Thursday, January 24, 2008

Still going strong...

The December 27 elections are nearly a month old, yet the unpredictability continues.

The feeling in Nairobi is one of fatigue. I can't tell you how many people say, “we are tired of this”. Some are tired of the violence, while others are tired of expensive produce, a weak kenyan shilling (it was 60 Ksh/$1 during the time of the elections and now is 73.5 Ksh/$1), the uncertainty of what each morning brings, not being able to go into certain parts of town, all of the conversations being about one topic and a constant uneasiness pervasive throughout all people.

There were a few gatherings this week that acknowledged those that have lost their lives during this time. Unfortunately, they turned political and ended in violence. For those of you that followed the Kenyan news this week, Wednesday's funeral service that ended up in police firing tear gas and participants burning a government building is the closest matatu stop to our house. In some ways, we have built and immunity to what happens or doesn't happen. I caught myself responding to Gideon's question of, “was there any news today?” saying, “nothing too bad-well I guess there were 7 people killed in the slums and in the Rift Valley.” It reminds me of how I deal with the number of deaths in Iraq on any given day, Afghanistan, or Sri Lanka...yet these are lives, members of families, co-workers, friends.

Yesterday, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan came in and led mediation efforts. While Kibaki and Odinga posed for a front-page photo (smiling and shaking hands), their brief speeches made it clear that they are still on different wavelengths and that there will be no easy fix. We are hopeful that dialogue over the next few days will produce something positive.

CTM is shifting into a different mindset as we attempt to build up the leaders in our network as well as the communities that they serve. A large network of churches across the nation (National Alliance of Churches) has been instrumental in compiling data for needs in communities around the country. The network was established directly after violence erupted on December 30 and has been a huge player in the relief efforts throughout the country. The UN, USAID and large NGO's are using the their data to assist in their efforts. CTM has entered into this community and is linking our leaders to the efforts around peace and reconciliation in communities of different ethnic tribes and helping small businesses get up and going.

Thank you for your continual prayers and support during this time. The issues in Kenya are far from being solved, but we remain hopeful that people, places, institutions, communities and relationships can be reconciled beyond our limited imaginations.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

An end to “Mass Action”

After 3 days of protest, Nairobi experienced a day of peace. We are still hoping that leaders will find a way to come together in the next few days to give us reason believe that we are entering the beginning of the healing process for this nation. It was an ugly few days here with sustained violence, many deaths, property destruction and an absence of leadership. The news is stating 25-30 deaths over the past few days, but based on the stories from friends in Nairobi, this number is likely a low estimate.

We met up with friends today from Mathare at a downtown restaurant because of the instability of their area. The stories that they shared about their community were incredibly bleak. It raised some concerns on our end about what youth are seeing and how they are processing recent events. Gun shots, severed arms and burning homes...what are the hundreds of thousands of kids supposed to do after seeing something like this? Unfortunately, an immunity is eventually built so that responses to violence become irrational-perhaps the beginning of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

2 things that we need to highlight amongst our friends here in Nairobi...

  • Our friend Mark, who works with youth in Mathare, was shot in the hand two nights ago. He was opening a gate leaving his mother's home and was shot by a police officer who was looking for someone else. The last segment of his thumb is gone.

  • Pastor Alfred, one of our friends in Kawangware, lost his 6 month old son today. Please pray for his family at this time (see picture above). Other than diarrhea, we are not sure what symptoms led up to his death. Please pray for Alfred, his wife and other 3 children during this difficult time.

We are hopeful that diplomat visits this week will lead to conversations amongst the leaders of Kenya. I think that we are approaching a point where the government is realizing that there are issues that need to be dealt with and the opposition is recognizing the need to talk rather than carry out forms of “mass action”...I stand corrected-I read this morning the "peaceful" protests will go on again next week. Regardless of whether or not protests are set up to be peaceful, this week has shown that the police are given direct orders to contain those that want to assemble, defeating the chance of any peaceful gathering. People's emotions are running high these days and are not willing to meet governmental mandates.

We remain safe, a bit tired of all of this but hopeful for what is to come.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The first day of mass action

The rains deterred many from hitting the streets today in the first of several days of "mass action". While the day was relatively quiet according to current standards, it would have hyped the media in other parts of the world. Hundreds did take to the streets of Nairobi to demonstrate peacefully, but were turned away by the police. The opposition continues to press on saying that peaceful protest is a right clearly stated in the constitution. We will see what happens tomorrow as rallies are said to go on until the needs of the opposition are met. We are all still waiting for the two leaders to come together and discuss their doubts rather than sending their followers to do the dirty work.

