Random Reflections

Kenya Concerns

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of days, you have probably heard news reports of unrest and violence in Kenya.  I’m paying close attention to this for several reasons. Of course, peace around the world in the here and now is the hope and prayer for any believer. Africa has been torn apart over the years through civil war and ethnic violence. This beautiful continent needs time of healing and stability to move towards a better future.  I ache for those who have known nothing but warfare and devastation from disease.  No child deserves the theft of their childhood – no matter what the cause is.  I’m also paying attention because we are beginning a three-year partnership in Kenya.  I’m scheduled to go there in October and very much want our church to be a part of the great work occurring there.

I received a copy of this email from a worker there and I found it very informative on what has occurred the past week in Kenya.  Please read it to help educate yourself on the issues as well as to think about our own election process. Whether you like George Bush or not, he’ll be leaving this year.

Dear Friends:

Several of you have written and one or two of you have called in the last few days to assure us of your prayers and thoughts during this difficult time for Kenya.  We so appreciate those efforts.  The last few days have been surreal.  I’d like to take a minute (at 4:30 am on New Years day) to provide an update and our own analysis of the events of the last few days. 

We all knew that the elections were going to be close and hotly contested.  Pollsters had predicted a spread between 1 – 8%.  In all the polls, the challenger, Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) was leading Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent of a newly formed coalition, the Party of National Unity (PNU).  Let me not digress much regarding the politics of the last 5 years which have led us to this point.  On the one hand, this was a vote for change and on the other hand, it was an ethnic vote.  The incumbent had largely failed to inspire a nation ready for action against corruption and the ‘sacred cows’ that have dominated Kenyan politics for a generation.  The challenger had the momentum of the many youth and others who have felt disenfranchised.  There was a third force from a particular sector of the country (Kalonzo Musyoka of ODM – Kenya) who was running his own race, having pulled out of a larger coallition with ODM.

The voting was tremendous.  By all reports, the best turnout ever in our history.  Scores of local and international observers and monitors were on hand to assess the process. The aging head of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, had done a seemingly remarkable job of preparation of the polling stations in over 200 constituencies (several thousand polling stations) as they anticipated an influx among the 14 million registered voters.  The process involves voting for presidential, parliamentary and civic candidates at the same time.  These ballots are tallied and announced at the constituency level in the presence of agents from each party and the returning officer.  A form is signed by the agents and forwarded to the electoral commission headquarters (ECK) in Nairobi.  While there is some room for manipulation up to this point, the process if fairly tight and discrepancies are notable.

Kenyans waited.  The voting was on the 27th and all expectations were that the results would be announced by the end of the day on the 28th.  With party agents and media present at the constituency level, results were known in real time and announced in the media ahead of the “official” tally by the electoral commission who wait for a copy of the tally to be physically brought to Nairobi from each constituency.  All the major media outlets began to announce the results and we were glued to our TVs as we witnessed the giants (incumbent MPs who had done little but pass laws to raise their salaries over the past 5 years) fall.  The results were devastating for the ruling party with the ODM taking well over half the seats in parliament and career politicians falling to relative unknowns.  The presidential tally showed Odinga ahead consistently by at least 1 million votes.

As the 28th came and went with no announcement and delayed results from some polling stations, Kenyans were asked to be patient.  Remember, however, that most of these results were known, just not announced by the ECK.  There were a few isolated cases of blatant attempts to rig a couple of stations (like the returning officer running away with the results and not being seen from again!) but these were few and containable and no cause for alarm.  Concern, however began to be expressed went results from Central Province and Upper Eastern, the incumbents stronghold, were not forthcoming.  As suspicious 2 hour electricity blackout in these areas on the night of the poll did not help matters.  In any event, the ECK process was painfully slow and Kenyans began to get impatient.  The process involved the ECK releasing results in front of the media and party representatives in a very painstaking manner, reading each file for each and every category, etc.  It began to emerge that something was amiss as several results from critical areas were not forthcoming.  The ECK chair lamented that he didn’t know where his people were, that they had disappeared.  Certain results were announced that were contrary to the figures from party agents.  Suddenly Odinga’s numbers stopped moving and Kibaki’s numbers got closer and closer (to within 30,000 votes).

Chaos began to ensue at the ECK headquarters and party leaders began to dispute the results from several constituencies.  All of this, mind you, is being done in front of the cameras.  Several fights broke out, the process dragged on and on and by Sunday the 30th there was real cause for concern.  Violence had already begun to break out in areas of Western Kenya, the stronghold of the opposition.  There was a sense that something was cooking.  Reports of a few ECK officials deserting their posts, refusing to be a part of rigging, surfaced.  The embattled ECK chair began to loose control of the process and disputes became more and more heated.  On Saturday night, the ECK spent the entire night in closed session, going over problem areas and promising to sort out anomalies.  The afternoon of Sunday saw every Kenyan waiting with baited breath, glued to their TV’s or radios, following the proceedings.  As the ECK convened in front of the media, they resumed by beginning to read out the same ‘flawed’ results and protests overwhelmed the proceedings.  The crack military general service unit took over the room, cleared it and whisked off the ECK chairman to another room.  The ODM leaders held a press conference claiming no confidence in the process.  In quick order, the chairman of the ECK announced results behind closed doors to the effect that Kibaki had won the election by 300,000 votes and within a matter of 90 minutes, president Kibaki was sworn in at State House.

The minute the announcement was made, violence erupted in all parts of Nairobi and in most major towns in the country.  The violence raged for the better part of Sunday night.  Much of this violence has unfortunately taken on a very ugly ethnic face as opposition supporters vent their anger on residents of central Kenya of the Kikuyu tribe where Kibaki received 99% of the vote.  Since Kikuyus have business enterprises all over the country, that has largely been the target of the anger and violence.  Reports yesterday are of over 130 dead in various parts of the country.  All live broadcasting has been banned, GSU patrol the streets of all major towns, police are trying to restore order, shops have not been opened and folks are running out of food.

By the end of yesterday, there was some evidence of calm.  A rally called by Odinga was banned and abandoned.  Odinga has called for simultaneous peaceful mass action in every major town in Kenya on Jan. 3.  Participants are asked to wear black arm bands signifying the death of democracy in Kenya.  All sides have appealed for a cessation of violence.  International observes, who had at first been very complementary of the process, have now acknowledged serious irregularities.  Odinga has refused to acknowledge Kibaki’s government.  One wonders how Kibaki hopes to rule where he has lost the votes of 6 of Kenya’s 8 provinces and has only 37 seats out of 200 in parliament?

We are OK.  Our part of town is relatively calm.  I ventured out yesterday and things were largely deserted. I’ve been in touch with colleagues all over the country and the aftermath in some areas is devastating.  Please continue t
o pray for real peace in Kenya.  Peace is not only a lack of violence, but the result of justice.  This link for more . . . http://www.eastandard.net/news/?id=1143979791

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