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Saturday, August 12, 2017

From Nairobi to Charlottesville . .

Last night the IEBC finally finished their tally of papers confirming the election results, and announced the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee party as the winner.  This was the culmination of four days of anxiety, anticipation, rumor, interviews, waiting, accusations, protest and a general sense on the part of the population that anything could happen in spite of fairly consistent updating of results electronically projecting the Uhuru win.  Many stayed close to home, many businesses remained shuttered, many essential services were suspended, as people protected themselves.  Even the announcement was incredibly drawn out as the chairman's speech was paused for important paper-signing by officials, and as he laboriously read out the votes (and percentage) for each of ten candidates in each of 47 counties.  As our friend Martha said, it was like sitting through a graduation for 470 students.  We watched on a Kenyan TV station right to the bitter end when the President gave a conciliatory and unifying speech about 10:30 pm.  Soon after we could hear wildness from town, but it was happy wildness.  Horns, music, shouts, vuvuzelas, cheers.

The opposition, however, had walked out of the process as the Uhuru victory became more and more inevitable, and ominously declared that this time there would be no legal option in the courts.  So while half the country cheered, about another quarter exploded in anger met with swift repression. Previous and current interns we know from opposition strongholds in Western Kenya posted on social media about tear gas being lobbed into residences, about gunfire on the streets.  The Guardian reports 24 deaths based on data gathered by Human Rights Watch.  Reuters earlier reported similarly. In contrast to all that, here in Naivasha I had an intern show back up to work, and a friend who had stayed next door out of fear moved back home confident all was fine, and people went about their business normally today.  So . . . even up close to events, it's hard to really know.  All we can tell is that multiple sources confirmed that Uhuru won a majority, and that left the areas where Odinga won 90% or more feeling defeated, disenfranchised, cheated.  Youth and poverty and desperation and hateful speech are a volatile mix.  The line between a protest and a riot is vague here, with burning tires and throwing rocks and looting shops.  And given the history, the government security reacted with deadly force, justifying that a quick few bullets would end the uprisings quickly and save lives in the end.  But at a high moral cost.  Shameful that politicians excluded from power encourage the young men to cause chaos; shameful that the politicians given power use it to kill.

Which brings us to Charlottesville, where we met on a street corner at UVA 37 years ago.  For 36 of those 37 years it would have been unthinkable that people would parade with Nazi swastika flags mixed with confederate flags, on the absurd premise that white history was under threat of being forgotten because the city wants to rename a park to recognize the Civil War resulted in the emancipation of human beings.  It would have been absurd to imagine the national guard and riot police, violent confrontations, a declared state of emergency, an unlawful assembly. Thankfully students and people of faith and people of conscience formed a counter protest.  The news is still evolving.

Kenya and Charlottesville.  Tribalism.  Fear.  Political manipulation.  Power based on inciting hate.  Identity formed in sharp contrast to the terrifying "other".  Few ideas, quick violence.

This is where we tend without an otherworldly infusion of love.  Tomorrow let us gather and pray and go back out into this mess determined to love.  It's been a hard week.  I know I've been resentful, and felt alone.  The tiny lives that have been held up this week seem a drop in the bucket.  But that's where it starts. If we can humbly do hard tasks in small places, at some cost to ourselves (it was not my ideal to work long hours alone the week Julia came to be with us), so that others can thrive . . well, that's the cross, and we're promised that changes the world.  From Nairobi to Charlottesville and beyond.

1 comment:

Phyllis Masso said...

You are a saint. I am sure there are many grateful moms and dads who are glad you showed up to save their babies' lives.