Run-Up to Kenya’s Election 2017

Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Director, Chris Msando, addresses a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, July 6, 2017. Msando was murdered a few days ago. Photo by Thomas Mukoya. Original here.

Kenya votes for a new President next week.* Elections are contentious in Kenya. My abrupt departure from field research in December 2008, after a scary evening listening to gunshots, was related to the presidential election later in the month.

The 2008 election was followed by 1,000+ deaths and an ethnic “unmixing” of the country, in which ~600,000 people move more or less permanently to areas where their own ethnic group is in the majority. Basically, when ethnic identity becomes salient (in this case, via the move to murder folks simply for being the “wrong” ethnicity), people feel they have to be with “their own kind” in order to be physically safe.

Continue reading “Run-Up to Kenya’s Election 2017”


Chapter Five of el dissertation is drafted and emailed to my committee!  So are are Chapters 2, 3, and 4.  That leaves Chapter 1 (the introduction) and Chapter 6 (the conclusion).  Maybe I’ll finish this sucker one of these days.

Even though there’s a ton left to do, I’m trying to celebrate the milestones.  Maybe I’ll celebrate by applying for some jobs…

Nose, Meet Grindstone

The morning has gone from sunny to foggy. Not a problem, but oh-so-strange to watch through the window this late in the morning (8:30am). This is a week to push through writing another chapter, so I’m feeling tense. If you know of a tutorial or book detailing the statistical information one is expected to present in academic papers, please let me know. (I am doing ANOVA tests, not regressions; haven’t yet found an example of those in a published paper). I’ve also started collecting postdoc advertisements with deadlines in January and February. The ball is rolling on both the diss and my future life, I “just” need to keep pushing forward.

Dissertation Boot Camp

Well, here we are heading into the third round of snow in 17 days. This one is supposed to be small. I saw my brother this weekend in Connecticut, where we stayed with his girlfriend’s family (she came, too!).

This morning started week 2 of “dissertation boot camp”, where the Graduate School helps put you on a committed work schedule for writing. It runs from 9am to 1pm daily for two weeks. I had to put down a deposit at the beginning that I’ll get back if I attend every day.
It really does help me structure my time, knowing that there are 15 other people who are going to be there, too. One of them called it ‘being alone together’ in reference to how isolated you can feel when you’re immersed in the work. In other words, even though we sit there in silence (and angst), we know we aren’t alone. And at 1pm every day we debrief with 4 other people, let by a mediator: what worked, what didn’t, and what we’re going to try tomorrow. It’s part constructive, part therapeutic.

Women’s Group and Circumcision Ceremony

The two biggest happenings around here (besides a marvelous potluck Thanksgiving dinner with traditional foods) are with the women’s group I plan to sponsor, and a scheduled circumcision.

The women’s group is exciting. Last week they invited me to a meeting to discuss their plans. Their name is Naretisho Women’s Group and they seem very organized. They took me to see their aloes, and they’ve collected and are raising 370 of them. They’ve got a fence built around them for protection. About 16 of their 25 or so members came to meet with me, which is really pretty good given all the constraints to getting there (kids and animals to watch, looking for food, walking a long distance). They also pulled together 5,000 Kenyan shillings as their contribution to the project. That’s about $65, which is large given that these people are collecting famine relief and live on a couple dollars a day.

We also talked about their expectations for how much money they will make and they were very pragmatic. They said of course they’d like to make a lot of money, but they know this is a first attempt and they’ll be happy even if it only yields a little pocket money.

Now the hitch is that the consultant they know about only wants to come train them if I hire him for 3 days of training (they only need one day) and if I buy $300 worth of supplies from him. Total cost would be $650 dollars. That’s not really in my ballpark, and more to the point, it’s not quite what the women need. So I’ve got another person to get in touch with at a local NGO, and if that fails I’ll try to negotiate with Mr.Six-fity.

If you are interested in making a small loan or donation to the women’s group, please let me know.


Regarding the circumcision, the ceremony will be for 3 boys and a girl in the same family, all of them in early adolescence. The female circumcision — or genital mutilation depending on how you feel about it — is illegal in Kenya. I was originally asked to help hold down the girl during the procedure, which is considered an honor. I declined partly because I don’t want the moral responsibility to the girl. If I helped hold her, I would be considered her godmother. Also, it would be a sort of approval of the procedure. I was also afraid I might faint, or that I could be held legally responsible if something were to go wrong with the procedure.

One of the boys in the family is mentally impaired, and his parents have elected to have his procedure done at the local clinic rather than at home as is usual. I think this is very smart of them, since the procedure as done at home is partly a test of fortitude and this boy can’t be expected to show the same amount as his siblings. It seems to me a reasonable compromise: he will be initiated the same days as his brothers, and in the same celebration, but his surgery will be done more quickly and professionally, and hopefully with less pain.

I had originally planned to spend tonight near the home where the ceremony will be performed early tomorrow morning. However, after discussion with some others here, they felt I ought not to. There is a lot of drinking involved in the celebrations, and possibly other substances, and there are strong undercurrents of sexuality and conquest in the rite of passage. In brief, there was some concern that I could be raped in my tent during the night. Needless to say, I decided not to take the risk.

And on that rather scary note, I am headed back to my river camp for a few days. The everyday and the surreal are so mixed together here.

Election 2008: 3 Nov 2008

I am headed back to ‘the field’ tomorrow. The best parts about this are:

  1. There will be 12 hours of sunlight there.
  2. There will be tropical fruit to eat.
  3. The sooner I get there and get working, the sooner I can come home.

I am planning to watch the election returns from Nairobi, where I’ll be waking up on the 5th about the time the polls close in California on the 4th.

I’ve excerpted part of a prayer for voting that I think is very nice. It’s non-partisan and works for multiple faiths, and could even work without the references to God. I have been watching news reports about the fighting in eastern Congo, and so thinking about how easy it is to take peace for granted, especially as the economy falls to pieces.

“With my vote today, I am prepared and intending to seek peace for this country.

May it be Your will that votes will be counted faithfully.

May it be good in Your eyes to give a wise heart to whomever we elect today and may You raise for us a government whose rule is for good and blessing, to bring justice and peace to all the inhabitants of the world.”