Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 17, 2008 - We are still OK and we have internet!

Sorry for the delay in posting again, but I am happy to say that we do have internet in our apartment. It is costing us an arm, a leg, and possibly our first born child, but we have it nonetheless. Technology in Kenya is obviously behind what we are used to and this is not a country where a lot of people have internet in their home; our speed is slower than we would like, but it is definitely manageable. Kristoffer is actually trying to negotiate with the company we are using about price, although after speaking with his colleagues the price we are being charged is pretty standard.

Kenya is back in the news these days, so I am sure you have heard or read that we are on our 2nd of 3 days of "mass action" called for by the government's opposition (ODM). Yesterday it rained heavily in Nairobi so the protestors didn't get started until the afternoon and were heavily blocked by police and government security units (GSUs). The situation was worse in Kisumu, a western city, with 3 people being killed by police and several others being injured when they attempted to demonstrate. In Nairobi, as far as we have heard, a few people in the slums were shot (not fatally) when they tried to leave the slum to march to the city's central park. None of the violence reported yesterday was between or among citizens, but rather from police taking aggressive action against citizens. The police fired tear gas at ODM leaders trying to enter the city's park and on journalists reporting outside the park; the US State Department's CNN reporter, Zain Verjee (who is Kenyan-born), was actually hit with a tear gas canister while she was reporting live from the scene. CNN is also showing horrific footage from Kisumu of a police officer following a man, shooting him in the back and then kicking him. It is still early here and I have not heard any reports yet about what is happening today. The United Nations did not close down so Kristoffer is at work; the UN compound is pretty far from any scenes of unrest.

On Tuesday, the eve of these scheduled rallies, the new and 10th Parliament convened for the first time and was in session for almost 12 hours to elect its Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and to swear in the Members of Parliament (MPs). It was definitely ODM versus PNU, with both sides becoming extremely vocal in attacking their opponents. ODM members refused to stand when President Kibaki entered the chamber, and when Raila Odinga entered they stood and cheered for the "People's President". It was the first time the two leaders were in the same room together and they did not look at each other once (I know because I watched a good portion of the 12 hours!). Then there was a huge debate over the procedure for voting on the Speaker with ODM members openly accusing PNU of rigging the presidential election and PNU members accusing ODM of committing genocide in the country. In the first live broadcast allowed to air on TV since the presidential election, what a sight for Kenyans to see! How are people supposed to behave and react to one another when their role models and leaders are acting this way?!

Many hours later, ODM did win the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The Speaker is the 3rd most powerful leader in Kenya so this definitely boosts ODMs spirit. It also means that, assuming Kibaki remains President for the next 5 years, he is likely to face even more challenges to his agenda with an ODM Speaker and an ODM-dominated Parliament. Following the election of the Speaker, each MP was individually sworn into office. First there was a lengthy debate about the oath MPs must take, which includes pledging allegiance to the president (by name) and to the Republic of Kenya. ODM MPs argued to have Kibaki's name removed since he illegally stole the Presidency and they do not consider him their president. Their request would require a constitutional amendment, which they could not enact until sworn in, so it was denied. Then Raila Odinga refused to swear on the same Bible that President Kibaki swore on, although I don't think there was another one around. After Kibaki and Odinga, the next MP to be sworn in was a member of ODM who pledged allegiance to "Raila Odinga" the first time, and to no president the second time before being berated and having to go through with the real oath on his third try. It was extremely interesting (dare I say entertaining) to watch these proceedings.

While some people thought that ODM’s Parliamentary victory would cool the planned demonstrations, others thought the victory would only add fuel to their fire. It seems that the latter group was right with ODM continuing to declare Kibaki an unlawful leader and to ask him to equally share power with Odinga until a new election is held in 3 months. For his part, Kibaki remains quiet and unwavering, insisting that the election was legal and that there is no problem. He refuses to step down and still claims that international mediation is unnecessary. In the meantime, Kenya’s economy continues to suffer. In Mombassa, the largest city on the coast, reports are that normally busy hotels are vacant with some already closing, many Kenyans losing their jobs, and the country losing billions of shillings in revenue. With a threat from the US and the EU of stopping or decreasing aid to Kenya and/or imposing sanctions until the government gets its act together, it is in the best interest of the country for the leaders to dialogue sooner than later.

Kristoffer and I had a discussion yesterday about ODM’s motives and behaviors. It seems that the whole world agrees that the presidential election was flawed and it is very difficult to put confidence in Kibaki as the winner of the popular vote. I can understand that Odinga should have been declared the winner and why ODM is aggrieved. However, at what point is that point lost? With over 600 people dead and over 250,000 people displaced from their homes, when is the loss of life and property greater than the false-loss of the election? Kristoffer seems to think, in the name of democracy, that ODM has no choice but to continue to call for rallies, and I agree that PNU has backed ODM into a corner with few options. But I also think that ODM is targeting a specific population when it calls for rallies and demonstration, and that it is willing to sacrifice this population. You see, there are middle and upper class Kenyans who also support ODM but they aren’t attacking people, leaving their homes to protest or demonstrate, throwing rocks at police and shouting “No Raila, No Peace”. They are calling for mediation, and they are not dying. The people ODM calls on to rally are poor, uneducated, unemployed, young men. They are the ones who will rise to Odinga’s every call and risk their lives. If ODM is using these people for its own political gain, as if these people are expendable, then I don’t agree. Two wrongs don’t make a right and there just must be another way.

Ok…enough of that. I’ll let you know how the situation unfolds in the next two days, although it is obvious that we are in for a much longer haul than that. Our life is getting more normal here, with the arrival of some of our furniture and the internet. The rest of our furniture should be done soon, so that is good. We also bought an elliptical machine since our compound doesn’t have a gym, so now I am at least getting some exercise. I interviewed earlier this week with one of the international schools for a position in the fall. It went well and I really liked the administrators, although the school is SO different from the places I have taught before. The position would require me to teach for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma which would require specific training; if the school finds another candidate who is already trained than I wouldn’t get the position, but if not then I think I have a good chance.

After 6 weeks here, there are many things that I miss, besides my family and friends that is, but there are two things I miss the most: going for a walk outside and having my independence. It is not generally considered safe to just go for a walk in Nairobi, which is something that in Brooklyn and Washington, DC I was very accustomed to doing. I am also more dependent on Kristoffer than I am used to being. In Kenya, and maybe throughout Africa, women (especially married women) are not taken as seriously in business as men. For example, I would normally be the one negotiating with the internet company about our charges but, instead, Kristoffer is doing it because it seems they have already tried to take advantage of me. I suppose that both of these example, not taking walks and being completely dependent, are ways in which I feel I have lost some of my freedom in moving here. Getting a full time job of my own is the best way for me to combat this loss, so my fingers are crossed that the teaching position comes through. Let’s also hope with that along with a job for me, we find some peace in Kenya soon too.



Joanna said...

Yay! I was getting worried for a minute. The job prospect sounds awesome, although your feeling that you have lost independence sounds uncomfortable. I'll pray that no one trained for your position applies and you get the job! Love you both.

Christina said...

Thanks for posting again! It's hard to hear about everything that is going on and not know what is going on with you guys! May peace be with you...

rebecca said...

Good luck with the position! The special training may be worth it if that's common for other schools, right? Stay safe and enjoy your sister's visit!