Tag Archives: news in review

The Westgate Attack: Two Years After

October 1, 2015

On Tuesday, September 21, 2015, mall and Nakumatt staff gathered at the new Westgate Mall in Westlands, Nairobi to honor those lives lost in the attack two years ago. The same day, a few minutes down the road in Karura Forest, where a memorial plaque is placed to remember those killed in the attack, a small group of people, mostly the families and friends of those lost, gathered to honor them with interfaith prayers.

That day, two years earlier, al-Shabaab gunmen entered the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killed 67 people, wounded 175, and left the country with a resounding sense of loss and the collective trauma from the event. This loss and traumatization would only worsen as the nation spent the next several days watching footage of the 80 hour standoff as though they were seeing friends, family and fellow residents gunned down live, before their very eyes. One university student at Moi University wrote, “Millions of people watched the media circulate images of the traumatic events that transpired and gripped the nation together in real-time. The Westgate mall terror attack can only be compared to America’s 911 attack…” For many Kenyans, this event changed their lives forever.

Though the personal loss was great, Westgate marked two important changes for the country as a whole:  1) It changed the way the Kenyan government and its officials approach questions of security; and 2) It changed the government’s approach to terrorism.

Towards a Greater Security

Following the attack, two important things changed about security in Kenya. First, it got bigger, both physically and monetarily – with thousands more police and security officers and significantly more money spent on personnel and training.  Second, the government started designating many more resources for anti-terrorist campaigns. Today the vast majority of malls and businesses in Nairobi require visitors to pass through several levels of security before entering. One security firm executive said, “In a way it has [boosted business] because our clients have been concerned.”

The every day lives of Kenyans have been permanently impacted. From a walk to the grocery store to a ride to work each day, security, be it administrative or general police, pervades Kenyan Society. This is largely due to a shift in the governmental approach to security. In the first year after the Westgate attack, the government increased security spending by 24 percent and employed as many as 10,000 more police officers.

Understanding Terrorism

Since the attack, Kenya’s security apparatus has refocused their approach to anti-terrorism training. One former military intelligence officer explained that the government has increased emphasis on anti-terrorism tools through improving skills such as, “surveillance, detection, profiling, and what security officers are looking for in the field.”

The increased emphasis on detection and profiling has changed the way police and other security officials interact with the public. One news source wrote, “Proper verification of national identification cards and other supportive documents along the Kenyan borders with Somalia and Ethiopia have been intensified and mandatory to all nationals.” While tightening border security can be positive, civil society groups and human rights organizations have criticized the long-term negative effects of a heightened anti-terrorism agenda and the use of tools like ethnic profiling as a solution to such problems. The Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, for example, published a document this month called “The Error of Fighting Terror With Terror”, in which they criticized the post-Westgate security agenda for allowing massive ethnically biased human rights violations. The commission writes that it “is concerned that the ongoing crackdown continues to disproportionately target certain groups of people particularly ethnic Somalis and members of the Muslim faith in the coastal region.”

Moving Forward

The Kenyan government has taken precautions to ensure an atrocity like Westgate does not happen again.  The new Westgate structure has as many as 56 security guards and was rebuilt with no balcony seating to ensure terrorists cannot scale the new building. Beyond these superficial changes, many Kenyans question the ability of the state to keep its citizens safe. Speaking of the Westgate attack and the government’s response, one individual wrote, “Lost an irreplaceable friend and colleague…Kenyan govt has done nothing serious to improve security.” For many Kenyans, while the government has committed numerous human rights violations, not nearly enough has been done to genuinely improve the security situation in the country.

Rajon News September 21, 2015 The Star Kenya September 21, 2015 Voice of America September 21, 2015 The Guardian October 4, 2013 al Jazeera September 24, 2014 al Jazeera September 26, 2013 CNN March 21, 2014 CNN July 19, 2015 BBC September 19, 2014 Daily Mail July 18, 2015 New Vision September 21, 2015 The Standard September 21, 2015 Voice of America September 21, 2014 Tamuka News 2014 KNHCR September 2015 Human Rights Watch September 26, 2013 Open Society Foundation October 31, 2013 Academia 2015

News in Review – Cambodia

October 1, 2015

Cambodian garment workers have been striking and protesting since May, advocating for an increase in their current $128 USD monthly minimum wage.