On a positive front, we met with several of the pastors and leaders today and gained some insight from them on how CTM can foster reconciliation and growth throughout this process. They spoke of issues honestly, respectfully and openly in the presence of others that don't necessarily agree. We sensed that our February training will need to look different given the urgency of dealing with the current situation and the baggage that it brings with it.

Each of them expressed gratitude toward you as we told them that there are people around the world that are paying special attention to Kenya at this time. I encourage you to press on...this is a time when the media may get bored and not have the most grandiose stories to report. This does not mean that the situation is stagnant, nor over but perhaps that opponents are not talking and that a long and treacherous healing process is slowly taking shape.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"These guys can't be serious"

This has been a common phrase in the Ochieng/Zylstra Household over the past few weeks. Gideon's one liner has captured the mood of the majority of Kenyans as the few that make it into the national spotlight rarely reflect the thoughts and ideals of others.

Unfortunately, the situation remains serious. While the fighting that once activated the international news has diminished, there is a lot of tension that still exists. Major acts disruption may have subsided but the aftershock of recent violence, looting and displacement continues to haunt hundreds of thousands of people.

Many people have eluded to Kenya's strong infrastructure of government projects and NGO's. This is true, but it is important to know that these groups are set up for development purposes and are not equipped/trained to deal in a relief capacity. We are continually learning about the role of development and relief in various areas around the world. The most obvious difference exists in the emphasis on relief's short-term solutions to maintain stability while development focuses on the long term implementation of sustainable solutions. The crux of this situation sits at the axis of these two arenas.

Relief: There are between 300,000 and 400,000 people who have been displaced over the past few weeks out of fear, tribal conflict, the need to be with family and deaths of loved ones. These needs are immediate as most of them were forced to move with nothing in hand. Blankets, food, water, sanitation systems (at larger camps) are all imperative to the survival of these people. In addition, the 700 reported deaths have had an enormous impact on communities impacted as well as the nation as a whole.

Development: There is a hint of the developmental aspect that needs to be considered through all of this. In addition to the long term development that is required to deal with devastated areas, there is also an underlying political development process that needs to take place. Democracy remains relatively new here and maturity of systems is inevitably going to take some time.

These two areas are directly and indirectly tied to one another, making it difficult to work through current issues.

A few things to note that are going on locally and nationally:

  • The political arena remains paralyzed by leaders that are neglecting the needs of the people. Although many well respected African, British and US diplomats have attempted to get the two candidates to get together, they have yet to convene. Reports from international audits continue to recognize the elections as flawed. The parliament convened for the first time today and demonstrated that it is incapable of moving forward given unresolved issues at the presidential level. It took over 6 hours to elect the speaker of parliament (who is a member of the opposition). As we speak, the Members of Parliament are debating whether or not they should be sworn in right now because this process requires stating allegiance to the President of Kenya. Who is the president of Kenya? It is sad to see the political rhetoric in the comfortable Parliament Quarters when there are still hundreds of thousands of people that are carrying the true burden.

  • The humanitarian crisis is well under way. The Red Cross, Feed the Children, World Vision and several other large NGO's are up and running in many parts of the country. We participated in a National Alliance of Churches meeting yesterday that is involved with connecting churches with large NGO's that are active in the relief response efforts. It was very encouraging to see the efficacy of the church throughout the country. There are inevitably failures to reach all of the people but giant strides are being made to make sure that the humanitarian efforts are being dealt with. To give you a sense of the longer term plan in place, the NAC is implementing a 3 phase plan: Phase 1- Providing immediate food and shelter for those that are displaced (1 month); Phase 2 – Reconnecting families and getting them settled in safe communities (1-2 months); Phase 3 – Rebuilding businesses, job opportunities and infrastructure to restore areas that have been destroyed. (2-3 months)

  • We will meet with the pastors in the CTM network tomorrow if the countrywide rallies remain peaceful. We have connected with all of the pastors in the network and are in the process of setting up our own relief efforts to assist them and the people in their congregations. We will appoint a non-biased group to assess needs and to distribute funds. Many of our supporters have asked how they might be involved. We will make this information available by the end of the week.

  • We remain safe and well. Mandy has returned to teaching. It is amazing to see that the elections have had VERY little impact on many people in and around Nairobi. There are several pockets in the city that have not been impacted at all. We were reminded yesterday on our bus ride home that tension is still high as we saw the burned streets of Kibera and were stopped by a group of youths who demanded money from our driver (who was of a different tribe) in order to continue with the route. Mandy's school was canceled tomorrow because of the planned rallies (which are still banned by the government).

Thank you for your continual prayers, support and interest in what is happening in this part of the world. We are incredibly grateful for your dedication to experiencing the unrest that we experience here from afar. It has been an incredible learning experience for us and we hope that you have learned something along the way as well.

