Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kenya military says it captures Somali town

Kenya military says it captures Somali town
May 30, 2012 20:08 GMT
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya's military spokesman says Kenyan troops have captured a rebel-held town in southern Somalia.
Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir on Wednesday also announced the deaths of 17 al-Shabab fighters in two separate engagements.
Chirchir said that Kenyan troops killed six fighters in the town of Hayo. Chirchir also said troops had captured Afmadow, a key town on the road to the al-Shabab-held port city of Kismayo. Chirchir said on Twitter that the focus of Kenyan troops is on Kismayo.
Chirchir also said that 11 al-Shabab fighters were killed after Kenyan naval forces fired on a suspected insurgent camp in Kismayo. Insurgents said earlier that that attack took place on Tuesday.
Kenyan forces moved into Somalia in October.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Huge water deposits now found in Turkana

Turkana county in which oil deposits were recently discovered, has huge amounts of underground water. To tap the resource, the government has launched a Sh131 million water survey in the area. “The survey of the groundwater in the drought affected Turkana county using radar technologies will go a long way in enhancing our understanding of ground water in this area,” said director of watersresources in Kenya John Rao Nyaoro.
The project, launched in Nairobi yesterday, is supported by Unesco and financed by the Japanese government. Nyaoro said past satellite surveys have shown that Kenya has 60 billion cubic metres of renewable underground water compared to 20 billion cubic metres of surface water. This is the first time the government has embarked on large-scale mining of ground water. Nyaoro said a satellite technology called Watex System will map water wells in Turkana to help drillers reduce cost.
The project will benefit thousands of drought-hit pastoralists, who currently walk for many kilometres looking for water. Somalia and Ethiopia are also involved in the project because most ground water straddles between different countries. Director of Unesco in Nairobi Joseph Massaquoi said the water will be exploited in a sustainable way. “Nine months following the onset of the 2011 drought and famine crisis in the region, some nine million people still face food and water shortages in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia,” he said.
Kenya is categorised as “water stressed” country and more than 80 per cent of people have no access to clean water, according to the UN. Massaquoi said the Turkana project will produce maps to guide experts who can drill the water at lesser cost. The move comes a month after researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London released a report showing that Africa has 100 times more ground water than the amount found on its surface.
The report says some of the largest water deposits on the continent are in the driest areas like the Sahara desert. Experts, however, say groundwater may not solve all water shortages because some deposits are inaccessible. Yesterday, Nyaoro said the country has the necessary expertise to drill the ground but where necessary, foreign experts will be engaged. He said the Water ministry has already prepared a policy on how ground water should be exploited.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

German Islamist in Kenya on the run: Police:

Kenyan police last weekend began a hunt for Bonn-born Ahmed Mueller, saying he could have “information about Shebab activities being prepared.”  (File photo)
Kenyan police last weekend began a hunt for Bonn-born Ahmed Mueller, saying he could have “information about Shebab activities being prepared.” (File photo)
Kenyan police said Friday they are still searching for a German man wanted for questioning over links with Somalia’s Al-Qaeda affiliated Shebab rebels.

Kenyan police last weekend began a hunt for Bonn-born Ahmed Mueller, saying he could have “information about Shebab activities being prepared.”

On Wednesday, police said they had arrested a man who they believed was the “German terror suspect” but had not formally identified him.

The man turned out to be another German national arrested on drug charges.

“It was not Mueller who was arrested, we are still looking for Mueller,” a senior police source said Friday.

Since Kenya sent forces into southern Somalia in October to fight the Shebab it has been hit by retaliatory attacks.

