More News from Nairobi

by

It has been a strange few days for me. I was in India for a wedding during the Kenyan election and the days following. And while my friends’ beautiful wedding ceremony unfolded, I watched and listened as things went wrong in Kenya. I was torn between relief for my own safety, concern for my friends and colleagues there, and regret and guilt for not being with them.

It is hard to believe that my post from Jomo Kenyatta Aiport, with all of its excitement and hope for the election, was written only two weeks ago. I vividly remember the drive down airport road on Dec. 23 – Kibaki’s red & blue and Odinga’s orange advertisements of the changes they would bring to the country, the enthusiastic conversation with my taxi driver/friend Evans, and the energy that had gripped me from my first sleepy morning in Nairobi in November.

I arrived back to a much different Kenya this morning — Kibaki posters shredded on one stretch of road, roadblocks and soldiers protecting the park areas (where protests have been held), and a drive from the airport in half the time it takes in regular traffic. My taxi driver said, “It is terrible – everyone has been touched in some way and we are filled with sadness.”

At the moment, daily life in Nairobi is starting to get back to normal. I am drinking a cup of tea and looking out at a peaceful Argwings Khodek Road. Most of the city is calm and quiet, as it has been for the last 3 days. Violence in Nairobi was/is contained to slum areas, and the rest of the city is relatively peaceful. In our neighborhood, the most noticeable thing is how quiet things are.

Much of the damage has already been done. The poor have been the hardest hit – Jamii Bora (where fellow Jon is working), a microfinance organization, estimates that 50% of its members have been impacted, many losing their homes and businesses. But even in Kibera (where I met Dorah just a few weeks ago), which was devastated by riots and violence, things are starting to return to normal – a friend just returned from a visit and said that shops have started reopening and people are trying to return to their daily lives. Let’s hope this peace and calm holds.

Kenyans are putting pressure on the government for peace and a quick resolution. People are tired of the violence. On Thursday, all of the Kenyan newspapers ran the headline “Save Our Beloved Country.” A group of “rioters” passed in front of our apartment the other day. Jon described: “They came down Argwings Kodhek yesterday. Half of them came in cars. They chanted about peace. Stopped, heard they couldn’t go any further and then headed back home!”

I read several different blogs in Nairobi regularly; Thinker’s Room captured one perspective on what happened and what has been lost in Kenya: “Kenyans were told that they had the power to shape their destiny and choose their leadership. And so they turned out in colossal numbers and they voted. They were told that they had a voice and that it would be listened to. And when it came down to it their voice, the ballot was ignored. And so they had only one voice left — protest.”

The work and lives of my friends here have been affected in a number of ways. Edwin Machine’s plans to move to Kisumu have been delayed yet again – this time indefinitely. Kisumu, where I was meant to be living and working next week, has been most impacted. Edwin writes: “It is a no-gone zone for a long time, unless something really dramatic happens in the coming few weeks. Shops are heavily looted, there is heavy police presence and rioting persists.” Edwin’s work on launching Baylor’s Pediatric Aids Initiative will be set back weeks or possibly months.

And there is a general feeling of sadness in the air. After only 6 weeks in Kenya I feel a deep sense of loss; I will never be able to fully understand how Kenyans are feeling.

There is an opportunity for Kibaki and Odinga to talk before Tuesday, when the next protest is planned. Please keep Kenya in your thoughts in the days ahead, and hope for leadership to move past this tragedy in the short and long-term. The speed at which the two parties can come together will affect a lot of things. Most importantly, an end to the violence… but also tourism, investment, and the stability of the entire region.

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