Please continue to pray for peace here over the next couple of the days with the scheduled rallies as well as continual progression in dealing with election wounds. Also, please lift up the stability of this nation as people are in many ways bound to move on with their lives by the events of the past few weeks. In particular, schools throughout the country were set to resume this week. Most schools remain closed because of fear of violence, displaced students and teachers and because of the destruction of school properties.

Calling it a night...we have been watching the parliament meeting from 2:00 PM – 11:30 PM...and we are tired! You trying watching C-SPAN for 9 hours:).

Friday, January 11, 2008

A prayer of thanksgiving

Thank you Lord for the traffic jam today;
people felt safe enough to go to work

Thank you Lord for a hot, rainless day;
people without homes will stay dry

Thank you Lord for hawkers selling food along the streets;
people were able to feed their families

Thank you Lord for a slow and unpredictable internet connection;
people have power in their homes

Thank you Lord for the overcrowded sidewalks;
people were willing to go downtown

Thank you Lord for opening my eyes
to the many blessings that once appeared to be burdens.

While there is no resolution to the election turmoil, the people of Kenya are longing to return to a state of peace. It is odd how just a few weeks ago we would grumble about the amount of traffic there is in Nairobi and yet when the roads were bare we felt unsettled. Now that the traffic is back (from car packed roads to pedestrian packed sidewalks) there is an inner sigh of relief in hope that other aspects of the nation are also returning to 'normal', and with new eyes to the see the blessings that they truly are.

I've been reading about a man named Paul Brand recently who has spent most of his life working with people who have leprosy. He speaks about 'The gift of pain'. His patients' bodies are examples of what will happen to a person who does not feel pain; they will eventually injure themselves badly because there was nothing to stop them from doing whatever was causing the pain. I know that pain is something I often try my best to avoid, yet there are so many lessons and so much gained after experiencing something painful. Just like a story without conflict is dull... so is life without pain.

Many Kenyans are in pain right now, ranging from the loss of loved ones to hunger pains. The elections have drastically changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It is hard to see the good in this situation, especially as it is unresolved, but I have found hope in the words of Paul Brand to see that there is a bigger picture being painted, one far too complicated to comprehend and we must trust that the gift of pain is at work here. It may be hidden among the ashes of a burned down store or amongst a family that is mourning their loss, or between tribes who feel misunderstood and judged unfairly... but that gift is there, embedded deeply, it may be hidden for months or even years, but my prayer is that God will use the turmoil of the elections for good.

“Its strange- those of us who involve ourselves in places where there is the most suffering, look back in surprise to find that it was there that we discovered the reality of joy” Paul Brand

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spinning Tires

I wish that we could report that major steps were taken today to get this country up and going again, but this is not the case. "President Kibaki" appointed half of his cabinet last night at a pivotal time which sent shot signs of discouragement throughout the country. None of his appointments were from the opposition party (who have far more elected Members of Parliament) and he appointed the 3rd candidate as his Vice President, hoping to gain favor with 9% of the country's voters. This move was a huge slap in the face to Kenyans that have taken great strides in instilling peace and coming up with creative solutions to deal with election irregularities. This came two hours before the head of the Africa Union came to engage in mediation talks between the current "government" and the opposition...a slap in the face for all international diplomats that have come to aid this situation.

I am confident that widespread violence would have occurred again if it wasn't for the exhaustion that everyone is facing at this point. A note on the financial situation of 80% of all Kenyans...there is no such thing as a bank account or a paycheck. Most people are paid each day after a job is completed. When people are missing consecutive days of work, the impact is huge. The energy is depleted, the frustration is still bottled up inside...making it difficult to know what tomorrow will bring.

I ask you to pray that Kibaki and Raila will address issues at the heart of the matter. Kenyan citizens have been the catalysts of peace thus far, but a sustainable solution can only be found if government officials are transparent in confronting other irregularities. This is no longer a situation that can be healed with a needs to be treated properly.

We have now heard from all of the pastors in our network and they are safe and well. Two are still stuck on the west side of Kenya because of dangerous roads and a shortage of buses to get people back to Nairobi. We continue to find humanitarian agencies and hook those up in our network with necessary organizations. Gideon is also representing our network in building up the small business owners whose products were looted or destroyed. This will be a critical step in kick-starting community development.

We continue to hurt for those whose voices have been discredited and covet your prayers for sustained peace and the address of issues at the heard of the matter.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Signs of Hope

We must say that things are really on the upswing here. Since the end of last week, the tone of the people has dramatically transformed. The first days of the new year were spent inside, fearful of what was happening beyond the gates of our compound and when we did venture to the supermarket, the Kenyan hospitality was overcome with fear and skepticism. This is no longer the case. We rode downtown in a matatu today...our first time in the city in 10 days and felt that Nairobi had some rhythm to it again, maybe not the same beat as before...but it has a pulse!

