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“We just feel rejected”. Kenya’s Wambui fears testosterone rules will end career

The IAAF has maintained that the rules are necessary for fair competition.

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"We just feel rejected". Kenya's Wambui fears testosterone rules will end career
Kenya's Margaret Nyairera Wambui. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP)

Kenya’s Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist Margaret Nyairera Wambui can feel her career slipping away from her, with no idea when, or if, she will be able to compete internationally again.

The 24-year-old is one of several star female athletes affected by an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling this month that requires women with high levels of testosterone to take medication to suppress it.

Seated at a dirt-track stadium at the foot of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi where she trains, Wambui has just returned from a disappointing sixth-place finish in the 800m at the Doha Diamond League.

She was meant to leave for the IAAF World Challenge athletics meeting in Nanjing next week, but now her future is one big question mark.

“I am very disappointed, I don’t even feel like going on with the training because you don’t know what you are training for,” she told AFP.

The new IAAF rules took effect on May 8 after South Africa’s two-time Olympic 800m champion, Caster Semenya lost a legal challenge against them.

For about a decade, Semenya has been the symbol of a furious debate worldwide about questions of gender, women with elevated testosterone, and physical advantage.

However, other athletes such as Wambui, who finished third behind Semenya in the 800m at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the silver medallist from Burundi, Francine Niyonsaba, are also affected.

Physical advantage debate –

The IAAF has maintained that the rules are necessary for fair competition, arguing that athletes with high levels of testosterone benefit from increased bone and muscle strength similar to men who have gone through puberty.

However, critics highlight that the very nature of elite athletic success is down to one physical advantage or another, such as swimmers with disproportionately big hands or feet, or basketball players who are taller than the average person.

“Why, when you have a high level of testosterone in men, you are likely to perform well and we celebrate that? But when it comes to women, we have to tell them to lower it and we draw them out of competition. Why?”

She further asked;

“Why don’t we take maybe men with low testosterone and categorise them as women?” -Wambui.

The new rule applies to distances from 400m to a mile, and includes the heptathlon, which concludes with an 800m race.

Wambui said simply switching to another distance like 5,000m was not possible, with different skills and training needed that would take years to reach elite level.

“I am not going to take medication because I am not sick and…those are chemicals you are putting in your body, you don’t know how it will affect you later,” she said.

She said that maybe the idea of having different categories of runners -comparing it to boxing, where heavyweights don’t fight flyweights -might be “a good idea to make it fair.”

We are just natural –

Wambui grew up in Kenya’s central highlands in the town of Nyeri, and began running in primary school. She was thrust into the spotlight when she won a gold medal at the 2014 IAAF world junior championships and has since established herself as one of the world’s top two-lap runners.

Running is “something in me, in my blood, it is something I cannot do without. Now they are telling us we can’t compete, we just feel rejected. We are just natural, we did not dope.”

Wambui, who is tall and muscular, with braided hair and a shy smile, said she had never faced questions about her gender or appearance until the IAAF began cracking down on women with elevated testosterone. 

She said she had been forced to undergo blood tests for doping, but did not know when she had been specifically tested for testosterone levels.

“I am worried now about my career,” she said, adding that the ruling had also heaped pressure on her family, for whom she is the only breadwinner.

When she is not training, she is a police officer, and works for Kenya’s prison service. 

Last week, Athletics Kenya dropped 100m and 200m champion Maximilla Imali and 400m runner Evangeline Makena from the team for the IAAF World Relays event in Japan over their high levels of testosterone.

South Africa plans to appeal the latest IAAF ruling.

The IAAF argues its ruling is aimed at creating a “level playing field” and denies accusations it was targeted specifically at Semenya.

Wambui said that while Semenya had become a cause celebre in South Africa, fiercely defended by politicians and citizens, she herself had received no support from the Kenyan government.

Athletics Kenya official Barnabas Korir told AFP the body supports the IAAF ruling. 

“This has been a simmering issue especially with our very own athletes having complained about running with these women with excess testosterone,” he said.

“We have to be realistic that these athletes have had an advantage over the others.”

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East Africa News & Stories

Court in Kenya convicts 3 over involvement in Garissa massacre

The Garissa massacre was the second-bloodiest terror attack in Kenya’s history

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Court in Kenya convicts 3 over Garissa massacre | News Central TV
Suspects Hassan Aden Hassan, Mohamed Ali Abdikar, Rashid Charles Mberesero and Sahal Diriye sit in the dock as they wait for the verdict where they were charged with helping those who carried out the attack on Garissa University in 2015; at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi, Kenya June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A Nairobi court on Wednesday found three men guilty of abetting Somali jihadists who carried out a 2015 attack on Garissa University in northeast Kenya in which 148 people were killed.

A fourth individual was acquitted, Judge Francis Andayi said, adding that sentencing will be handed down on July 3.

The April 2, 2015 attack was carried out by four gunmen from Al-Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group linked to Al-Qaeda.

