I saw this picture today on GulfNews.com. A young man – about my own age – runs with his daughter – about my daughter’s age – while she looks obviously terrified. I can’t quite imagine what I would do, faced with the situations that have been forced on thousands of moms and dads in the last two weeks in Kenya. I know that I would do anything to protect my daughter. What would I do if someone took my daughter from me and flung her into a burning building, and prevented me from going in after her? I don’t know. It is unthinkable. But a mom had that happen to her just two weeks ago today, in a town that I have always thought of as a sleepy, friendly, quiet country town. How does one live with that reality – either of having it done to your daughter, or of being the one that did it?
With that kind of thing going on in my homeland, it’s really very hard to care who’s winning the US presidential primaries. Ironically, though, these primaries will have a significant impact on Kenya in the very near future. Who’s in the White House, unfortunately, indirectly (and some times very directly) effects what goes on in Africa.
Meanwhile, the 10th Parliament had their first meeting yesterday, and the opposition majority elected an opposition Speaker, which will probably have the effect that the President will either not be able to accomplish anything for the next 5 years, or that he’ll simply ignore the constitution and the laws of the land, and do whatever he choose anyways. Events of the last two weeks seem to suggest which of these options he’ll choose.
Today, there are battles between opposition supporters and police, in which the police are armed with live ammunition and tear gas, and the opposition supporters have signs and large numbers. One death is reported, but one expects the reality is worse. The sun has gone down now, and it’s been raining most of the day, so hopefully things are quiet right now.
It’s very, very hard to get out of the deep sadness that these events are causing me. This isn’t supposed to happen in Kenya. Kenya hosts refugees, it doesn’t produce them. Kenya is peaceful, stable, and friendly. Kenya is Hakuna Matata. Kenya is home. It’s beginning to feel like I’ll never make it back home again.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kibaki is persisting in his insistence that there is in fact no crisis, and therefore no international mediators are needed. So he’s snubbing Kofi Annan, who has offered to come help in any way that he can. I think that, of the two scoundrels, Mr. Kibaki is the greater scoundrel. Even to a cynical outside observer, it appears that Mr. Odinga is actually trying to get together to negotiate a solution. Mr. Kibaki keeps insisting that there’s no problem. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is declaring it the end of belief in any hope for African stability.
Like Ruth, I reached saturation yesterday. I think it happened somewhere between the video of one man hacking at another man with a panga (machete) in Kibera, and the photo of dead children stacked in a morgue.
Although it’s been almost 20 years since I was in Kenya, it’s still home, and I’m filled with a deep sadness at the willful destruction and hatred going on there. I simply can’t get my mind around the kind of hatred that it takes to intentionally hack a 3 year old girl to death. It truly boggles the mind.
Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga, and the members of the ECK, have done an enormous injustice to their people, and a small subset of the people are carrying that injustice into their neighborhoods in a way that will reverberate for generations. It is truly tragic. I have to believe that it’s a tiny subset of the population, because to believe anything else would be monstrous. And certainly to hear people talking about it, everyone there is as horrified as I am at what’s happening. But, clearly, there are still mobs committing these atrocities.
Ruth has said, much more clearly than I could, what it is that I’m feeling. Like her, this is more real to me than news stories of tragedies in places I’ve never heard of, much less been, and I imagine that to most of my readers this is a far-away and somewhat less-than-real place.
So, if I’ve seemed somewhat distracted of late, at least you know why.
Several days ago, Kenya held presidential elections, and it seemed, to begin with, that things were going really well. It appeared, as I mentioned in a post that day, that Mr. Odinga was going to win, and there wasn’t much unrest at all.
Then, suddenly, the tide turned, Mr. Kibaki – the incumbent – was ahead by a significant amount, and there was what appeared to be a rather rushed swearing-in. Less than two hours after a tentative final count was announced, Mr. Kibaki was sworn in, and the rioting started.
