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.
The West African country of The Gambia held an election last Friday. To everyone’s great surprise, the incumbent president lost. Adama Barrow defeated the autocratic Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a coup 22 years ago.
“As returns coming in from major regions clearly indicated that he was going to lose, [incumbent president] Mr. Jammeh asked his key advisers to annul the votes… He then gathered at the statehouse his top military security advisers, police officers and intelligence officials and asked for their support to discredit the vote. The officers told him that chaos would break out if they did so.”
The Gambia, which is around the size of Delaware, is surrounded by Senegal and has a population of approximately 2 million people. Election coverage appears in Al Jazeera and the New York Times, among other places. NYT’s coverage is unusually in-depth for such a small African country.
So, hooray for the first electoral change in power in Gambia’s history! Ghana, a bigger, richer, better governed country in West Africa, votes on Wednesday.
Still no news in the Kenyan election, and there are technical breakdowns that have slowed vote counting. The major news organizations are reporting that there is likely to be a run-off between Kenyatta and Odinga. I am watching tallies by the Electoral Commission. Click on the top image in the sidebar to see what’s happening, or click here.
I’m wondering how reflective of the whole country the voting patterns in Nairobi are. If they are representative, then it suggests that funny business is occurring. But in reality I don’t know, and there are still a lot of votes left to count.
I am headed back to ‘the field’ tomorrow. The best parts about this are:
There will be 12 hours of sunlight there.
There will be tropical fruit to eat.
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.”
Update: The New York Times published its first account of some negotiations between Kibaki and Odinga. It also gives an horrific account of a church burning in western Kenya that killed 18 to 50 people. Gettleman sounds like he’s getting more pessimistic about the situation.
The Economist published an article about Kenya with a fair amount of analysis today. The New York Times is also keeping pace. I still have the impression that all the players are still trying to decide what they will do, and so the situation (relative peace or relative war) remains undecided and precarious.
The Kenyan researcher at my research camp emailed today that things are fine so far at Koija and in Nanyuki, though supplies are running out in town.
As for me, I don’t know yet if or when I will be returning to do my research.
Violence appears to be getting worse in Kenya. This article goes into some useful analysis of Raila’s institutional options (Kibaki will have only 30 supportive MPs in a parliament of 200+). It also says the US has backed off of its position that Kenyans should accept Kibaki’s victory.