Thursday, January 03, 2008

Kenya - Humanity's Dark Side Part 1

A week or so ago, I had seen a photo contest where the grand prize was a 14 day safari in Kenya. Now whether I have a good chance at that grand prize is anyone's guess. But I had heard good things about Kenya - and most of the photographic safaris I had researched seemed to go to Kenya. I had also heard it was a "safe" place to visit. I was looking forward to entering it and at least living with the hope for a month or so that maybe . . . just maybe . . . one of my photos could win that prize. I had even sneaked a look at the South African Airfare (since airfare was NOT part of the prize.)

And then . . . from seemingly out of the blue . . . an election . . . violence, rioting, talk of genocide, and the horrible story of the church where people were intentionally burned to death - women and children.

There is something about Africa that touches your heart when you visit it. Since this crisis has hit Kenya, I find myself reading the news articles every day - wanting this to be a short term aberation - rather than a long term, escalating civil war.

I've tried to reason out why this particular election and this particular set of charges of rigged voting was such a powder keg. What were the underlying politics that a casual tourist might not see? Under the surface, was it issues over how the tourist dollars trickle down to the average person? Were economic issues part of the issues? Since this seems to have fractured between tribes - what past grievances that have been simmering in the background are now boiling over?

So, while I had other things with higher priority - I have been reading the headlines, hoping to understand, and hoping that a peace process would work.

A somewhat similar time in American history also kept coming to my mind - the Watts riot in Los Angeles. I was a teenager at the time, so I had to look it up via the internet. According to Wikipedia, the Watts riot happened in 1965 and started with a traffic stop over alleged drunk driving. Things escalated at the scene of the stop and the riot lasted 6 days. Thirty four people died, 1072 people were injured, 4,000 people were arrested, and 1000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. This was not the first or last of the riots in America at that time. Rochester, Philadelphia and New York had had riots the year before. San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Baltimore, New York and Chicago also had rioting during this time period. Unemployment, inferior housing, and poor schools were identified as some of the root causes of the Watts riot. But it was also a time in which black Americans were working toward civil rights. And, thankfully, since that time, African Americans have many many more opportunities than during that tumultuous time period.

Americans have also weathered an election crisis back in 1998 when Gore refused to concede until the votes in Florida had been recounted. The final determination as to who would be the next president was not resolved until December 13th. But America had a rule of law that prevailed, people remained calm, business pretty much went on as usual, but the stock market fell because of the uncertainty.

So . . . what happened in Kenya? Why now? Why this election?

Tonight I found at least a glimpse of an answer. The Seatle Times had an excellent article that went into more detail about the history of the President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and the issues.

Kenya has 42 tribes living in an area about twice the size of Nevada. Some are larger and more powerful than others. These are people who have lived generations on the same land and sometimes intermarried. I can't help but wonder how many languages exist between these tribes. But things had been peaceful. According to, elections in 1992 and 1997 had both violence and fraud but were seen to be an honest view of the will of the people. This December's election had one of the highest turnouts in Kenyan history. People were optimistic, but when the election irregularities and the immediate swearing in of President Kibaki occurred, people felt very betrayed.

Read the article from the Seattle times . . . . The other news stories that I googled tonight keep me concerned. Naturally the government of Kenya would like to work this out by and for Kenyans. And an opposition rally has faltered, the people are tired. Reports are that 250,000 have been displaced. Food supplies have been disrupted. What happens in Kenya also affects trucking of oil and food to the interior countries of Africa. I hope and pray that these Kenyan leaders (and the diplomats that are trying to help) can find a way to work out this situation quickly and restore the confidence in the Kenyan government. And I hope and pray that people will rally together to rebuild what has been destroyed.

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