the attackers “cowards”. Anyone notice the irony?

When the talk turns to standards there is more concord. Kenya outpriced the competition. Service is poor; staff on starvation’s door. Bad roads. Trash fires. Windblown plastic bags. The police are as scary as the armed robbers. They are the armed robbers, say some.

“Joseph Under the Tree”, 65 years old. Has attended his Diani Beach stall every day since about 1980. He sells nothing now. But the routine keeps him “fit of mind”.

“Joseph Under the Tree”, 65 years old. Has attended his Diani Beach stall every day since about 1980. He sells nothing now. But the routine keeps him “fit of mind”.

Click on any image to see more photographs of daily life in Kenya by Christopher Haslett.

A rare middle class family outside the ruined Tradewinds resort, Diani Beach

A rare middle class family outside the ruined Tradewinds resort, Diani Beach

Click on any image to see more photographs of daily life in Kenya by Christopher Haslett.

A day at a time, Diani Beach, March 28, 2015

A day at a time, Diani Beach, March 28, 2015

Won’t it bottom out? What would the bottom look like around here?

An abandoned beach club south of Mombasa

An abandoned beach club south of Mombasa

300 radicals in this area now, primed to attack. That’s what the cops said. So they know who they are; odd they don’t just arrest them. Clarity is poor. I want to know what’s being talked about beyond that patio, in the bush where tribes we ignored are deciding our fate. Because they might have met the enemy. Even be them? I call a Kenyan journalist in the capital, 300 miles away. He asks me questions.

A Maasai tribesman offers trinkets for sale, Diani Beach

A Maasai tribesman offers trinkets for sale, Diani Beach

I’ll go it alone, make my narrative. I have visited and studied this coast for eight years. If I’d taken this in 2007, I’d have had to Photoshop out a lot of sunbathing wazungu (white foreigners). But I took it in 2015, when a sea bird was likelier to cross the frame than a tourist. Since I came to stay I’ve witnessed two slumps. There is the present one, much the worst. There was also one in 2008, when Kenya appeared to teeter on the edge of breakup, but got patched up again. Yes, again.

07

No one I met even knew what this place used to be called. But it was so much bigger, so much more lavish than any nightclub running today that I call it Carthage. It likely went under after a still earlier crisis, in 1997. Likoni. A month of guns, machetes and arrows as the tribe who’d always lived here came out of their poor palm villages, telling Kenyans from other parts of the country to vacate the area. Their land.

Muslim girls of the Digo tribe during another South Coast disturbance in early 2014

Muslim girls of the Digo tribe during another South Coast disturbance in early 2014

These rebels were Muslims. But they were unworldly people, subsistence farmers in the coconut bush beyond the beach. In ’97 they cared little about world jihad. Land was on their minds. There was one twist: this land had once been part of a Muslim empire, Zanzibar. They had an idea of sovereignty that excluded Kenya. A “council” was formed to advance this sovereignty agenda. Their dealings with Kenya’s leaders became a mix of arrests, dialogue and crude surprise attacks.

Two Fishes Hotel. Closed in 1998, thought to be burned by unpaid employees

Two Fishes Hotel. Closed in 1998, thought to be burned by unpaid employees

Abdullah said he used to work here. He offered a tour of an abandoned, filthy pool. No fee. “We are all brothers.” But there was a little matter of some food for himself and his none-too-small deputy. A 22 lb bag of corn flour. Brothers cannot refuse each others help, he pontificated. More of his people came over. I left, but some of them followed me down the beach.

A coastal witch doctor offers career success, misfortune to enemies, sexual potency and other spells

A coastal witch doctor offers career success, misfortune to enemies, sexual potency and other spells

Why must Kenya go through this? See the sign on the tree. Imagine common citizens who trust witch doctors but know little of civics. Picture a cunning ruling class set among them, masters of every type of fraud, taking what they want while police-for-hire handle little people who object. Revolt had to happen. It’s flared everywhere, though unsurprisingly the long memories and Islamic legal arguments of the coastals gave them extra traction. But even their struggle languished. That is, until a snap military operation launched by Kenya four years ago changed everything.

A Somali looks for joyride clients for his camels, Diani Beach

A Somali looks for joyride clients for his camels, Diani Beach

The problems of bordering Somalia – refugees, banditry – had been unseen by most Kenyans. But when Kenya sent troops over the border in 2011, despite having no experience with invasions and for reasons not easy to grasp, the genie was truly out of the bottle. Declaring common cause with Kenyan Muslims, Somalis led much crueler attacks than the locals had managed, while increasingly turning over the work to Kenyans they’d trained. They literally franchised. Kenya’s security forces were out of their depth. Showing up late at a big massacre scene became their hallmark.

The last restaurant open in the “Bazaar” food court, Diani Beach

The last restaurant open in the “Bazaar” food court, Diani Beach

She works 10 hours for about $3. Her boss probably mentioned tips. The Dutch volunteers are cordial, say “thank you” a lot. But they come from a social democracy where tips aren’t the norm. And she smiles on: an open, genuine smile next to their labored ones. No future radical here. But she may still reach paradise early, if she gets an illness she can’t afford to treat.

A Diani Beach worker goes home at twilight, having failed to sell his bird feeder carved from a single coconut.

A Diani Beach worker goes home at twilight, having failed to sell his bird feeder carved from a single coconut.

After a half-century of cruel exploitation, Kenya’s One Percent finally got their own cruel arch enemy. Al-Shabaab might be the boldest and most creative gang of killers in our time. Kenya’s corruption and disunity are their oxygen. They may not even care about the tourists. Wasted targets. Al-Shabaab is out to break a whole state, annex part of its territory. Families of dead foreigners can’t give that to them. But Kenya might have to…

Indigenous farms behind the south coast of Kenya

Indigenous farms behind the south coast of Kenya

Villages are bushy affairs here, but we are in one. In a hundred places like this, elders are deciding the fate of this country. They talk into the night under weak lights swarmed by moths. Debating which way to lean. Their patriotism could once have been bought cheaply, but Nairobi is stingy. My pale face is met with laid-back curiosity; I don’t get bullets like the police, who stay away now. I came to love this furnace-hot bush with its loudly rustling fronds. The wind tends to blow from the northeast, from the Arabian lands.

Love 4 Sale, Diani Beach, March 6, 2014

Love 4 Sale, Diani Beach, March 6, 2014

Click on any image to see more photographs of daily life in Kenya by Christopher Haslett.

Behind Diani Beach, December 10, 2014

Behind Diani Beach, December 10, 2014

Click on any image to see more photographs of daily life in Kenya by Christopher Haslett.

A long night ahead, Diani Beach

A long night ahead, Diani Beach

At the tourism expos, the officials labor on, pushing a brand that hasn’t changed in 70 years. Beaches, tribes and animals. Knowing well that a growing share of its shrinking visitor pool isn’t interested in that Kenya. They care that the price of a woman has fallen, from the equivalent of around 10 beers to five. A new, harder Kenya attracts a new, harder visitor. Slavic dialects are heard in the beach bars and night spots.

Diani Beach, March 15, 2015

Diani Beach, March 15, 2015

Click on any image to see more photographs of daily life in Kenya by Christopher Haslett.

Mombasa, Kenya, March 28, 2015

Mombasa, Kenya, March 28, 2015

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By Christopher Haslett

 


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