From our perspective, it seems that the problems that plague Kenya have been divided into two responses-the need for peace, reconciliation and handling the humanitarian crisis (500-700 deaths, 300,000 displaced and a huge problem with food distribution) as well as the governmental issues that stemmed from a rigged election. While it is hard to tell how the upcoming months will pan out, we are encouraged by the progress of the Kenyan people to stand against the chaos of this country.

A few of the signs of hope that we are encouraged by:

  • Thank you to many of you for your prayer support this week as individuals, families, churches, organizations, etc. We can't tell you how much we appreciate your time and initiative at this time.

  • I firmly believe that 99% of all Kenyans have given up on the fighting. Kenyan pride has stood up and proclaimed itself larger than violence, looting and rioting. Part of the decline in violence is due to shear fatigue and the inability to eat if there is no work. The majority of the decline has come back to people saying, “Enough is enough. Regardless of what our government officials are doing, we are going to get through this.”

  • The church has played an important role over the past few days in organizing humanitarian efforts, political pressure, reconciliation and prayer. We weren't able to go yesterday but Gideon joined 300+ pastors from all over the country to discuss matters and to chart a way forward. He told us about one of the more powerful moments when each of the tribes represented stood up and apologized to members of the other tribes for crimes committed over the past week. He described it as humbling and praised church leaders for modeling a way that other citizens can follow.

  • The opposition party has called off tomorrow's rally. They have recognized the potential violence that it would have caused and have chosen to make peace a priority in their fight for justice.

  • A group of African leaders are coming to Kenya on Tuesday and will mediate conversations between the current government and the opposition party to negotiate a feasible outcome. We are hoping that supporters of both sides will remain peaceful when discussions are made public.

  • The humanitarian aid is in full swing. Although access to food and water in the slums is still limited, there is a great deal of progress being made in this arena. The people of Western Kenya are still impacted by food distribution issues at this point as the road from Nairobi is impassible without a military convoy.

I am not sure how to accurately paint this picture but it really feels like most Kenyans are moving on from last weeks events. (In some ways, it appears that they are putting band-aids on deep wounds-but these wounds could not be healed through violence) It seems that many people have turned their attention away from Raila and Kibaki since neither of them are providing strong leadership. The newspapers and network stations are filled with ads promoting peace and reconciliation and pleading for leaders to lead in a way that restores unity. The kiosks on the streets are beginning to fill up with vendors again after time away in fear of being looted. Police cars and military trips are more sporadic and people of different tribes are returning to tribal “melting pot” areas.

One area that we do need to lift up however, is the pastors from the CTM Network. The magnitude of difficulties in the slums is incomparable to other parts of the country as they bring together many tribes, those that are already struggling to survive and what many people describe as "not much to lose". I am not sure how I feel about that statement at this point as I see immense value in the millions of people living in the slums of Nairobi. Please pray for the pastors as they are feeling exhausted caring for their own families, trying to get food, having to stay up all night to guard their houses and continual pressure from members of their congregations that are struggling to make it. We will continue to share more info on this front as the impact of these elections will undoubtedly altar how it is that we are serving these pastors.

We are hopeful. There is a long road ahead as this government realigns itself, but the past few days is what makes Kenya different from so many other developing countries. The people expect basic principles from one another, principles that go back a long ways, principles that have been developed by putting up with poor governance, principles that come back to the foundations of community. This national community will prevail.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A request from Nairobi...

To the supporters of Center for Transforming Mission-Nairobi:

We write to convey our thanksgiving for your notes of encouragement, for praying and for educating yourselves through the media about the disruption, turmoil and grief that the people of Kenya have experienced in the past week. Although there are many troubled areas nearby, we are continually blessed with safe housing, an adequate food supply and care and support from others as we confront a level of conflict that we, nor the people of Kenya, have ever endured before.

Far too often, we find ourselves wallowing in the injustices of the political situation of Kenya. Recent events in Nairobi and throughout the country have caused us to retract a bit, to consider the needs of hurting people and to find a renewed hope in a restored society. Perhaps our western tendencies propel us to immediately look for ways to confront inequality, restore chaos and to move on. While there are some whose work is centered on this approach, we cannot ignore the necessity to broker love and support to those that we serve at this point in time.

As supporters of our work in Kenya, we ask that you join the people of Kenya in recognizing Sunday, January 6 as an International Day of Prayer for this nation, it’s people and its’ leaders, whose presence plays a significant role in directing citizens through this time of unrest. While tension is sorted through, it is imperative that we come together as a collective people to lift up the children, women and men of this country to implement ways of peace, to support one another and to extend hands of grace and love to their neighbors. We encourage you to share this request with your church, small group, workplace, family, etc. as a way to raise up the people of Kenya in prayer at this critical time in Kenyan history.

