Week 3 of the teachers’ strike and still going strong! One thing about Kenyans in general – they have endurance. Whether it is running or striking, they know how to keep going and going and going. It seems that the gov’t and leaders of the teacher unions are meeting throughout the week in hopes of extracting the money promised by the government back in 1997, but so far it has been fruitless. The gov’t did agree, however, to issue a raise for public service workers and civil servants throughout Kenya just last week, which understandably infuriated protesting teachers. I have heard that next week an agreement will be made and classes will resume, but I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that over the past 3 weeks, so it’s honesty hard to tell. In the meantime, I’ve been staying at Claire’s house with her since it would be so lonely at my site.
I’m actually quite fortunate to be kicked out of my site temporarily, because most other education volunteers are stuck at their sites by themselves, which would be quite challenging and incredibly boring. While things aren’t exactly exciting here, we can at least hang out, go for walks, watch movies and cook together. It’s been a huge relief to be going through all of this with someone else rather than by myself. In fact, we had a consolidation exercise last weekend for practice, in the event that the March presidential elections become hostile and unsafe. Because I was with Claire, I traveled with her to her consolidation point for those in Western Province (my home is in Nyanza). All volunteers in Western Province convened on Saturday morning, did a little paperwork and spent the evening getting caught up before returning to sites on Sunday. While we were there, a political rally supporting Raila Odinga from the ODM party was taking place. Pretty amusing, really, since the entire focus of the exercise was practice for escaping the political propaganda. Anyways, the elections take place on March 5, so we will be consolidating a week or two in advance to prevent any difficulty in the event that things become unstable.
Speaking of elections, this Monday was the by-election, in which Raila and Uhuru dominated. Raila is the nominee from my neck of the woods – near Kisumu. It is my understanding that if he wins, the odds of post-election violence are significantly reduced. The violence following the last election in 2007 was due to corruption after Raila technically won but Kibaki mysteriously ended up with all of his votes. At a rally before the by-election, Raila reminded the crowd: “You are all aware of what happened in 2007 when we won only for officials of the Electoral Commission of Kenya to rob us. You must be ready for a real battle this time.”
Uhuru is actually borderline criminal and charges are being pressed against him for inciting violence during the last election. I’m not exactly sure how they picture this ending, but I am sure that it won’t be pretty at all if Uhuru does win. I’m no expert, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a criminal in such a powerful position, or really to even support someone who was supporting post-election violence. In fact, I know Hillary Clinton feels the same way, and came all the way to Kenya to say it. But that’s neither here nor there… just my opinion, not that of the Peace Corps, and I clearly have no political experience. Guess we’ll cross that bridge when (if) we get there.
Mudavadi is another frontrunner in the presidential campaign. He is from Claire’s region – a very fine Luhya man. He recently received a boost of support after the current president, Kibaki, chose him to represent Kenya at a UN meeting in NYC. Technically, the Prime Minister (Raila) should be representing Kenya when the president is unavailable, which has created a bit of tension.
There are probably like, 30 candidates vying for presidency, but those seem to be the frontrunners, – the ones I read about most frequently in the newspapers. To complicate things a bit more, some people are claiming that we will not be ready for elections in March, and that they should be pushed back (once again) to August. First of all, we have yet to secure the equipment for the elections. Kenya has decided (after quite a bit of discussion and disagreement from the citizens) to use Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) equipment from Canada. The people seem to be concerned about using this equipment because it will provide very sensitive information to the Kenyan gov’t, whom they are afraid to trust. Second, identification cards are not yet issued to eligible voters. Funds for registering voters are very limited, and over half of the Kenyan population hasn’t seen registration since the last election. They say that simply registering people to vote will take months. Lastly, an amendment in the Constitution requires one-third of the members of parliament to be female. There should be 349 MP’s according to the constitution, and 1/3 (148) should be women, which is almost impossible at the moment. I’m not sure if I mentioned it in the past, but the election was actually supposed to take place in August – last month. Then it was pushed to this December, and now it stands March 5. I seriously doubt they will succeed in pushing it back to August 2013, but if we don’t have the equipment, people can’t vote.
Last bit of serious news: there has been quite a bit of bloodshed in Tana River County. It has been ongoing for months between the Orma and Pokomo peoples. Tit for tat, back and forth, but recently a horrific massacre took place between the neighbors, resulting in nearly 40 deaths. Because they have been steadily fighting for so long, this eruption of violence came as a bit of surprise and led to an investigation. Nothing has been “proven” yet, but it appears that this event has political roots. Raila and Kibaki both have been receiving quite a bit of criticism for failing to protect the people despite their knowledge of the situation.
So, that’s the news update. That’s what I read about every day and what fills my mind while I’m waiting for school to start back up. I wish I had more to tell you about the strike, but it seems to be insignificant compared to political affairs. Even though it seems like a lot is going on here in Kenya, that’s only in the city. Here in the village, where PCV’s live, nothing threatening or dangerous is taking place, and quite honestly, we would be completely oblivious to the political happenings if it weren’t for the newspaper. Nothing has changed in the villages and nothing will change, it’s the major cities that should be concerned. The Peace Corps has done a superb job at preparing us for unrest and ensuring that we are all in safe locations. There is no need to worry about any PCV’s at all, even when elections arrive in March. So rest assured, family and friends of PCV’s – Kenya is taking good care of its beloved wazungu!