O, Kenya

O, Kenya

One nation, divided

It’s been three weeks since Kenyans went to the polls to elect a new president and parliament. Millions of Kenyans turned out in what initially seemed a free, fair and even exultant process for most voters. What happened next has dominated the international news: strong suspicions and evidence of rigging of vote tallies in the presidential election in favor of incumbent president Mwai Kibaki; street protests and ethnically-tinged violence in much of Kenya; stalled mediation efforts by Kenyans and international dignitaries to orchestrate a dialogue between Kibaki and the election’s putative winner, Raila Odinga; and calls for economic sanctions and a re-examination by donors of their foreign aid flows. Brighter Green has many colleagues and friends in Kenya, and we’re pleased to say that all of them are safe.

Some members of the Green Belt Movement staff have been displaced, and one had her house burned down in the wake of the election. On January 4th, Lucy Mulenkei, editor of Environment News and head of the Nairobi-based Indigenous Information Network, wrote that Kenya was experiencing “darkness here which we never expected…commodities are in shortage and we have not been yet to the offices as transport is limited and police all over.” A few days later, she wrote that she was in her office in downtown Nairobi: “Now at least we can make movements but the tension is still there.”

A few days after that, Daniel Salau of SIMOO (Simba Maasai Outreach Organization), wrote: “This has plunged the country into bloody chaos where hundreds were killed and thousands displaced.” He reported that where he was, in Maasailand outside of Nairobi, it was peaceful, and that there hadn’t been any chaos. However, he also wrote: “I don’t think we are out of the woods yet…the cost of living is becoming unbearable with costs of essential goods doubling and some are not even found at all. We hope all will be well soon.”

Finally, Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai has, since the election results were announced, been actively engaged in mediation efforts, much as she was during the Rift Valley clashes of the early 1990s (recounted in her memoir, Unbowed)She participated in talks led by fellow Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and has been forthright in her calls for peace, a true accounting of what happened on the day of the election, and urgently, dialogue between Kibaki and Odinga to find a way forward. Read her call for more international pressure to be exerted on Kibaki and Odinga to end the crisis in today’s Wall Street Journal, as well as how she’d end the impasse, from the UK Guardian.

Having been to Kenya many times over the past several years, I have much affection for Kenyans and their struggles since Independence from the British to create a truly representative democracy. The grim news from Kenya that began the New Year was unexpected. Some days it seems like the crisis may be moving toward a resolution, and then there are others, like today, when violence breaks out and appears to be stoked by authorities and reckless citizens. Knowing Kenya and Kenyans, I don’t believe the situation will go on like this for months, or years. Nor should it. For the sake of their country and the region, and the rest of us who care, Kenyans should know who they elected as their next president, and that their hard-won right to vote wasn’t taken for granted, not for a minute.