Inside the murky world of Nairobi’s smoking zones

The Kenyan government has cracked down on cigarettes with a ban on advertising and smoking in public, driving the habit into the shadows

There is a wooden shed in the middle of Nairobi city centre, dark, full of fumes, crowded and deliberately built beside the public toilets. It feels like a place of shame.

Jairus Masumba, Nairobi countys deputy director of public health, calls it in jest the gazebo. Its the public smoking place, created by his department. It is claustrophobic and filled with smoke, some of which drifts out through slats, but most of which hangs heavily in the fugged air inside.

Those who enter have to be desperate and theyre usually men. A 27-year-old woman, who comes from the south of Kenya, is a rarity. She is heavily made-up and stands in the doorway. She smokes seven to 10 cigarettes a day. Its bad for you, no? she says several times, though she knows the answer.

The men inside, barely visible as you enter because of the darkness and the fug, are smoking hard, standing up like a football crowd, all facing the same way though there is nothing to look at except the wooden slats of the far side of the shed. Music blares but nobody is dancing. They are grim faced, doing what they have to do. A young man, high probably on khat and cigarette in hand, chases some of the butts and the ash out with a broom, seeking money from the other smokers for cleaning up. He says he has a diploma in business marketing and another diploma in substance abuse counselling.

A woman stands at a smoking zone in Nairobi, Kenya. Smoking openly on the street can incur a hefty fine. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

At the door are two cigarette sellers, doing a busy trade. Its rare for anyone to buy whole packets. Packs of cigarettes in Kenya are broken up and sold by vendors as single sticks. That makes them cheap for women, children and the poor, despite manufacturers being banned from producing packets of less than 10. One of the two sellers sitting passively inhaling smoke is a woman who taps a packet of 20 and shakes them deftly out, one at a time, exchanging them for small coins. Men buy one, sometimes a couple, sometimes three. They will not all be smoked here. The sellers sit at the large red wooden boxes, with open lids that become the display cabinet. Most popular and cheapest is Sportsman at 100 shillings a pack (75p, 97 cents) or 5 shillings (less than 4p, 5 cents) for a single. Smokers buy sweets too, to take away the smell of tobacco when the worker goes back to the office.

Tobacco: a deadly business

The shed is vile, but few dare smoke even on the pavement outside in the cleaner air in the knowledge that the plain clothed official public health enforcers will be circling, ready to impose fines on anyone they catch. Nairobi city has got tough on smoking. The Kenyan government has banned advertising and marketing and smoking in public places, but it is up to the individual counties to interpret and enforce that and they all do it differently. Nairobi county has cracked down hard. Lighting up on the open street in the city centre can result in a stiff fine of 50,000 shillings (374, $485) or even arrest. But its not so everywhere, or even outside of the city centre.


Yusef, 58 and from Kenyas second city Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast, says people smoke openly in Mombasa. He has been smoking since the 1970s. His 28 year-old daughter died recently from colon cancer. That gives him a different perspective. Im more worried about GM foods, he says.

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MH370 search: families of passengers to comb Madagascar beaches for clues

Relatives have accused Malaysian authorities of not doing enough as parts believed to be from the missing jet are found on Madagascan coast

The families of those lost aboard a Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing in 2014 will themselves comb the beaches of Madagascar this week in the hope of finding debris from the plane.

The families, who arrived on the island in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, have criticised Malaysian investigators for not doing enough to find debris, which could reveal more clues about what happened.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014, sparking a search in the southern Indian Ocean that is still going on.

But many families say they have been dismayed by the failure of the deep-sea debris search more than 1,000 miles off Australias western coast, and by what they say is an apparent lack of interest from Malaysian authorities in the growing amount of debris washing up on the other side of the Indian Ocean.

This week, clutching homemade fliers showing what the debris looks like and what to do with it if found, seven bereaved relatives from China, Malaysia and France will travel along Madagascars remote coastline to raise awareness among locals and conduct beachcombing searches.

Most paid for their own flight tickets and accommodation, but some of the Chinese contingent were funded by broadcast journalists who travelled with them.

Some of the families will travel to Ile Sainte Marie off the north-east coast where debris and potential personal effects are thought to have been found in the past week.

Ghislain Wattrelos, 53, who lost his wife and two teenage children on MH370, said he had quit his job as a marketing director to ensure he would one day be able to give his remaining 23-year-old son some answers.

Im involved in this quest for truth because I dont want him to be involved. One day I will tell him what happened, he said.

I will stop searching when I have a definitive answer. I think we will get it one day. I do believe that many people in this world have a small part of the truth and I dont think they can hide it forever.

Grace Subathirai Nathan, a Malaysian lawyer who lost her mother, Anne Daisy, on MH370, said the families were alarmed by the suggestion that unless credible new evidence was found the inquiry could soon be wound down.

I cant understand how they can say that they lack evidence to progress the investigation when theres debris washing up here all the time, she said in the Malagasy capital where the families gathered on Sunday to begin a search for debris.

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Refugee judoka Popole Misenga out of Olympics but thrilled all the same

Popole Misenga made it into the last 16 in the mens 90kg division, where he was beaten by the current world number one

For nearly 20 seconds, Popole Misenga refused to submit as he struggled to wrestle free from the devastating hold that was slowly hyperextending his elbow during Wednesdays judo competition. Around him, the crowd in the nearly full Carioca Arena 2 swelled. How much agony could he withstand?

Turns out plenty. The 24-year-old freed himself from the armbar and, with eight seconds left, hurled Indias Avtar Singh to the mat with a seoi-nage, or shoulder throw, for a yuko to seal an opening-round victory that meant something more.

Misenga and his fellow judoka Yolande Mabika from the Democratic Republic of the Congo are two of 10 athletes competing for the first Olympic refugee team, a group that includes two Syrian swimmers, five South Sudanese runners and an Ethiopian marathon runner athletes who would otherwise find themselves without a country and excluded from the Games.

Misenga and Makiba say they endured severe mistreatment by their coaches while competing for DRCs national team. They recall being denied food for days on end and locked into a cell after failing to win competition medals. When they travelled to Brazil for the world judo championships three years ago, the pair decided to flee the team hotel and take their chances on the streets of Rio without passports, money or food and to seek asylum.

When the International Olympic Committee announced the establishment of a refugee team as a way to shine a light on the worldwide refugee crisis, Misenga and Makiba were chosen. The teams emotional march into Maracan stadium at the end of Fridays opening ceremony ahead of the hosts Brazil represented one of the indelible moments of Rio 2016.

Misengas win on Wednesday took him into the last 16 of the mens 90kg division, where he faced the world number one, Gwak Dong-han of South Korea. Amid chants of Po-po-le! Po-po-le! from the crowd, Misenga lost by ippon on a sliding lapel strangle in the final minute. He said afterwards that he was proud to last more than four minutes against the reigning world champion and vowed to return to the Games to improve on his ninth-place finish.

Its an honour to be in the Olympics. I fought with a champion, said Misenga, who has not seen his family for 15 years but was confident they were watching back in DRC. Im just really happy to be here because everybody understands and knows about the refugee team, knows the refugee story. People around the world, theyre all watching this competition right now.

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