Posts Tagged ‘Election’

Back in Kibera, two months later

February 19, 2008

Kibera is relatively quiet on this hot February day, almost 2 months after the Kenyan Presidential election, but the rocks on top of tin rooves and stories of residents reveal what people have been through.

Today is the first time I’ve seen William (a nurse aide at one of our clinics) since we worked together in December, just before the election. At the time he reported: “The biggest challenge for our business in this political era is that there is a lot of insecurity. But I think that is just during this campaign period and after that I think everything will be ok.”

Unfortunately William was wrong in his prediction (along with most of the world). Kibera was one of the hardest hit areas in the post-election violence, which has claimed over 1,000 lives and destroyed parts of the country. “We were all sick, we were afraid all the time,” William describes. Perhaps most telling is William’s three year old son , Meshah, who still won’t leave his his father’s side:

William and his partner Millicent are working hard to keep their business going, but most of their customers have lost their incomes and are unable to pay for services. And though things are calm at the moment, William reminds me that there is a long road ahead: “Everyone is watching the Annan mediation team. Everything depends on what they can do, otherwise things will go right back to chaos.”


January 21, 2008

I find it hard to write these days. The story I write on a Monday can be completely different by Tuesday. The picture I paint of the area around my office and home is nothing like the experience of Kenyans in Nairobi’s slums, just minutes away. And short-term peace and calm don’t capture the long-term reconstruction that lies ahead for Kenya.

Today, Monday, Nairobi feels more “normal” than it has in weeks: the streets are congested, shops are busy, and people are going about their usual business. But it is hard to know how long that will last; the opposition just called for more protests, and more violence broke out in the slums and Kisumu and Eldoret yesterday. And I’m reminded by Joseph Karoki’s photo blog: “As people try to get back to ‘normal’ life around the country, it is important to remember that there is no normal for a lot of people in Kenya.”

Karoki is one of many who have reacted in the blogosphere, where some of the most interesting dialogue and protest unfold. One particularly interesting website Ushaidi allows people to report on violence around the country. Ushaidi is the Kiswahili word for witness. And so I keep writing, to be another witness, even when I don’t really know what to say.

<p style=”text-align:justifyUshaidi

Courage and Commitment

January 15, 2008

The last time I saw Dorah, at her Senye clinic in Kibera, we discussed the challenges of providing health care in an urban slum. She shared with me her commitment to the community. Today, as we talk about her personal safety and the security of her shop, her commitment speaks for itself.

Kibera has been one of the hardest hit areas in the post-election violence in Kenya. In the last two weeks, Dorah has faced a raid on her clinic by looters, fears for her own safety, and concerns about how to re-stock her supplies until vehicles can reach her. Yet she continues to operate with little disruption.

“We never know what will happen, day to day,” Dorah describes. “But I’ll be here as long as I can be.”

I am struck by two things as I listen to Dorah: 1) She is a remarkably strong, courageous and committed woman, and a reason for hope in the midst of all of this uncertainty. I wonder if I would continue my work, if I were in Dorah’s shoes? 2) There is something to the fact that Dorah is personally invested in Kibera. She doesn’t just work there; she owns a business there. She has something at stake, and she will fight for it. More on this soon.

Parliament is meeting today in Nairobi, and ODM has called for three days of protests, beginning tomorrow. With that comes great uncertainty for all of us in Nairobi, but especially for Dorah and residents of Kibera. “There is a lot of tension here today, we really don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Dorah says softly. But as images from Parliament appear angry and heated, Dorah, Millicent and other franchisees continue to work with courage and commitment.Dorah in her Senye Clinic

Kumbaya… and tear gas?

January 10, 2008

A group of women marched past our apartment this morning, singing “Kumbaya, My Lord,” and the Kenyan National anthem. I can’t imagine a more peaceful or positive message.

A few minutes later a call from Jon, just down the road: the police are throwing tear gas at the ‘protesters’.

A setback

January 8, 2008


For the first time all day I am focused enough to make some progress on my work, when my colleague Chris rushes into my office: “Kalonzo was just declared VP. You should get home quickly, ODM might react.” After several days of peace, another setback.

I get home without any trouble; the only thing out of the ordinary on my commute is the local police station, where soldiers pile into a truck with face masks and guns. They are likely headed to Kibera, where more violence has broken out again as people react to the news.

Friends & I head to Tamasha (our neighborhood bar) to talk, as reports trickle in of more violence in Kisumu, Kibera and Mathare. A friend in Kisumu – where things had finally settled – describes people back on the streets, burning roadblocks and chanting about attacking Kikuyu homes. It is still unclear how this will affect the uneasy peace of the last few days; depends largely on how Raila reacts and the on the effectiveness of AU President John Kuofor’s mediation.

I struggle to wrap my head around all of the complexities of the past few days — the fact that most Kenyans want peace, but parts of the country are still up in flames — that things are business-as-usual in most of Nairobi, while people are still hungry in Kibera and Mathare.

Each day is a mix ups and downs, good news & bad. On the one hand we confirmed that all of SHF’s nurses are okay. Remarkable considering how many operate in Kibera and Kisumu, the hardest hit areas of Kenya. And even more remarkable: all of them are still operating, some without interruption. Conversations with Millicent and our other franchisees are a reminder of their strength and the importance of their work, especially in times like this.

But everyone is eager for some real signs of progress from the top; news that will build trust and hope, rather than set off already frustrated people. People are tired. They never expected this in their country, their Kenya.

I found a chilling video from my first days in Kibera, where Millicent’s nurse aide talks about the challenges of operating their Kibera clinic: 1) Many patients cannot afford to pay, 2) The insecurity of the campaign period, after which “I think things will be okay.”

