Steamboat Springs Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 and provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.
On Wednesday, Kenyan voters go to the polls for draft of a new constitution for the country. As an outsider, it is intellectually fascinating to witness the events leading up to this historic decision. But as one who cares deeply about many specific individuals in Kenya, it is incredibly difficult to watch.
The current constitution was handed to the Kenyan people by the British at the time of independence in 1964. The Kenyan people have tried once before, unsuccessfully, to draft a new constitution more fitting to the people, issues and realities of this country. But it is now, and in answer to promises made to quell the post-election violence in 2008, that almost everyone agrees that the time for a new constitution has come. Almost everyone.
African “democracies” operate very differently from what we were taught about democratic forms of government in our high school civics classes. Yes, there is voting, and yes, the majority wins (usually). But there also is terrific unrest and violence around opposition politics in Kenya. In my opinion, and that of many “Africanists,” this is because of overwhelming poverty and despair. Why wouldn’t young, hungry, unemployed and totally disenfranchised African men succumb to money, food, liquor and weapons provided by the rich and powerful who wish to exert their political will on the populace?
Look at any photographs of political rallies, protests or violence during election time in Kenya and they are full of these young men. Women are far too busy feeding their children, scraping together school fees, hauling firewood and water, and taking children with typhoid, malaria and chronic diarrhea to the hospital to bother with political mayhem. Or maybe their husbands have locked their national IDs away so that they can’t vote, even if they want to. But I digress.
Here is the more personal element to this referendum: the fear of the kind of violence that I witnessed in the post-election period of December 2007 to January 2008 reaching the girls at Tasaru — again. In the days leading up to the referendum, all Kenyan students will be traveling home for August holiday — from and to places like Eldoret, Kisumu and Naivasha, which have been identified as hot spots for violence before and after Wednesday depending on the referendum outcome. And Nakuru, where two girls from Tasaru are studying nursing and business management. And even Narok, where Tasaru is located. My husband can tell you about the anguish of seeing a CNN report about someone being beheaded in Narok after the December 2007 election while I was there.
We have it so good in the United States. I know that people in the U.S. suffer, I know. But you always will be able to find clean water that won’t kill you — if not at home then in a church, a library or a police station. Three out of five of your children will not die of malaria, typhoid, chronic diarrhea or (probably but not absolutely positively) of AIDS. And they will go to school, for free if you choose public education. They will know how to read and write — this is more than almost all of the mothers of girls from Tasaru that I know.
And we will go to the supermarket, the soccer field, church and the voting booth in peace. Amen.