The International Labor Organization, Human Rights Watch, and international human rights groups have raised concerns over workers being underpaid, overworked, sexually harassed, and discriminated against if pregnant. Moreover, thousands of garment workers have fainted on the job since 2011 due to malnourishment, overwork, and poor air circulation in the workplace. According to a Human Rights Watch report, workers have been ordered to fulfill daily quotas of 1500 clothing pieces, often working until 9 p.m. and receiving only 15 minutes to eat lunch.

Since 2013, workers have clashed with government forces while striking over wage disputes, forced overtime work, and prejudice against pregnant women. In 2014, five workers were fatally shot by Cambodian authorities during industry-wide protests. The firm DC Research recently conducted a survey examining garment workers’ expenses. Funded by the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, and international labor rights organizations IndustriALL Global Union and Solidarity Center, the survey was the first of its kind in six years. Union members interviewed 745 garment workers across Cambodia. Findings revealed that monthly expenditures, including remittances back to families in rural communities, averaged $207.50 USD per person. To keep up with expenses, many workers try to support themselves with second jobs and working overtime.

Cambodia’s 28-member Labor Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet this week to negotiate a newly proposed minimum wage for the country’s 700,000 garment workers. However, the committee’s seven union leaders cannot agree on a recommended wage. Given the recent survey findings, some leaders want to propose a $207 minimum wage, while others are more cautiously proposing an increase of only 10-15 percent. The Labor Ministry’s Spokesman Heng Sour claims that the unions will lose their right to negotiate if the seven members cannot agree on a single proposed rate.

Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), states that the only acceptable increase in wage would reflect the inflation rate, which is less than three percent. He insists that they cannot afford any further increase, given competition from other countries, notably Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia’s garment industry makes up approximately one-third of its national GDP. He also claims that workers take home more than revealed in the survey and dismisses the survey and foreign involvement as malicious and “disruptive.” Labor rights advocates, including William Conklin, Country Director for Solidarity Center, anticipate that an $80 wage increase will not be accepted, especially when union leaders do not have a unified voice nationally. Moreover, it is expected that clothing brands themselves could best influence the wage debate. Representatives from brands such as H&M, Arcadia, and C&A were in the country last week discussing the wage increases, though no information has been released from their meetings. Advocates are concerned that even if the wage increases, landlords and stores in proximity to the garment factories will respond by raising prices.

The minimum wage issue reflects a deeper struggle in the working class, stemming back to the Khmer Rouge regime. During the regime, schools were closed and intellectuals eradicated, in attempts to achieve a classless, agrarian society. Today, half of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 25 and the vast portion of the working class remains undereducated and holds no professional working skills. Many workers, primarily women, migrate from rural towns into Phnom Penh to work in garment factories. These workers endure long, arduous working conditions, often with the priority to send money back to their families.

Negotiations between government, employers, and unions are slated to continue through the week.

Photo credit: World Bank

The views expressed by Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Interns are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

Sources:                                     

Carmichael, Robert. “HRW: Cambodia Failing to Protect Garment Workers.” Voice of America. 12 Mar. 2014.

Carmichael, Robert. “Pilot Project to Boost Nutrition for Cambodian Garment Workers.” Voice of America. 14 Oct. 2014.

Cox, Jonathan. “Garment Workers Want More Pay to Cover Costs.” Khmer Times. 21 Sept. 2015.

Dara, Mech and Zsombor Peter, “Government Tells Unions to Pick a Minimum Wage or Lose Their Say.” The Cambodia Daily. 23 Sept. 2015.

Mony, Serey and Samean Yun. “Garment Workers Demand Cambodian Government Resolve Employment Issue.” Radio Free Asia. 21 Sept. 21, 2015.

Reaksmey, Hul. “Manufacturers Say They Can’t Raise Wage to $207 Per Month.” Voice of America, Cambodia: Khmer. 22 Sept. 2015.

Work Faster or Get Out: Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry.” Human Rights Watch. 11 March 2015.