We urge you to join us in praying for the following areas of CTM-Nairobi, the grassroots leaders that we serve and as well as this nation as a whole:

  • Tribalism plays a critical role in the current tension in Kenya. Please pray for a willingness to forgive, the advancement of unity and the redevelopment of trust among all tribes throughout Kenya.
  • These have come to be extremely violent times in Kenya. It is our prayer that people find constructive ways to convey their pain, to spare the lives and property of others and to care for their neighbors at this time.
  • Currently, there is an underlying sense of fear ingrained in this country. Pray that people can function in community with others, that businesses can resume without fear of being looted, that food suppliers can again make food accessible to people and that a sense of hospitality can be renewed.
  • There is a need for leadership at this time. Join us in praying for the top candidates and their ability to convey a courageous and humble message of peace, of hope and of merciful justice at this time while not serving self-interests.
  • Like most churches around the world, the Kenyan church struggles to understand the role that it plays in dealing with politics. Pray that the church can be a unified voice to promote peace, to model inter-tribal support and care for those that have been victimized and promote healthy dialog between political leaders.
  • The slums of Nairobi are incredibly susceptible to violence at this time. Please pray for the pastors in the CTM network, their families and their congregations as they are extremely vulnerable to violence and property destruction.. Several churches in the slums have been burned and human targets of violent acts are often unpredictable.
  • The role of CTM Nairobi looks very different at these times. Please pray for our ability to meet the needs of pastors and leaders where they are during these times. While our primary goal is to educate and enhance their ministries, many of them are in survival mode needing assistance with shelter, food and safety.

We are incredibly appreciative of your support during this time. We ask that you continue to visit our blog at for updates and invite you to join us in praying for God’s radical love, merciful healing and shalom that surpasses all tribal, political and economic barriers during this difficult time.

Peace, (like we have never meant it before)

Joel and Mandy
Center for Transforming Mission Nairobi

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


As many of you know from the international news, things are really heating up in Kenya around the Kenyan election. While I am far from an expert on the history of Kenyan politics, the political climate of Kenya has played a huge role in our experience in Kenya. So...bear with me, grant me the grace to share my skewed perceptions as an outsider and learn something along the way...and know all along that we are safe.

Democracy is relatively new to Kenya. While there has been a history of a so-called democracy, it wasn't until 2002 that the a pre-democracy ruler was dethroned. In 2002, President Mwai Kibaki was elected to take the presidential position, a big deal as it required the former president to step down, to succumb to his loss and to pass on the torch. The people of Kenya described the election as a big step toward democracy. Many people grounded their votes in issues, rather than the “good old boys” politics from the past and found ways to vote across tribal lines.

A word on tribalism in Kenya. Like any other “ism” out there, the root of the problem is founded in a lack of historical justice that plays into modern tension. While the Brits can't claim to make up one of the modern tribes in Kenya, they are likely to be the perpetrators or intensifiers of modern day Kenyan tribalism. Toward the end of their colonial rule, there were certain tribes that were built up, others repeatedly exploited and still others that constantly rose to the occasion to take down European power in hopes of becoming a free nation.

Since independence, Kenya has slowly moved toward a democratic society. Many of the barriers in moving toward independence are rooted in the complexity of making a free nation out of 43 different tribes. You might ask how tribes are defined...well most Kenyans can tell which tribe others are from based their facial complexion and temperament as well as names and the part of the country that they are from. Historically, when people lived in rural areas, there were few reasons for members of a community to have much interaction with any other tribe. Modern urbanization has brought members of all tribal communities to the city, where in many cases-they work together, worship together, even marry eachother. Beneath the surface, a culture of standing up for your own tribe and supporting it at all costs is a guiding light in Kenyan culture. Regardless on who is in power, they are said to boost the agenda of their people rather than caring for the needs of Kenya. Recently, The central province has benefited from far more economic improvements than other parts of Kenya and Kikuyu-run businesses and appointed political seats have been Kikuyu-heavy in comparison to the other tribes.

The largest tribe (Kikuyu), which makes up approximately 25% of the Kenya's 40 million people has a strong history of influencing government policy with influential leaders and a large stake in economic communities. While many Kikuyu's attribute their success in Kenyan society to hard work and wise decision making, others argue that members of the Kikuyu tribe have been favored by government policy, resource allocation and appointment to leadership positions over the years. While Daniel Moi, leader of Kenya for 27 years was not a Kikuyu, many felt that those in his inner circle unfairly favored Kikuyu segments of the population. Mwai Kibaki, Kenya's president from 2002-2007 is a Kikuyu, while his opposition, Raila Odinga (Luo tribe) and Musyoka Kalonzo (Luya tribe) thus creating a heated environment for the 2007 elections.

