Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Kenya will hold a presidential election Monday. I was in Kenya during the past national election five years ago. In the aftermath of a botched election with no transparency and blatant rigging, more than 1,000 Kenyans killed one another and as many as 600,000 were forced from their homes. Many thousands still live in the squalor and indignity of Internally Displaced Persons camps throughout the country five years later. In Eldoret, a group of about 20 women and children were locked inside a church and burned alive. Untold thousands were raped, maimed and injured.
As Maasai on Kikuyu (and vice versa) ethnic retribution unfolded in the weeks after the election, I watched a mob of young men in Narok block the road, put burning tires and tree stumps in the road and pull motorists from their vehicles. During the time I was there after the election, a man in Narok was decapitated and another was forcibly circumcised. People were killed throughout the country on a daily basis for belonging to the wrong tribes.
During that time, one of the most unsettling things for me was that I could not purchase any phone credit because the pay-as-you-go phone credit cards were one of the first things to dry up across the country. From the other side of the world, my husband found a hotel in Nairobi willing to take his money by credit card and transfer credit to me.
After all of this, Kenya never will be the same, or so everyone likes to say.
The upcoming election obviously is a cause for great concern within Kenya and internationally. The leading presidential contenders are saying they will honor the decision of the electoral commission, will not condone violence and mayhem if they lose and will put the interests of the country above themselves. This might be true. One of the presidential front-runners stands before the International Criminal Court at the Hague for crimes against humanity, forced relocations of ethnic populations, rape and murder in the wake of his involvement in the post-election violence five years ago. His time at the Hague, regardless of whether he becomes the next president of Kenya, will not go any better if the judges there find that he is forcing the Kenyan people to relive the national nightmare of the 2007 post-election violence.
My most immediate concern is the safety and well-being of the girls I know and their families. Some of the girls will be traveling home in the days before the election to cast their ballots not only in the presidential election but also for local governor, senate, women’s representative and county seats. Others have registered to vote where they are in school rather than in their home areas but still will be in vulnerable locations prone to ethnic violence.
I read that the U.S. Embassy has advised American citizens in Kenya to prepare themselves for 72 hours of remaining within their homes after the elections. I will be telling the girls to prepare themselves, as well. I’ll make sure they have credit on their mobile phones so they can stay in touch with their families and myself. Schools and businesses will shut down for a week or more just in case.
I’m glad that I will not be there, but I wish that I could be there to take care of the girls.
Clark resident Mary Walker works as a volunteer at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre, which rescues Maasai girls from female genital mutilation and child marriage in Kenya. She now provides college and university assistance to several Maasai girls. Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.