Kenyan police have warned that Mueller “is possibly armed” and is believed to also go by the names Andreas Martin Mueller and Abu Nusaibah.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bones of Turkana: Meave and Richard Leakey on human ancestors and the Leakey legacy - Boing Boing

The Leakey family is like the Kennedys, but for paleoanthropology instead of politics. Think about any hominin fossil or artifact you can name. Chances are, there was a Leakey involved in its discovery. Louis Leakey was one of the first scientists to champion the idea that humans had their origins in Africa. For three generations now, his family has carried out active paleo excavations in eastern Africa, especially the countries of Tanzania and Kenya.
The first generation—Louis Leakey and his wife Mary—were most associated with Tanzania's Oldupai Gorge. But their son Richard, his wife Meave, and their daughter Louise have all spent their careers focused on Lake Turkana, on the border between Kenya and Ethiopia. The site is the world's largest, permanent desert lake. Undisturbed by modern development, in a spot where millions of years of flowing water have washed deposits and fossils down from the rift valley—Lake Turkana is an excellent place to search for human ancestors and our ancient relatives.
On Wednesday, PBS will air an hour-long documentary on the Leakeys' work at Lake Turkana. Part biography of Richard Leakey and part exploration of human history—Bones of Turkana will air May 16th at 9:00 pm central and again on May 21st at the same time. Yesterday, I got the opportunity to speak with Richard and Meave Leakey. We talked about human evolution, the scientific promise of Lake Turkana, the process of paleo fieldwork, and the lasting impression of the Leakey legacy.

First, a bit of context. Although he's the more famous of the two, Richard Leakey hasn't really been doing paleoanthropology for 20 years. Instead, he's worked in wildlife conservation—especially with elephants. He's also participated in Kenyan politics, including helping to found a new political party there in the late 1990s. Currently, he's focused on fundraising for the Turkana Basin Institute, an organization aimed at providing logistical and financial support to researchers from many disciplines working in remote parts of Kenya. Previously the site of a base camp for Leakey work at Lake Turkana, the Turkana Basin Institute will soon be home to a permanent building. "Now it’s a place where scientists can do research without having to live in tents and eat sand," Richard Leakey told me. "And we can give local nomadic people permanent jobs in curatorial duties with collections on site. Traditionally, people found fossils and took them away. We’re turning that around now, so that the local economy gains as well."
Maggie Koerth-Baker: Richard, what drew you to Lake Turkana in the first place?
Richard Leakey: I had been working in southern Ethiopia representing my father in 1968 and 1967 [He would have been around 24 at the time—MKB]. I didn’t really enjoy it, I was very much the junior person on the expedition. But I had dropped out of high school and didn’t have any credentials except my experience. I knew that to go any further in my career I'd either have to go to university or I’d need a to find a really good site and build team around me. So that’s what I chose to do. I happened to notice that Lake Turkana looked very promising geologically—there were formations suggesting that the lake had fluctuated in depth and size over millions of years. There was sediment from river systems that often contains fossils. You had exposure through modern erosion, and there was very little vegetation. In 1968, I went in to check it out more closely. Immediately, we started finding fossils and lots of them.
What’s important about Lake Turkana is that it’s been there, growing and shrinking, for four million years, if not longer. There's this continuous record that exists in other places, but perhaps not as broad and rich. The work that’s been done so far suggests that other places aren’t as extensive. That’s what makes Turkana different from other sites we know of at the moment. But that's not to say that the other sites don't matter. It’s the combination of work done in South Africa, Tanzania, work being done in Ethiopia. It all adds up to a comprehensive picture. We’ve accumulated a huge amount of data at Lake Turkana but it would be less important than it is without that bigger continental sample.

MKB: Meave, you married into this family that had already been doing paleontology work for years. How has joining the Leakeys affected your work over the decades? Did the family business alter the course of your research?

Meave Leakey: It did entirely. I was doing marine zoology in university. I can’t think of anything further removed from paleontology. But my initial contact with Richard’s father led to me getting a job in his primate research center. I ended up doing my Ph.D. on modern monkey skeletons, and I got so interested in that that I left marine sciences behind entirely.
Then I met Richard and he invited me up to Turkana to look at fossil monkeys. It was entirely Richard who got me started in the field work. As soon as I got there I really loved it. In that sense, the Leakeys directed the opportunities that led to what I do today. Being married to Richard led to my interest in fossil human ancestors. I was mostly interested in monkeys for years, that was what I studied. But in 1989 he went into wildlife conservation and that left me in the position of leading the fieldwork.

