Kenya is a beautiful country.
But it is scarred.
In 2007, national election violence led to the deaths of more than 1,200 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. The pockets of tribe-against-tribe clashes won’t be soon forgotten – it’s an experience Kenyans say they don’t want to repeat.
Today marks the primaries for the next national elections, which are set for March and April. It’s eerily quiet in Nairobi, absent the bone-shaking sound systems mounted on flatbed trucks blaring support for this or that candidate. Children aren’t in school. People are laying low for the next few days.
No one knows how this election will play out, but no one is taking chances.
A Nairobi taxi driver I know spent several weeks in Eldoret, one of the worst-hit areas in 2007, moving his family and selling his cattle. He’d rather take the hit on prices now and pay higher prices to replace them later than watch his family assets get torched. I’ve heard the same types of stories from other Kenyans as well.
The country’s fledgling constitution was adopted in 2010. This election will be its first test. Kenya, considered one of the more stable countries in east Africa, will have the world’s attention for the next couple of months, for a number of reasons. How it responds to the attention remains to be seen.
In the midst of this, is there reason to hope?
Churches throughout Nairobi led months-long pushes to promote political unity – a new experience for an American so used to the fervent separation of church and state back home. In a country where tribal heritage trumps pretty much everything else, it has been seen as an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate what true unity means.
Those scars may still be there, but they are also serving as a motivator for artists, musicians and other creatives to promote peace through their medium. It brings to mind how deeply dividing events in American history, like Vietnam, have spurred expression through music, art and film.
As Kenyans head to the polls today and in the next couple of months, pray for a peaceful process. Only then can the scars begin to heal.