Friday, January 04, 2008

in the news, all new to me

(january 3, 2008)

i arrived in amsterdam for my connection to nairobi and to the times headline ‘kenya on the brink of civil war’ and began to worry. i am glad that i paid the ridiculous amount to connect to the wireless to see that i had an email from our security focal point at our organisation asking me to contact them and there was some speculation on me staying in amsterdam due to the unrest and violence in nairobi, but it was decided that i should get on my flight, although it was notably less full than they normally are. i had no idea what to expect or that it was a good idea to be coming back, but i slept the entire flight and only woke up to eat the surprisingly yummy airplane food.

after landing in nairobi, i took advantage of their rather incomprehensible duty free shops upon arrival and bought a radio (which is really something i should have done months ago, i forgot what great company the bbc is) and carried on to find out that my bags had not made it through a rushed and delayed transfer through minneapolis. i had to continually check in with people from my organisation and take a taxi with a radio to ensure that i was travelling as safely as possible late at night. all went well and the only thing i noticed was that the streets were absolutely deserted and the bank machines i tried were all out of service.

i have been following the news almost all day today and am beginning to think that although things are pretty chaotic and the election was full of irregularities, the international news has exaggerated the scope and intensity of the conflicts. not that people being massacred while seeking protection in a church should be downplayed, but local accounts are putting the number of dead in that incident at 40 and not 200. although things are rather chaotic and rallies are being prevented by use of tear gas and live rounds, i think that saying that kenya is on the brink of civil war is pretty irresponsible journalism. and comparisons to rwanda and genocide is outright wrong at this point.

in my radio listening this morning, i heard the us ambassador to kenya talk about what should happen next and he had a few good points. although there have been irregularities reported by the eu election observer mission and the elections commission of kenya, staging another election would be a huge undertaking, would take months to plan and organise, and would not necessarily have different results. the country is split down the middle in their support between odinga and kibaki and if another election were held, it would not necessarily change popular sentiment.

archbishop tutu is attempting to mediate and the us will send a delegation tomorrow to try and get these big men to sit down and sort this out, but as an observer, i don’t see any way to come to an agreement on this disputed election. maybe that is why they didn’t invite me to mediate. and the fact that i am not an international figure of peace and reconciliation.

as an expat living and working in kenya, i am deeply troubled by the fact that a country as stable and developed by african standards can disintegrate into tribal politics so easily. and that the looting and violence was mainly in the slums of nairobi and against kikuyus is difficult to process. i am not sure that i can ever understand and as much as people will defend it as historical and cultural and inherently difficult for outsiders to comprehend, i am not sure that i buy it. taking advantage of a situation to commit crimes for your own personal gain just seems barbaric and targeting a specific group with the assumption that they are personally responsible for the situation is perplexing to say the least. i realise that many of the people are uneducated and living in poverty but how are basic values disregarded so easily? many of the people carrying out such acts are groups of young men, which raises so many questions about gender and deviance, none of which i believe will be answered anytime soon.

they suspect that kenya is losing $34 million daily in tax revenue alone as the economy is at a standstill. as roads and transport corridors are essentially closed, aid supplies are not able to get to the refugee camps and the neighbouring countries that rely on kenya to move necessary supplies. i suspect that tourism will slow over the next year and the exchange rate will fluctuate after 2007 gains against major currencies. my job may drastically change even when things get back to normal and peace is restored. i was supposed to be in kisumu in the last weeks of january but that is one of the areas most devastated by the unrest and my project will understandably not be a priority. and as i work closely with the government, i am doubtful that things will be back to reasonable working conditions for awhile considering the speed with which the government of kenya moves regularly and with the confusion that has been left in the wake of a disputed election.

for the time being, i get to be ‘essential staff’ and come into work to help with urgent proposals mostly because i live so close to the office and not because i am necessarily essential! but i am happy to be able to do something and that our offices are officially closed so that our kenyan staff who have to travel through the city are not at risk simply by travelling to work.

i had a lot of nice text messages and overseas calls from people concerned about me, which was nice. and i have spoken to all the people i know who would be most at risk here and they are safe, but stuck at home.

and i now if things can be peaceful enough tomorrow so i can have my bags delivered...

oh yes, and happy new year.


La Cabeza Grande said...

I'm so glad that you are safe, Lu. From an outsider's perspective, the news is certainly very troubling. While things may be blown out of proportion to some extent, I remain concerned for your safety.

Send me your email addy, m'kay?

liz said...

I am also glad that you are safe and was really taken aback by the unexpected violence. I hope things get better quickly. And I love the imagery evoked with the phrase "international symbol of peace and reconcilliation".