MKB: From your perspective, is it reasonable to focus so much our research energy on this one place, on Lake Turkana? I’m curious about the trade offs we make here between looking for fossils in a location that we already know so much about, because it’s been so well studied versus looking for fossils in places that haven’t been explored yet, where we might find something we’re missing at Turkana.

ML: I think the thing to understand about Turkana is that it’s very huge. We work with many colleagues in different disciplines, looking at lots of different angles and that’s what makes it exciting. You have geologists interpreting the lake’s history. Geochemists looking at dominant vegetation. The main overall focus is how and why our ancestors evolved and how they became us. The big questions relate to that. But climate is important. Environments are important. Extinctions are important. There’s many different questions and aspects and approaches to the one main focus.
We have an enormous backlog of work that’s been done there, 45 years worth or so. We have a huge amount of information about the lake basin. On the other hand, when someone comes up with a new site in Africa, you have no idea what you’ll find and that gives you a better idea of what you’re seeing in Turkana. We tend to think that Turkana gives you the right picture of our past, but it doesn’t. It’s just a little pinhole view. The rest of Africa might have something entirely different going on. Personally, I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else because my expertise is in that specific lake basin. But I think we should be finding as many sites as possible all over the world. That's how you get the big picture.

MKB: You both have had a lot of experience finding new fossil specimens, so I wanted to ask you about a part of paleo work that's often very difficult for laypeople to understand. How do you go about distinguishing where a new specimen fits in the human family tree, whether it's part of an already identified species, or something new? That can seem like a really subjective thing from the outside.

RL: I would say that people have generally gone about explaining this backwards. The very earliest things that are our ancestors, quite frankly they don’t look like us at all. I think it’s much more important to look from the present and go back. When you find 10,000-year-old old skeletons they look just like us. In fact, modern looking goes back to 200,000 years. Then, I think we tend to go further and start really seeing the differences. At 1.5 million years ago, it’s not like us at all. If we presented it this other way, from present back, I think we’d have more understanding from the public.
ML: It really is a lot of work to establish that you’ve got something different and that it’s not just variation within the species. The main comparative example you use is to take the gorilla, which has a huge size and shape difference between males and females. Gorillas have the most variation within a species of all modern primates. You look at that very extreme variation and you assume you're unlikely get a much higher degree of variation within a species than that. Then you compare all the points on your new specimen with known species and you see if it fits within that range of variation. If it exceeds the gorilla level of variation you’ve got a pretty good case for a new species.
And the truth, with this method, is that you're likely missing species. If you were to take a series of modern monkey skulls and break them apart the way we find them in the fossil record, there’s no way you’d call them different species. But you know in the modern situation that they are different. If anything, we’re conservative on this.

MKB: One of the things that really stood out to me from your new documentary was the way the narrative associated tool making and tool use with an important step in non-humans becoming humans. How does that idea work with all that we now know about the many, many other animals who use tools. It's not even just primates, right?

RL: It’s quite subtle. We know birds use tools and chimps and insects and lots of mammals. But to take a block of very hard stone and to take another stone and fashion an object from it, that's something different. You have to "see within" the stone to know what you’re fashioning before you fashion it. You have to project an idea. That's a step that no other tool maker uses. It’s an almost soft science definition but I can see a fundamental difference.
ML: I'd agree. Kanzi is a chimp that humans tried to teach to make stone tools. But his hands were simply the wrong shape. They don’t have the precision of grip we have and they have less flexible grip. It wouldn’t have been possible for Kanzi to make a tool as professionally as our ancestors did. We haven’t found tools older than 2.5 million years old. I’m sure that’s not the last word on this. There might be ones found that are older, but as you go back, the hand then becomes less and less flexible. The limiting factor would be the morphology of the hand. It's more that and less the morphology of the brain, in my opinion. This aspect of being human very much depends on hand flexibility.