Firing their weapons, they stormed the students’ hall of residence at dawn.  

They first separated the victims according to their religion, letting Muslims go but keeping and then killing the others, most of whom were Christians.

It was the second-bloodiest terror attack in Kenya’s history, surpassed only by al-Qaeda’s bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 that killed 213 people.

Andayi said the three — Kenyans Mohamed Ali Abikar, Hassan Aden Hassan and Rashid Charles Mberesero, a Tanzanian — “were members of the Al-Shabaab terrorist group whose members carried out the attack”.

Prosecutors had proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that they were involved in a conspiracy for “committing a terrorist act,” he said.

A fourth person, Sahal Diriye Hussein, was acquitted. In January, the court also acquitted a university guard who was accused of taking pictures during the assault — an allegation for which no evidence had been produced, the judge found.

During the trial, prosecutors placed 22 witnesses on the stand, most of them student survivors.

They also showed evidence that the three had been in contact with the gunmen, especially by telephone.

Mberesero, the Tanzanian, had been also been seen on the university campus three days before the attack, and on the day of the attack itself had been found under a bed in the hall of residence and was unable to explain why he was there, prosecutors said.

The three convictions are the first to result from a long-running investigation and prosecution.

All four gunmen were killed by security forces. The operation’s suspected ringleader, Mohamed Mohamud, also named “Kuno,” a former professor at a Koranic school in Garissa, was killed in southwestern Somalia in 2016.

The Shabaab said he had been killed by “US crusaders”.

Ruthless jihadists –

The Shabaab were chased out of Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong African Union peace-enforcement mission, AMISOM.

They nevertheless control vast rural areas and remain the key threat to peace in Somalia. 

The group is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu but also regularly carries out attacks in neighbouring Kenya, which has troops in Somalia as part of AMISOM.

In September 2013, the Shabaab claimed responsibility for a dramatic raid on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people over a four-day siege.

In June-July 2014 around 100 people were killed in raids in the coastal Lamu region in Kenya’s northeast, home of a once-popular tourist island.

In January 2016, the Shabaab overran a Kenyan army outpost at El-Adde in southern Somalia. Some estimates say that as many as 180 soldiers died.

And on January 15 this year, 21 people were killed and 28 injured when five Shabaab gunmen attacked the DusitD2 hotel and office complex in Nairobi.

The security response to Garissa was strongly criticised by many Kenyans. 

It took 16 hours for a special anti-terror unit to bring the attack to an end, their deployment slowed by a senior police officer who had commandeered the force’s plane for a family excursion.

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East Africa News & Stories

United States to ban corrupt Kenyans from entering country

“You cannot allow somebody to steal Sh20 billion and fine them Sh10 billion.” -McCarter

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United States to ban corrupt Kenyans from entering country
(File photo)

Kenyans who have been implicated in corruption will not be granted entry into the United States, Ambassador Kyle McCarter has announced.

Speaking in Nairobi on Saturday, McCarter also said that their children and kin will not be allowed to travel or study in the US.

While speaking during the Junior Achievement Organization 100 year’s celebration, McCarter said that it is quite unfortunate that top government officials went unpunished after embezzling billions of shillings, while ordinary Kenyans are jailed over petty offenses.

“You cannot allow somebody to steal Sh20 billion and fine them Sh10 billion. We deal with thieves in a very brutal way, not even according to the law,” said McCarter.

“Somehow, we tolerate the theft of billions in Kenya. If we stop tolerating thievery, Kenya will be a shining star for democracy and prosperity in Africa.”

The ambassador further said that corruption prevents the country from achieving its development goals, including President Uhuru’s big four agenda.

“The cost of this is the same cost ironically as the Big Four. It could become a reality if we got rid of thievery.”

McCarter assured that Kenyan authorities had the full support of the US government in the fight against graft.

He also decried the high level of unemployment in the country and the slow growth of Kenya’s economy.

“We have a group of young people that are bitter and if we do not do anything, other people will employ them to harm,” McCarter added. 

US ambassador Kyle McCarter has been outspoken in his condemnation of what he has called “thievery”.

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East Africa News & Stories

Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

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Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

Most of Ethiopia was without internet access on Tuesday on the eighth consecutive day of an unexplained break.

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

Cherer Aklilu, executive director of the state monopoly Ethio Telecom, declined to give any details to explain the break.

“We expect to release an official statement on the internet blackout before the end of this week and we urge our users to be patient until that time,” she told AFP.

Internet access was cut on June 11, briefly restored and then severed again. It was restored for the Addis area on Friday.

The cut is the longest since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to office in April last year in the Horn of Africa country.

The current break coincides with annual school-leaving exams, which end on Friday. In 2017, the authorities defended a similar blackout by saying they wanted to limit cheating for the important tests.

However, the internet was also repeatedly cut between 2015 and 2017 when the government at the time faced waves of protests.

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