Kenya Day 5: Pre-Election Optimism

Tough looking ladies at the Mbita square

Tough looking ladies at the Mbita square

Tough looking ladies at the Mbita square[/caption]Kenya is a country on edge right now. The next elections are set for early March. In most places, this wouldn’t be more remarkable than any other election, but the last time Kenya tried to have one, almost 2,000 people died and 180,000 people were displaced. In fact, all of Kenya’s elections since independence have been marred by inter-ethnic fighting and bloodshed. Much of the violence occurred in the area I’m in right now.

Everyone has a story about the previous election. Kikuyus in particular, have not forgotten. I met a guy last January who had to evacuate his family from this area, forcing him to abandon his car, home and nearly all his possessions. Fortunately, has was able to get a flight out in time to save himself.

Kenya’s vast map of tribal and linguistic groups, along with economic inequalities and poverty, make it an easy target for self-serving politicians and mob violence. It is difficult for most Kenyans to feel represented by politicians who do not share their ethnic lineage. To make things worse, An inept and corrupt government can’t provide sufficient services and mobility to placate citizens.

Right now, though, most every person one speaks with states emphatically that this election will be different. There will be peace, and power will transfer smoothly. Their confident statements, however, are read like a script. While I sincerely wish that the election proceeds without incident, the manner in which Kenyans speak strikes me as a case of “if we say it enough times, it will come true.”

The truth is that no one knows what will happen. The elections are much closer than they were in 2007 and seats could be decided by a handful of votes. Accusations of vote fixing were a major trigger of 2007’s violence. More salient, reaction to political events in Africa are almost always completely unpredictable. A peaceful demonstration can suddenly become a full blown riot within a matter of seconds.

For the moment, things are calm, let’s hope they stay that way.

Kenya (1 of 1)-15

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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