A little over 5 years removed from the last national election, in 5 days the people of Kenya will once again undertake the process of choosing new leaders including a new president. Within days of the results of the 2007-2008 election, the country broke out in widespread violence. Largely centered around tribal divisions and differences, the conflict’s epicenter was in Eldoret, our current home, and its surrounding areas. Official statistics grossly underestimated that over 1,000 citizens were killed with some hundreds of thousands displaced as neighbor turned against neighbor, houses were burned, churches full of people seeking sanctuary were torched, and historic animosities were rekindled in light of present day politics.
Every 2-3 months, we invite all the visiting medical students and residents to our house to hear the story of those that were here during that time. One of the IU House drivers, Javan Odinga, tells his incredible story about how he helped rescue many to the shelter of our housing units. He describes images of angry mobs surrounding his car, road blocks of burning cars and tires, and dead bodies scattered throughout the areas surrounding Eldoret. Javan certainly played a pivotal role in helping many to survive during this time, but his story is just one of the many from that time. Every person with whom we work and every student we teach was affected in some way and most silently still carry the scars and stories.
During the past five years, much has changed. The country has ratified a new constitution and the current president is retiring.
Yet, still one of the leading candidates for president and his running mate are awaiting trial in the International Criminal Court for their roles in inciting the violence last election. Tribalism, broad sweeping promises, and counter-accusations have largely filled the campaigns in which the Kenyan people very much need a leader with a vision for Kenya’s tomorrow. Unfortunately, the news already reveals politicians purchasing machetes to distribute, hate pamphlets pitting one tribe against another, and initial violence stirring in divisive areas. Out of fear, many of our friends are already planning on voting and then fleeing town with their families to their rural villages where they can be more safely surrounded by their tribe.
At a prayer rally over the weekend, many of the current presidential candidates (including the two leading candidates) joined hands in calling for peaceful elections. Now, as we leave Kenya at the directives of Indiana University, we ask for you to join with us in this prayer. This country and this people need reconciliation, forgiveness, and a hope for tomorrow. Politics will not solve this nation’s ills, but can surely continue to stir up old wounds for the benefits of a select elite. Pray for Kenya. Pray for our friends. Pray for our neighbors during this period.
For those interested in reading more background on the upcoming Kenyan elections, here are some recent articles from international news agencies:
NY Times: Kenya Section (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/kenya/index.html)
BBC : “Q&A: Kenya’s 2013 elections” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21478869)
“Photoactivist seeking end to Kenya’s tribal tensions (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-21577926)