Getting my Canada back…

Today I am proud to be Canadian. More proud than usual, that is.

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau carries a young Justin into 24 Sussex, where he will soon end up again as our Prime Minister. How cool is that?

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau carries a young Justin into 24 Sussex, where he will soon end up again as our Prime Minister. How cool is that?

The Canadian electorate has resoundingly chosen a new government led by the Liberal party but more pointedly by a vigorous, young, positive and somewhat idealistic leader in Justin Trudeau.

This government will, no doubt, make mistakes along the way and it will take a lot of time and effort and trial and error to get all those jobs done to bring Canada back to who we fundamentally believe we are deep in our hearts.

I am excited to see many capable men and women elected to parliament and particularly pleased to turn the reins over to the generation that will have to deal with the policy decisions made in the next four years. It seemed  like my Liberal vote was giving control over to my kids and that felt very good.

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Canada’s House of Commons, Ottawa.

In addition, we have basically overthrown the sitting government in a peaceful, orderly way.  Do you know how significant that is?  I have worked in Bosnia and Kenya and Uganda where voters feel this is impossible.  The despair I have seen from young, frustrated citizens is indeed sad.  In so many countries in the world, where a democratic process is ostensibly in place, the electorate still feels powerless. Governments are corrupt and cling to power with money and threats and manipulation.  As our Canadian election campaign began it appeared that the the Conservatives had much more funding available to them to promote their candidates.  But money did not make the difference.  The groundswell of ABC – Anything But Conservative – and social media posts to encourage people to vote for change proved more powerful than money and scare tactics.  World, take note.  It can be done.

I am not so naive to believe there will not be snags and scandals and missteps by this government but I am eager to give them a chance. One of my friends posted a list of things that this government  will need to do to keep all their promises and it ended with “walk on water”.  At least we are starting out with a leader who appears to be honestly transparent, inclusive and progressive.  You have four plus years, Justin.  We have given you a chance to make us even prouder than we feel today.

Voters queueing to cast ballot in Nairobi this morning.

According to news reports people in Kenya started lining up in the middle of the night to vote. They blew whistles and horns to rouse everyone to get out to vote and lined up in long, long lines waiting for the polls to open. This is an historic vote for Kenya, both in terms of the outcome and the aftermath. I am following reports on Twitter to get a sense of it.

Here is a photo posted on Twitter of a bird’s view of voters queueing to cast ballot in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

And here is another posted on Twitter of people lined up to vote. Incredible.

Would Canadians queue like this to vote?

Kenya Elections

Kenya is having a very important election on March 4, 2013.  Not only will the outcome of the election determine the course that the country takes in the next four years, it will test if  fair, democratic elections, free of tribal antagonism  can happen in Kenya.  Last time it was a disaster.  I do hope that this election is free of corruption and tribal violence.

This is a copy of an article that I wrote for the Kingston Whig Standard when I was in Kenya last month. It was published on Saturday February 23.

Kenya goes to the polls on March 4 and throughout the. country there is an air of anticipation and some angst.  After the last general election in December 2007, allegations of rigging and unfairness led to two months of tribal turmoil that left about 1500 dead and many people displaced.

Traditionally, political parties in Kenya have been organized with tribal affiliations.  There are over 40 tribes in Kenya, each with their own customs and language. Three of these make up the majority of the population and since the country got independence in the early 1960’s governments have been predominantly formed by these.  In a culture where nepotism and rewarding friends is common, this meant that many people were left disadvantaged because they had no effective political representation.

But this is changing.  The ruling President, Mwai Kibaki, has had his share of corruption scandals and improper political manipulations but the freedom of speech and right to protest that was introduced when he was elected in 2003 is remarkably different from the preceding regimes of Moi and Kenyatta.  Under their rule, dissenting views were not permitted and perpetrators were punished and even tortured.

 The resulting opening-up of the press and media and the ability for people to freely challenge or express opposing views has allowed Kenyans to participate more openly in the process. Last week, an historic open debate between the 8 Presidential hopefuls took place. Kenyans throughout the country were glued to their radios or looked to find televisions to witness their leaders actually debate policy rather than just face off like power mongers.  This sort of open contest of ideals has never happened here before. It symbolizes progress.

