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?

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.


Nairobi Park

Nairobi Park is an unusual spot. Only seven kilometers from the very centre of Nairobi, it has 117 square km of protected game park that has many species of animals including giraffes, buffalo, lions, black rhinos, crocodiles, several species of antelopes and birds. It is fenced along the city side but is open at the south-west end to allow free migration in and out from the Serengeti system. As the population of Nairobi and surrounding area grows, humans are increasingly encroaching on this ecosystem and soon it will likely be cut off entirely from the larger game areas of the Serengeti, Amboseli and Massai Mara.

Although it feels a bit like a zoo, it is a natural open environment for local wild animals – no cages and the carnivores hunt down their food. It is a large area and, depending on how long you have to drive in the park or how long the grass is, you can see many animals or just a few. We arrived in Nairobi on Sunday evening and by 4 pm on Monday had seen gazelles, giraffes, hartebeest, topi and even one female lion who was resting up not far from a herd of antelope – likely waiting for dusk to make a hunt. When she lay down in the long grass she melted away and was impossible to see. Great camouflage.

A group of giraffes munched on the leaves of trees in one area against a backdrop of the city.

The park also has an area containing the ashes from the historic burning in of elephant tusks ivory worth sixty million Kenyan Shillings 1989 – a demonstration of the government’s commitment to putting a moratorium on ivory sales. For some time the poaching of elephants for their tusks diminished however, even as recent as last week, there has been more news about elephant poaching in one of the other Kenyan parks. (
There are no elephants in Nairobi Park.

Adjusting …

It is good to be back in Kenya. I woke up on Monday morning, after about three hours sleep, to the sound of birds outside and a bright light streaming through my window. In my jet-lagged haze I wondered why there would be a spotlight outside my room that came on near dawn. Turns out it is the sun.

Fresh pineapple and mango juice at breakfast. The pineapple here is like a different fruit than what we get at home. It is juicy and sweet and tender. Probably picked yesterday. I enjoy fresh pineapple here almost every day. It is delectable.

One of my bags took a side trip to Amsterdam. The other one, full of calendars and books and kids clothes to give away arrived safely. Luckily I threw a toothbrush and a cap and a change of shirt in my carry on along with a week supply of malaria prevention medication so I really did not suffer. This has happened to me a couple of times in my travel past. It always points out how much less I really need than what I bring along with me. I had all my electronics and camera supplies so I was able to function but it has been difficult to locate my bag and slow to get it transferred back to me.

I was thinking of sending out one of those “I have lost my bag and can you send me money by Western Union” emails like I get from I people I barely know but luckily Kenyan Airways came through in crunch and saved my friends the trauma.

Our first day here was filled with activity. A visit to the Daphne Sheldrick shelter for orphaned elephants was a delight – twenty-five elephants all under three years old that have been rescued and are being cared for with eventual re-introduction into the wild. I had been there once before and seen an IMAX film (Born to be Wild) last year that highlighted the work done by this refuge. The elephants are shown once a day and if they decide to come close to the rope dividing barrier you can touch them. Quite extraordinary. More about the Sheldrick Trust can be found here:


At lunch time we sat at the edge of the Rift Valley at a very breezy Baridi corner, one of my favourite places to visit reflect on the magnificence of nature. I will spend a bit more time there on the weekend when I visit my friends, the Moikos.

The weather is a bit cooler than usual, probably around 20 degrees C. Just like in North America, climate change has made the weather more unpredictable and erratic, with extremes of wet and dry, hot and cool. The difference is that here they have fewer resources to deal with this change and reliance on the traditional weather patterns for agriculture, for example, have made planning difficult.

I will get over my jet lag in about 3 days and feel more settled now that my luggage has been found. The adjustments to being in Kenya include the transition from winter to summer, overcoming the 8 hour time change and getting into “Africa time” where nothing happens quickly or according to schedule.