MKB: Meave, your team found the skull of Kenyanthropus platyops—a 3 million year old hominin—at Lake Turkana in 1999. (Other scientists argue that this skull doesn't represent a new genus, but is rather a species ofAustralopithecus.) Why do we find so many skulls and skull fragments? Shouldn't there be equal quantities of other ancient hominin bones?

ML: We do find more skulls than you’d expect. I think it has to do with the size of the brain, or rather the size of the actual skull. Other remains can get chewed up by carnivores. They aren’t as complete. But the skulls we do find in greater number than you might expect. Maybe it's becuase carnivores couldn’t get their mouths around the skull and cruch it up, because the brain was so big. I'm speculating, but when you get back to something like Lucy, you don’t find more skulls than other bones, maybe because the brain was smaller and the carnivores were bigger. We do find other peices but they’re usually pretty fragmentary. And we're missing lower jaws a lot, because those can be chewed up. Monkeys are another good example. There are fewer fossil monkey skulls as complete as hominid skulls, and that's even though we find far more monkey specimens.

MKB: Richard, you grew up in the field, doing fieldwork alongside your parents. You and Meave both raised your daughter in the field. What is that experience like? Why do you think that paleontology has become this very family-oriented job for the Leakeys in a way that other industries just aren't?

RL: If you have an opportunity to be involved in fieldwork it's hugely exciting and rewarding. You’re out in the open in nature, unbothered by emails and telephones. And once you enjoy fieldwork, paleontology is one of the professions where you can devote a lot of time to that. I think that's what draws you back into it as an adult. as A result of my childhood is that I always had a natural curiosity about origins, extinction, and evolution. It’s a natural part of my life. It’s not the only thing that interests me, obviously, but fully understanding why we are what we are—I think it adds to the whole human experience.
ML: You also have to understand that we're only three months of the year in the field and those months tend to fall within school holidays. Our children were in the field with us the entire time, from the time they were babies. They were in the camp or in the base. We'd take them out now and again and they'd get very excited about finding things. When they were older, they were able to start helping in camp, picking out bone fragments. The result of all of that exposure is that they say they definitely won’t get into the subject as adults. Of course, Louise said exactly that, but now she’s fully involved. Our other daughter said no and kept her word.

Image 1: The Leakey family excavating a pelorovis skull. Our human ancestors once feasted on these ancient bovids (akin to cows). Courtesy National Geographic Television.
Image 2: Kenya 1987 Lake Turkana woman and dogs, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from wfeiden's photostream.
Image 3: Meave Leakey. Courtesy National Geographic Television.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

All Fun and Games in Ethiopia and Kenya | She's the First

The endless talents of the students at the Kibera School for Girls!
The endless talents of the students at the Kibera School for Girls!
As summer approaches and finals are behind us, it’s time to close the books for a bit and think about fun! I wrote to the Kibera School for Girls in Kenya and the Selamta Family Project in Ethiopia to learn more about playtime halfway across the world. In elementary school, my recess usually consisted of hopscotch, foursquare (the kind with a ball and chalk boxes – not a cell phone check-in!), and funnel ball. However, after learning about the schools’ playtime activities like Circus Camp, yoga classes, Ethiopian and hip hop dancing, I’m blown away by incredible ways these girls fill their day.
At the Kibera School, the girls play outside for 30-40 minutes every day after lunch. Typically, the younger girls dance their way through recess, while the older girls jump rope, read, or talk with friends. However, for two weeks recently, the young girls were entertained by the Africa Yoga Project, a performing arts organization that led the girls in yoga, drumming, singing, signlanguage, face paint, and hula hooping classes! The girls rotated through the different sessions the first week, and then chose their favorite activities to do the second week. At the culmination of Circus Camp, the girls hosted an incredible show for all of the KSG families.
In Ethiopia, the students at the Selamta Family Project also have time each day to relax and play. Though all of the students have break-time during the school day, they usually also play after school before helping out at home or starting homework. Like the girls at Kibera, the students enjoy jumping rope, painting and drawing, and doing gymnastics, but they also love to play card games (especially Uno!) and futbol, or practice their hip hop or traditional Ethiopian dance moves. Some girls spend their recess trying out new hair braiding styles. One of their favorite special events is Selamta Idol!
Both the Kibera School for Girls and the Selamta Family Project believe that all children have the right to play. In writing this blog, I learned that playtime is more than just a fun break in the day, it’s actually a right protected by the United Nations. Article 31 of the UN Convention asserts, “every child has the right to rest an leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities . . .and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” Whether they’re working hard at reading new books or solving math problems, it’s clear the girls at the She’s the First partner schools fill their day with lots of learning and lots of joy!
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Kenya protests against Ethiopian incursion - Xinhua |   2012-05-10 18:41:22             

