The elections are approaching in big steps and we are increasingly wondering what to expect. There is no one single source of reliable information that could allow us to predict whether the elections will be peaceful or whether ethnic violence witnessed in 2007/8 will repeat itself.
If you ask locals, everyone is convinced that the elections will be peaceful. We are told that there were tensions in the air before the last elections and that this time no such feelings can be detected; and that Kenyans will not repeat the same mistake of following politicians encouraging ethnic violence. According to a opinion poll published by Gallup – a US consulting company – in 2012, only 23% [of Kenyans aged 18 and older] think there will be a repeat of post-election violence. National commentators also give reason for hope. The Sunday Nation, Kenya’s main newspaper, recently printed an opinion piece which assures that Kenya will survive the presidential contest. In it Murithi Mutiga comments that “it is dishonest to suggest that there are no signs of hope. That there is no cause for optimism. That violence is the only option for the nation after March 4” (the date of the upcoming elections).
The international media paints another picture. Agence France Presse speaks of elections “overshadowed by fresh fears of conflict”. The BBC states that: “ …, Kenya could be showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress on a large scale.” and that “… it won’t take much to make things worse.” Both sides give valid reasons for their predictions – the nationals cite reforms and the new constitution; and the foreigners report violence preceding the elections.
So what to do? In fact, we already know what we will do – we are going to Burundi! We will be leaving Kenya to join our colleagues in Bujumbura at the end of February. Officially it is called ‘evacuation’ but I am reluctant to think that the situation in Kenya will become so threatening that we will have to be evacuated from the country. So are we another bunch of scared ‘muzungus’ (whites) who abandon the country for no justifiable reason? Maybe. But not all of us are comfortable staying, so we have decided to leave and continue our work remotely from Bujumbura. In fact, I sincerely hope that our ‘evacuation’ will have been unnecessary. I hope that Kenyans have learned from past events and will not repeat past mistakes. After almost three months in Kenya, I can say that it is a truly beautiful country with breathtaking landscapes and kind people. But there is still a long way to go in the country’s economic development so let us hope that the elections will be a step forward and not backward.
Maybe President Obama can inspire Kenyans. Listen up!