While tribalism is a scapegoat for much sentiment, many tribes feel that their region has been shorted because of a lack of infrastructure as well as the firing of many of the officials that had been elected and consequently replacing them with their own tribe. Some of the tribal tension could comes back to regionalism in a fight for equitable distribution support and resources and other comes back to a resistance to the tribe in power.

In Nairobi, this tension not only exists in the government and large businesses, but also in the slums. Some call them gangs while others call them a version of a mob representing tribal differences. The Kikuyu-founded mungiki is known for their involvement in the matatu industry and regulating housing in the slums by charging non-rental fees and regulating which people live where. The Taliban (no relation to the other Taliban) is an opposition gang/mob that works to regulate the Kikuyu and fight for land reform. I haven't quite gotten my head around the Taliban yet, but I think that they are primarily Luo, (which is the tribe of the opposition running for president) and provide a backing for people in the slums that are being exploited by those that are powerful.

This segmented background brings us to Devember 27, when the elections were held in Kenya. With democracy relatively new in Kenya, people are very interested in politics. Probably 70% of the evening news is about politics, the newspapers are full of stories about the elections and the buzz when walking down the street or sitting in a matatu is centered around the December 27. Each citizen claims to be an expert on the candidates, unfortunately mostly rooted in tribal connections, economic incentives,etc. Each of the candidates held several large rallies all over the country in which they paid citizens $5-$15 to come and support them. The pre-election poles fluctuated quite a bit in the two months prior to the actual election, but Raila (the opposition party) held a lead throughout. Although Kibaki closed in at one point, the most recent polls had Odinga leading by 12%. December 27 marked the election of the president, 210 MP's and commissioners. The major parties represented are the Party of National Unity (PNU), the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM named after a referendum vote...the two sides were called the bananas and the oranges) and the Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya (ODM-K). The majority of those running for president, MP and commissioners fit into these parties. The streets, matatus, hotels (restaurants) were humming with political rhetoric. With very few incidents, people participated in a way that honored the democratic process.

December 27- was a peaceful day. International monitoring agencies applauded the work of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) for their work and praised 9 million + citizens for voting peacefully. The pace in the city was dramatically slower as people were either away voting in their rural villages, at the polling station or huddled around a TV or radio inside of their house. There is no such thing as an absentee ballot, so regardless of where you currently live, you must return to the place that you are registered in order to cast your votes. There were a few skirmishes at polling stations, a few people whose voting cards were not found immediately (including the ODM presidential candidate:)), but all in all, it was a smooth and peaceful day. There are 210 different constituencies throughout the country in which representatives from both parties, a neural electoral commission and foreign representatives tally and provide results to the commissioning board in Nairobi to tally the collective constituency results. Each party delegates agents to the constituencies to monitor counting. Each of the party representatives sign off on a form with the end final tally for a given area and make a copy before the commission brings the results to head commission in Nairobi.

For the most part, December 28 remained peaceful as well. Throughout the day, there was tension building because the ECK was not producing results quick enough. By the end of the day, less than 30% of the votes had been counted.

Waking up on Saturday the 29th, I expected to know the winner of the presidential election. Only 40% of the votes had been counted and Raila (the opposition-ODM) had a commanding 55% to 35% lead over Kibaki (the current PNU president) at this time. I went for a run to find people clumped on the streets talking, no matatus out and lots of police and military members along the road. While the election officials were quick to announce the winners of the MP and commissioner positions in each district, the presidential results were still a mystery. As the day went on, tension increased more and more. The news reported violence, looting and several deaths in the western province where Raila is from and there were reports of significant violence in Kibera and Mathare as people begged for answers.

It is interesting to think how relative emotions are as Sunday the 30th manifested more politically-charged emotions than I have ever experienced. The day started out peaceful. We went to a nearby grocery store to get toilet paper to find a huge mass of people outside. They regulated the number of people that could be let in for fear of being looted. We stopped by the roadside kiosks on the way back where the owner raised prices of toilet paper from 15 shillings to 25, not sure of when he would next have access to any goods. People were frustrated, anxious and seeking answers-but all in all, they remained calm. There were several press conferences throughout the day noting toll tampering, a theory that had built a very strong case at this point. At approximately 5:00 PM, the Electoral Commission of Kenya had announced Mwai Kibaki (the current president) as the winner over Raila Odinga (the opposition party). Within 30 minutes, Kibaki was sworn in to office for a second term. I went up to the patio on the roof of Gideon's home to get a bit of fresh air and to decompress after a day that clearly revealed some dissimilarities. Within minutes, the fires were ignited, gunshots fired and a hum of screaming, yelling and chanting filled the nearby Kibera streets. I can't even fathom what it would be like for all of the innocent people trying to live another day and being stuck in the midst of chaos. The sunset that night was filtered by smoke from burning tires, vehicles, homes and shops. 20 minutes later, the government stopped all live coverage of the news. Part of me understood the need to block viewers from perpetuating the violence, but it also gives the government one more advantage in dictating the emotions and information viewed by the Kenyan People.