Several precincts had in excess of 115% turnout, some of the final count reports that I’ve seen copies of are so obviously altered that it’s an insult to anyone’s credulity. So it appears that Mr. Kibaki’s supporters are perhaps largely at fault here.
But, to make things worse, Mr. Odinga is fanning the flame, saying that he’s anxious to have talks with Mr. Kibaki to stop the violence … just as soon as Mr. Kibaki steps down and admits that he lost. Which, of course, he’s not about to do.
And, the additional aspect of this that non-Africans may or may not understand: Mr. Kibaki is Kikuyu, the tribe (yes, I know, some of you tell me that I’m supposed to avoid that term. But it’s the one that the Kenyan media uses, so I am not going to play the political correctness game. I’m not very good at it.) which is in the majority in Kenya, and which has traditionally held power. Mr. Odinga is Luo, the second-most-populous tribe, and the one that has traditionally been in the shadows. Indeed, Mr. Odinga’s father was the first Vice President, and it’s largely understood that he was put there in order for Mr. Kenyatta – the first president – to prove to everyone that he was impartial. But Mr. Odinga only stayed in that position for a very short time, and was swiftly arrested when he started talking about an opposition party.
So there’s a great deal of Kikuyu/Luo animosity behind the growing unrest, and it appears that most of the deaths so far – close to 300 when the sun set tonight – are Luos killing Kikuyus. In one incident, more than 30 people were killed while trying to hide in a church, which was torched by some young men.
This is all very frightening, and feels like a precursor to what happened in 1994 a few miles north in Rwanda. Folks say that it’s not anywhere as serious, but these tensions have been building since independence, and were there in other forms before then.
The Telegraph has an interesting (if oversimplified) summary.
There’s also the simple fact that, given the chance offered by a little chaos, folks are going to loot stores. They did it in Los Angeles, and they’re doing it in Nairobi and Nakuru. Then the police show up and beat people to death, or shoot them. Many of the photos that I’ve seen show heavily armed police beating unarmed civilians trying to get away with looted merchandise.
Raila’s father, Oginga Odinga, was Kenya’s first Vice President, and first opposition leader. He also attempted to create a multi-party political system, but this failed when the constitution was modified to specifically make the country one-party.
The various analyzes that I’ve read indicate that the primary reason that Kibaki is being voted out is not that he’s been ineffective – he hasn’t, he’s brought a lot of prosperity to Kenya – but that his government shows tribal favoritism at all levels, and that if you’re not the right tribe, you’re out of luck. Odinga made this a major issue in his campaign, and it appears to have paid off.
What’ll be interesting is whether he can do anything substantive before people’s patience runs out. He’s made a lot of promises, and since he can’t possibly make good on all of them, or even most of them, and certainly not in the magical first 100 days, it’ll be interesting to see how long he remains the hero.
Still, it’s a historic event, putting a bit of a cap on what happened in 2002, and removing KANU from power pretty decisively.
Kenya is having their presidential election today. Kenya is one of the three or four most important nations in Africa, economically, so this is a pretty big deal. Who runs Kenya has a pretty significant impact on Africa as a whole.
So far, apart from small glitches, it appears that things are running smoothly — that is, no violence yet, and no apparent ballot box stuffing. However, Mr. Odinga (the guy who is pretty likely to win) wasn’t registered to vote when he got to the polls. Oops.
It grew in the Kericho sun
watered by the rains that swept up from Lake Victoria
every afternoon at 4
like a heavy felt curtain.
Top two leaves and a bud
picked in the pouring rain.
Flapping black raincoats and hats,
bright faces and bright singing.
The emerald of the freshly washed leaves
almost hurts the eye.
Miles of smooth green hills
stretching to the horizon of my mind.
Dried on acres of wire racks,
the smell of them a liquor in the nostrils,
drowning in the thick black scent of it,
bathing in the aroma,
the smell of home and happiness
and warm rain running down my back
and black earth and blue skies.
Memories, packaged in a green box
and sent to me by kind strangers.