After the last election, some Kenyan leaders were indicted to go to The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity resulting from their alleged inciting of the 2008 post election violence.  In a peculiar twist, two of these men, whose followers in 2007-8 were in violent opposition to each other, have united into one party and are seeking the posts of President and Vice President.  Although this seems a strange alliance, there are many who support their party because of their tribal allegiances.  On the positive side,  the uniting of these two opposing groups into one party will likely dramatically dilute the risk of violent post-election conflicts this round. On the down side, if they are elected it may provide some strain on international relations.

Another hopeful sign of democratic progress occurred last month when party nominations were held.  Because there is an almost assured win for some parties in different constituencies, and because new alignments of parties and tribes have happened since the last government was formed, the competition to get the nomination certificate was fierce.  In some regions, winners were announced that clearly were the result of unfair practices or rigging of the voting process.  This led to protests in many areas and although these were sometimes rowdy, they did not lead to violence.

And what is even more encouraging, in many locations, the nominations that were announced with corrupt support were revoked and the candidates preferred by the people through a legitimate voting process were installed.  Many established Members of Parliament lost their positions and thereby their power to control. 

In one city there was great celebration as the corrupt nominations were overturned and a joyful parade ensued, people singing and waving tree branches in a symbol of peace.

Kenya is a young democracy. Canadian confederation occurred in 1867 and one has only to look at the Robocall scandal in 2011 go know that we still have some problems with our elections. Kenya was granted independence in 1963 and so are 100 years behind us in development of governance. In this technological age we are used to things happening with immediacy.  The growth of a democratic society takes time.  For years this country was under colonial rule with a control being in the hands of a few.  Kenyans learned that power was concentrated at the top and that individuals, particularly Africans, had little opportunity to express their political views or have any influence. So it is no wonder that it is taking time for Kenya to grow into a freely democratic society.

The people who live here are anxious for this change to happen and it may be frustrating to them that it is so slow.  But in the ten years that I have been visiting Kenya, there are many improvements and opportunities for citizens to express themselves freely and exercise their franchise to vote.  As a result of the new constitution, the judicial system has been revamped and people now have confidence that they can be represented fairly in their courts.  

 The upcoming elections will be a chance to overcome the turmoil that ensued after the last debacle which may turn out to be a difficult but essential lesson.  The consensus now is that with the contentious party nomination process behind them, the introduction of electronic voting for the election (supported in part by Canadian aid), a fair judicial system to prosecute perpetrators of crime and violence, and the realignment of parties and constituencies there will be an openly fair upcoming election. I hope that the country will be able to celebrate progress after March 4.

This article on BBC may expand if you are interested in learning more.

BBC news video about the upcoming Kenya Elections.

Election anxiety in Kenya …

January 22, 2013

Kenya is starting to get tense in the lead up to the elections scheduled for March 4. Last week,  parties were to nominate their candidates. Administrative delays and many allegations of improprieties in the process have led to skirmishes, accusations and some violent confrontations in various parts of the country.

After the 2008 election the country fell into chaos with ethnic rivalry and mistrust being the flash point. Since that election there have been many strange realignments of previous rivals which may have diffused the tribal separations somewhat. But the redistribution of voting districts and realignment of party alliances has resulted in fierce competition to gain party nomination. Several sitting MP’s appear to have lost out and thereby will be stripped of their power, authority and privileges. This has not sat well with some.

Kenyan politics would make a good soap opera. But for the average citizen elections become times of tension, desperation and guarded hope that things will slowly improve. The country is still suffering from the disturbances that followed the election in December 2007. One has to hope that the democratic process will be allowed to grow without causing another debacle in March when the country goes to the polls.

Today, I head to Mbita via Kisumu, an area where there have been some significant disruptions. I am hoping that the hot tempers of the past few days will have cooled off somewhat and that calm will prevail in the upcoming weeks.