Political tension this week in Kenya…

January 18. 10 pm. Nairobi

As our group made our plans earlier this week, we had concerns that the nomination process for the upcoming election may result in some violent clashes in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya. There was to be voting yesterday to nominate candidates for the election on March 4. With changes in riding compositions resulting from the renewed constitution and party realignments since the last election, there would be some ridings where sitting members of parliament would be challenging each other for the local nomination. Here, to be a member of parliament confers considerable social and financial gains so several people had lots to lose if they are not nominated.

This was to have occurred yesterday and there was anxiety and tension throughout the country with worries that there would be skirmishes and outbreaks of violence at certain ridings. Unlike the debacle that followed the 2007 election here (1400 killed and many still displaced due to tribally-based attacks ) the problem this time may have been because of intra-party squabbling. In a strange combination of events, leaders of parties that were violently opposed to one another in the last election have combined forces to resist the slight edge that Raila Odinga, the “defeated” candidate has in the current Presidential race. To add an a bizarre element, both of the leaders in this new merged party have been indicted to The Hague with charges of crimes against humanity resulting from their part in installing the carnage that happened after the 2007 election.

Well, as fate would have it, there was some confusion in the delivering of ballots yesterday and the vote was postponed to today. Our group was scheduled to visit Kibera slum yesterday and then again today but, based on security concerns and advice from the Canadian Consulate ( where we attended a wonderful cocktail reception on Wednesday evening … thanks, Canadian friends) and from associates living in the slums, we decided against taking that security risk. There are security concerns when visiting this slum at the best of times. (Close to a million people live in tin shacks in poverty in a space the size of a golf course.) I have visited there three times in the past with no adverse events but both last year and this, we have happened to be in Nairobi at the time when political changes were occurring and the slums deemed unsafe due to the probability that if there were to be any violent clashes, this may be where they start.

As I write this at 10 pm, I have heard of no significant disruptions and so I hope this continues as I will be crossing the through the city tomorrow on my way to Kiserian to visit my friends, the Moiko family.

One hopes that the country will be able to carry out the election this year, both fairly and with acceptance of a legitimate outcome. One step closer to a functioning, open democratic society.

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One thought on “Political tension this week in Kenya…

  1. It’s almost impossible for us as Canadians to conceive of election time as potentially dangerous and fraught with tension, anxiety and fear at the prospect of violence. Elections, for us, although often lively with debate, are generally civil and predictable affairs, as we go to the polls and exercise our democratic right to vote.
    I recall being in Uganda during the general elections in February, 2006. My Ugandan hosts, who were promoting psychological trauma recovery programs among war ravaged populations, insisted I cancel my plans to visit refugee groups in Mbarara. They feared that violence would erupt in Mbarara, the home of both Yoweri Museveni and his political opponent at the time, Kizza Besigye. As children, my Ugandan friends had had to flee to Kenya with their families to escape the regime of Idi Amin. Memories of brutalities were still close to the surface.
    So I stayed in Entebbe during the election and happily joined in the celebration in the city square, vibrant with singing and dancing, when Museveni was announced the winner. As I waited at the Entebbe Airport the next day however, for my flight back to Nairobi, I picked up the local newspaper, only to learn that government forces had thrown Besigye into jail, on charges of “treason”. Anti-government violent skirmishes were reported in Kampala, just a few miles away… I began to get worried… What if the violence spread?
    I was very relieved to get on the plane that day.
    As Canadians, let’s not take our democratic right to vote in peaceful and fair elections for granted. We are fortunate indeed! And let’s support African countries (and other countries around the world) in their progress towards a fair and just democracy.

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