Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Elections & Itineraries

The best laid plans...

International work is always a challenge -- trying to coordinate people, letters, permits, vehicles, and facilities from a different continent (or two) means that no matter how tightly we plan, an element of stochasticity always creeps in.

Hey...it was your turn to refuel the plane, right?

In my case, it's related to elections.

Specifically, it's related to the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled to take place in Kenya on March 4th, 2013.

Elections & Corruption
Now, elections are contentious at the best of times, and in the proudest of countries. But following widespread accusations (and in some cases, verification) of corruption in the 2007 Kenyan elections, civil disagreement turned to violent demonstration -- and claimed 1,300 lives.

The Meat of the Story
With my limited East African experience and scant (read: none) political science credentials, I couldn't begin to hope to do justice to the complexity of reasons behind the 2007 Kenyan election crisis.

Mwai Kibaki
President Mwai Kibaki via UgandaPicks.com
However, a Cliffs Notes version is this: Big Guy (Mwai Kibaki, who won in a landslide in 2002 and has a propensity for expressive faces) had been president a while, and simply wasn't ready to give up all the fancy hats and mahogany desk chairs that come with the role. So when it came time for everyone to line up politely for democratic elections, he may or may not have slipped his own name onto a couple thousand extra ballots.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, via Nehanda Radio

At the same time, New Big Guy (Raila Odinga), suspecting that something looked not-quite-right when Kibaki sauntered out of the election station trying to look casual and whistling Dixie, decided he'd rather be safe than sorry -- and did the same.

Overlay all of this with the ethnic tensions already simmering in certain parts of the country (Kenya is home to almost 60 culturally and/or linguistically distinct ethnic groups), and trouble abounded. In the government arena, police action (including shooting unarmed protestors) turned peaceful demonstrations violent. Among civilians, ethnic identity briefly trumped national cohesion as attacks began to target members of Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu.
Note: The Kikuyu comprise ~22% of Kenya's population, but are believed by some to hold a disproportionate number of seats of political and economic importance.

 Nevertheless, bipartisanship and a desire for peace triumphed, and a coalition government was established to share power in late 2007, with Kibaki as President and Odinga as Prime Minister.

The Big Question
Could it happen again this year? I deeply doubt it, but the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, CIA, United Nations, the Council on Foreign RelationsPresident Obama, and my advisor all disagree with me, so in this case, I am obliged to defer to their authority. [Note: the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development remains confident that all is well.] Most sources voicing concern point to recent ethnic clashes as evidence of mounting tensions in the run-up to the elections; in the most recent Tana River tragedy, 39 people - including 13 children - lost their lives.

Thus, I'll be postponing my arrival to Nairobi in order to give the election period a wide berth; this means I'll be leaving the USA in mid-March, staying on in England (Hi, Fred!) and attending the Student Conference on Conservation Science at Cambridge University for a week, stopping by Scotland for a weekend (Hi, Kev!), and then heading on to Nairobi closer to the end of March.

In an ideal world (i.e. one without bad weather, security lines, rainy seasons, customs officials, permit delays, lost baggage, bad sushi, etc.), I should arrive in Kenya - research permit in hand - on March 25th.

Wish me luck.


P.S. Here is a picture of a giraffe.

You're welcome

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