I woke Monday, December 31 to gun shots. Although in the distance, there were many of them. I have learned that in many cases, police shoot into the air in order to scare people away. Many of the shots fired were followed by different gun sounds, evidence of bullets being exchanged. Sheth, one of the pastor's in our network was outside the gate with a friend, wanting to come in. I went down and talked to him...he looked physically and emotionally exhausted. He asked if his children could come and stay with us for the day as they are feeling traumatized at their home in Kibera. We gladly invited his family in. Minutes later, he left to tend to the needs of members of his Kibera-based congregation and said that his wife would arrive shortly to bring the kids over.

Minutes later, 20+ men came running by our home. I quickly learned that these are the shop owners of the kiosks that we walk past every day, that we buy from and have become fond of. They return within minutes with rocks, sticks and machetes to guard their shops. A loud hum of screaming filled the kiosk lined streets as people break out of Kibera toward town, where they want to confront the ECK and police. The owners return in a dead sprint away from the mass of people and disappear for 5 minutes. But...they return-this time with two armed police officers. As the turn the corner three houses down out of my site, I heard 4 gun shots, followed by 2 more. To this moment, I have no idea what happened out there...but have come up with my own conclusions.

This is what has made this election personal. I realize that these experiences are specific to me, that others perceive things differently and that many have no vested interest in what is happening here. My lenses have been tweeked over the past few days in how I look at democracy, politics in general and the freedoms that I so often take for granted.

What went wrong:

Many people have asked me who I support in the election. Although many of the people that I talk Kenyan politics with are pro-ODM, I have supported a pro-democracy model rather than picking a side. As a guest of this country, I do not have a strong enough historical context of these leaders and was quite disappointed with all of the candidate's ability to articulate models of how they would deal with the main issues that Kenyans are dealing with, the main being an overwhelming disparity between the rich and the poor.

My pro-democracy interest stemmed from the tribal and economic divisions that dye the fabric of this nation. Like most other developing nations, Kenya runs off of a model in which the national government comprises 95% of governmental influence in areas across the country. Imagine if the US was run solely by the national government. How could those in DC tend to the needs of the Idaho's, Alaska's and New Mexico's of the nation when there are other needs in New York, Chicago and LA? There is a need for some local and state governance to tend to local needs as well as a guarantee that resources and support can be allocated to pressing needs. My story of growing up in Michigan and now living in Washington doesn't fly over here. Unless you are moving to the city for an education or a job, there is communal pressure to stay with your family, land and tribe. This being said, I feel that it is important that all members of the Kenyan society have a chance to vote in a leader that is going to meet their needs given their circumstances in their specific area. Anything less would force Kenyan development to move at different paces in different places.

As a proponent of democracy in this nation, there have been a few things that I have noticed along the way that have led to the failure of democracy over the past week:

  1. There is a rule in the Kenyan Constitution in which the current president can set the date of the election. The election is to be held 60 days after the president dissolves the parliament. This provides an unfair advantage for the incumbent as it allows him (maybe someday Kenya will get to a gender neutral term on this one) to use the poles as an indicator in when they can be most successful in holding the elections. The constitution states that the elections must take place at any time on or prior to December 27 because the incoming president needs to be sworn in by December 30. This leaves a 3 day window for the results to be calculated, announced and for the new president to be sworn in. While it is possible to tabulate 9,000,000 votes in 3 days, it provides minimal room for due process given poor circumstances. Regardless of how far along the electoral commission was in their process on December 30, 2007-they were forced to make an announcement and swear in the president.

  2. The representatives of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) began tabulating votes in the respective constituencies when the poles had closed on Thursday, December 27 at 6:00 PM. Many of them worked through the night and produced results to the governing commission in Nairobi the following morning. Some of these submitted early were the larger of the 210 constituencies with 90,000+ voters. The ECK made these numbers public. I remember waking up on Saturday Morning to find that 37% of the votes had been counted and Raila had a 55% to 35% lead over Kibaki. I would soon come to find out the Raila's stronghold area results were submitted early and that Kibaki's stronghold areas would not come in until Sunday afternoon-72 hours after the election. Regardless of what happened during this time, red flags were raised all over the place as there was a discrepancy in when results favoring Kibaki came into Nairobi. Note: it is difficult to reach certain parts of rural Kenya and could take considerable time to retrieve documentation. Many of the slowest constituencies to submit results to the ECK in Nairobi were less than 100 miles away.