LODWAR, Kenya, May 10 (Xinhua) -- Kenya has protested over incursions and senseless ritual killing by Ethiopian militia and the disruption of fishing activities along the shores of the Lake Turkana.
Officials said on Thursday that heavily armed troops have been moved to the Todonyang area of Turkana in Kenya's Rift Valley, where three police officers were killed and five others wounded by Merrile bandits from Ethiopia.
Turkana North District Commissioner Albert Mwilitsa said the government has launched official protest against invasions by the Ethiopians. The officials confirmed that tension is high along the Kenya-Ethiopia border after Merrile herders attempted to invade grazing fields inside Kenya.
"The border is tense and we have moved a big number of security personnel troops to beef up security after Ethiopians tried to cross to the country," Mwilitsa said. Security units have been established at various entry points along the common boundary.
"We have a full-pledged police station, General Service Unit and rapid deployment unit from the administration police to deal with the Ethiopian militia," the administrator said.
Up to 50 people including security officers have been killed by the Ethiopian militia since May last year.This has forced hundreds of Turkana families to move away from the rich fishing grounds along the shores for their safety to Lwarengak, 14 km away for safety, according to Kenyan officials.
Fishing is the only source of income for the Turkanas. The pastoralist community depends on fishing to supplement food handouts from the government and donors.
Despite heavy presence of Kenyan officers, families are fleeing the area as heavily Ethiopian militia take control of the volatile border.
Mwilitsa said Kenya has made demands to the Ethiopian administration in a bid to restore peace at the border.
Among the demands is the withdrawal and disarmament of the nearly 500 Merrile militia at Natapal, an Ethiopian security post at the border.
The militia is accused of staging attacks on the Kenyan side to force officer and Turkana villagers to move away from the fertile fishing areas.
Mwilitsa said he had delivered a Kenyan protest letter. "We are demanding that the Ethiopian authority to step in security measures and stop their people from invading our territory. I have talked and delivered our demands to the chief administrative officer of southern Omo zone and we expect their regional president Shiferaw to act," the official told Xinhua by telephone.
Mwilitsa said the government also wants the Ethiopian side to establish a legitimate security camp at Natapal.
"We want a legal security camp at the border to help control and restrain Ethiopian civilians from entering Kenya and also bring down the incursions," the official said.
Kenya and Ethiopia last week agreed to jointly demarcate a new international boundary separating disputes over beacons and infiltration of criminals and communal border conflicts.
President Mwai Kibaki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi have agreed on the demarcation to end the protracted confusion on the boundary.
"Following a directive by the two Heads of State that a joint boundary committee be established to inspect boundary and replace pillars, it is paramount that we move forward as per the principals' directives," Acting Internal Security Permanent Secretary Mutea Iringo told the security delegation from Kenya and Ethiopia in Kenya's port city Mombasa.
The official announced that Kenya has established an army base along the Kenya-Ethiopia border in Todonyang in Turkana County to curb rebel militia attacks and asked Ethiopia to establish the same on its side of the border to allow the security personnel to tighten surveillance and address security issues as they arise on the ground.