A Song for Peace

January 7, 2008

More News from Nairobi

January 6, 2008

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.

A tale of three countries

January 4, 2008

I want to tell you a story. There once was a small peaceful country on the coast of a large continent. A country where people voted on tribal lines and lived in tribal enclaves speaking tribal languages. A country where violent invasion and occupation defined recent history, where the older generation could remember the fight for liberation. One day recently this country held an election and no-one was sure who had won. In fact no-one was clear for half of a year. And so there was no government in that country. And yet there was no violence here. No fighting. No murders. This country is Belgium.

I want to tell you another story. There once was another country. A vibrant diverse country – full of different tribes and voices. It was a young country still feeling its feet in the world. A country noticeable for its inequality – where wealth and poverty sat side by side. One day recently this country also held an election and no-one was sure who had won. Although, in fact, half the country was sure – they were sure their man had won and the other half were sure that he hadn’t. And for five weeks no-one knew who would rule – and rumours spread of fraud and election rigging. And yet there were no riots, no looting and no violence of any kind. This country is the United States of America.

I want to tell you a final story. There once was a third country, that was much like the other two. It too was a small peaceful country on the coast of a large continent. It too was a diverse country where people voted on tribal lines and spoke tribal languages. Its older generation could also remember liberation day. And it too was noticeable for its inequality – wealth and poverty sat here side by side. Just like the others, one day recently this country held an election and no-one was sure who had won. But this time as the rumours of fraud and election rigging spread, there was violence, there was looting and there were murders. Kenya has now gone 7 days without a fully legitimate government and 300 people are dead.

So what is the difference between these three stories? Why are 300 people dead in Kenya, but none in Belgium. What have 70, 000 Kenyans had to flee their homes, while not a single Gore-supporter felt the need to even move down the road?

The thing is Belgium and America have something that Kenya doesn’t. And – to make matters more complex – it’s not something you can see. It’s not pothole-free roads, schools with textbooks or affordable hospitals (although those sure help!). But it is something you’ve experienced every day of your life. It’s the thing that’s made every group you’ve ever been part of work or not work – whether it’s a marriage, a church or a business. What is it? It’s trust. Why didn’t Belgium become a government-less anarchy? Because the Belgiums trusted each other to get on with their lives in the interim. Why didn’t America fall into a second revolutionary war? Because the Americans trusted the courts to make a decision and everyone else to respect it. The trouble is that trust isn’t built in a day, but it can be destroyed in a moment. And at the moment, Kenya seems to be doing more destroying than building.

News from Nairobi

January 3, 2008
First up, we’re safe. I’m sitting in our flat in Nairobi looking out of the window at a very calm and serene day. Traffic is flowing and people are walking past the window, nearby shops are open and the sun is shining. The only signs that anything unusual is afoot is the fact that there is far less traffic than normal – many Nairobians are staying at home – and that the shops have less food than normal – food supply lines are somewhat disrupted by the troubles.

Troubles feels like the right word – this is not a civil war, nor is it ‘ethnic cleansing’ as I read on the BBC website. At present, what we are seeing is very localized violence in certain areas of Kenya (mostly the cities) and Nairobi (mostly the slums).

The violence is also relatively targeted (well, as targeted as an angry mob of young men can be). It is aimed pretty squarely at members of the Kikuyu tribe, who provided the majority of the support for the ‘winner’ of the election – Mwai Kibaki.

A little history may help to explain what you are seeing on your TV screens. The Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya. As a result, they have held many of the key positions of power since independence. Unsurprisingly, many non-Kikuyu resent this and saw this election – the first for ten years with a non-Kikuyu candidate – as a chance to redress the balance. Predictably, they rallied behind the opposition leader – Raila Odinga (while most Kikuyu rallied behind Kibaki). In the run-up to the election, despite polls to the contrary, many non-Kikuyu became convinced that Raila was miles ahead and that the only way he would lose would be through fraud. In this historical backdrop, the election needed to be cleaner than clean. Unfortunately the government seem to have been reading ‘How not to run an election’. (

The violence that has followed is a mixture of the immediate outpouring of frustration and anger, an attempt at violent revenge against Kikuyu, an attempt by non-Kikuyu to force a recount and opportunistic looting. In many ways the puzzle the media back in the UK should be trying to explain is not ‘why so much violence’ but ‘why so little’ (

Election excitement

December 23, 2007

Nairobi traffic is always bad; the difference at the moment are the matatus and buses decorated to campaign for Presidential candidates. The race continues to be close between current President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity, and his main opponent Raila Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement. The campaign is colorful – with the PNU’s red & blue and “Kazi Iendelee” (“keep working together”) competing with ODM’s bright orange hues for space on billboards, hats, scarves, and matatus.

Kibaki has the benefit of the backing of his Kikuyu tribe (the largest in Kenya) and 6% economic growth under his leadership last year, but he is criticized for his failure to address corruption and tribalism during his first term. And at age 76, he has a hard time keeping up with Odinga’s charisma and energy in the campaign. Odinga’s billboards picture him holding up a small baby to the clouds and read “Giving hope to the next generation” and “The People’s President.” Odinga is well-liked by young voters – it is common to see crowds of young men running around with oranges and chanting his name – but he seems to unsettle many (he is accused of involvement in a planned 1982 coup to topple President Moi, and of having ‘authoritarian tendencies.’)

14 million voters are registered for the December 27 election – so keep your eyes on the news from Kenya. This would be the first time in history that a President has been voted out of office.