Election Day in Kenya

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(My friends James and Thomas)

“Hello, whiteman,” the bush said.

I looked around, but couldn’t see anyone. I wondered if this was how Moses felt?

I thought I must’ve been hearing things, so I kept walking toward the fancy café in Nairobi’s Westlands area. It was closed. Everything was closed today.

It’s election day in Kenya.

Christmas or apocalypse?

When I left my hotel the guard—a woman in a black suit with a red tie— had asked me where I was going. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the few days I’ve been in Nairobi. Yesterday when I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, she nearly insisted that I go back to my room and get my sweatshirt.

I had told her I was walking to a nearby café. She thought it would be closed. She was right. She told me not to be gone long and that I should definitely be back by 4:30 PM. I got the sense that I would be in trouble with her if I missed my curfew.

“Hellow whiteman,” the bush said again.

I ignored the bush. There was someone in it for sure. And as a rule, anyone who hides in a bush isn’t someone you want to engage in a conversation.

There were far fewer cars and people than normal. Most of the roadside shops had their steel gates closed and locked. It was like Christmas meets the zombie apocalypse. There was an excitement and anticipation, but there was also a bit of hesitation and f fear.

The Barista who didn’t vote

When I asked the barista at the hotel if she voted, she shook her head no and held her finger to her lips, so her coworkers wouldn’t learn that she sat out.

When she asked me what I was doing here, I told her I was a writer.

“Oh shit! Are you serious?” She said

She loves to write, so she gave me a link to her blog and asked for pointers.

I read this:

whatever happened to our blessed country Kenya, more so, whatever happened to her children. Why does she keep deteriorating every single day? She has become so peaceless ,so restless, she is bleeding all over and there is no one to treat her wounds!! And even before she has healed, another wound is inflicted on her! I can’t help but ask all these painful questions.Her children have no peace.They can’t go a single minute without worrying about what nasty thing happens next. My litany of questions so long. Will greed of power cost her all her achievements? Won’t someone come her aid?? Why can’t some of her children accept defeat.

Accepting Defeat

Peace is in the hands of the losing candidate. The challenger has already questioned the results of the election. And an election official was killed. Seeds have been planted.

My friend James waited in line for 5 ½ hours to vote. Another friend sent me a video of a soldier, not an election official, explaining why some of the votes were being thrown out.

A friend who promotes peace in the informal community of Korogocho reported calling several ambulances after some altercations at the polls.

Neighbors divided

In the informal community of Mathare, neighbors of different tribes and parties (parties are largely divided by tribal origin) who normally get along, have stopped talking. Some have left their homes in the city altogether, choosing to go back to their villages. Every five years, an election reminds them that they are different from one another.

Are things so different in the USA? We have our own tribes that divide us and exploit our fears. In some ways we take our democratic obligation less seriously. Eighty-six percent of registered voters in Kenya are expected to vote.  In the 2016 election in the USA only 53.5% of registered voters turned out. John Kerry is here to monitor the Kenyan election. Maybe we should have Kenyan officials come to the USA to inspire us to vote and monitor ours.

Overall, things are peaceful for now. Let’s hope they stay that way.

 
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