  3. On Saturday and Sunday, when the majority of the results were being made public from the ECK, the process was incredibly dirty. With a lack of transparency and party agents from each of the constituencies not allowed to confirm their numbers with the ECK, there were many figures that were disregarded and unaccounted for throughout the process. There could have been a quick fix for this...prior to making figures public, simply have the head of the commission get numbers from his representatives as well as the representatives of agents from each of the parties and see if there are any discrepancies. If things don't line up-deal with it! Instead, the commission used their own numbers and disregarded the figures from ODM and PNU reps as well as other neutral representatives that were required to be present at polling stations including the several embassies, the UN and the European Union. All of these witnesses noted discrepancies in their figures in comparison to what the ECK (whose word is final) stated and voiced frustration in not being able to meet with the head of the commission to review results prior to the public dissemination of information. There were some areas for ODM and PNU constituencies whose voter turnout was higher than the number of registered do the math!

  4. The ECK confirmed the election of President Kibaki in the midst of much controversy. Prior to his announcement, members of the opposition and the EU had reported possible tampering. Both of the candidates held press conferences to say that they had been announcement that should not be made by any party, but instead by the governing body of the election process. Protests were happening all over the city already and the media made sure that the commission was aware of tampering speculation. Even the head of the ECK made announcements that he wasn't sure of the process and that some of his representatives at the polling stations could not be reached when they were late in reporting results. TV channels had also broadcasted footage of ballot boxes being broken into, some even stolen.

  5. The announcement of the election results was only carried by a state-run television station. No CNN, BBC or any of the other Kenyan TV networks were allowed to broadcast this event. The TV showed the president being sworn in less than 30 minutes after the election results. I am not even sure if the person announcing the results could get to the state house (where the president was sworn in) in less than 30 minutes. Once again, this was only televised by a state-run TV station. Less than 10 minutes after the president was sworn in, there was a ban on all live mdeia coverage. Some speculate that this was to reduce the perpetuation of violence as Raila's 4.4 million voters erupted after the announcement of the results and the swearing in ceremony. Regardless, this induced a state of panic in citizens and hindered the media's ability to communicate important information to citizens. 4 days later, we are still under a live-broadcasting ban, which has raised fear, has not allowed leaders to communicate peace to their people and has increased the number of rumors in circulation.

  6. Other than a brief New Years greeting, the “re-elected” president has not addressed the nation in the response to the elections. His acceptance speech identified the process as free and fair, flaring the tempers of the opposition and anyone that wanted Kenya to move forward in it's democratic state. His officials have released statements about the chaotic state of the country, but his leadership has been virtually non-existent, a sign of incompetence in leading a democratic society.

  7. Raila prematurely declared a rally in the city's largest park on Monday, December 31. Without consent from the police (which is a rule for all rallies in Nairobi), without any acts of diplomacy with the ECK or current government officials and playing into the emotion of his supporters, he likely escalated violence through this decision. This was later rescheduled.

  8. When Raila did go through proper channels to set up a rally to deal with election discrepancies, the government did not allow him to legally do so. I feel that if Kibaki wants to go anywhere with his upcoming term, he needs to deal with the issues of his people, be transparent in the election process and allow his people to bring concerns to a table where they can be adequately dealt with. This is set to happen tomorrow...we will see if it happens!

So this is it...Kenya took a turn for the worst in its' democratic state this week, not because of a win or a loss, nor ties to a tribe or ethnicity, but because the process to lift the voices of the Kenyan people was not heard. We hope and pray that the violence stops, that justice will prevail and ultimately that the people of this nation would not be the ones that continue to suffer from this breach of democracy.

Selected articles that depict what is going on:

Sunday, Decemeber 30; Washington Post: Incumbent Declared Winner in Kenya's Disputed Election.

Monday, December 31; International Herald Tribune: Tribal rivalry boils over after Kenyan election

Monday, December 31; Voice of America: Kenya Bans Live Media Broadcasts

Monday, December 31; BBC: Odinga Rejects Kenya Poll Result

Monday, December 31; International Herald Tribune: Politics, Tribalism Volatile Mix in Kenya

Tuesday, January 1; Bloomberg: UN Calls for Calm in Kenya; Post-Election Deaths Rise

Tuesday, January 1; Voice of America: EU Calls for Inquiry into Kenyan Presidential Results

Wednesday, January 2: The Guardian: Fiery Speaker with the Populist Touch

Note: If you are having trouble with opening the links, copy and paste the article titles in Google. Some newspaper websites require a login if you link directly.