By Bethany-Angel Chijindu, Staff Writer
Growing up and living in three African countries — Zambia, Nigeria, and Kenya — has given me the unique opportunity to have lived through the different regimes and government types, and I have been a witness to the steps African countries in general, and Kenya specifically, have taken in the journey called democracy. I was born in the 80s when one party rule and military dictatorship was the order of the day. I have watched as multiparty democracy has risen in many countries, and it has not been smooth sailing as there have been bumps on the road. Kenya is a good example of democracy’s struggle.
Kenya is well known for its wildlife, and like a lot of people, when I first heard of Kenya, my first thought was of the beautiful game reserves. That was what drew my attention to my first trip to Nairobi in 2004 when I visited my parents who had moved from Zambia to Kenya while I was away at college in California.
Kenya often makes it in the news, when its athletes win, but on September 1, 2017, Kenya made headlines again, this time for its Supreme Court ruling that annulled the recent elections that took place in August. This was a shock for many because often in Africa the court sides with the ruling president and party.
This ruling, for me, signifies a step in the right direction not only for Kenya but Africa. I feel like I have had a special seat as a spectator in Kenya’s affairs since 2006 when I moved to Kenya to live with my parents after graduating from college. It was then I found out that Kenyans are what makes Kenya special, in addition to their rich culture and heritage. However, 10 years ago during the post-election violence of 2007-2008, I saw firsthand the damage, the potent mixture of tribalism and politics inflicted on a nation. It was then I realized that I had failed to see the storm brewing as a foreigner, even though signs were there before the elections, with many politicians fanning the flames during public forums.
But in ignorance I had not been aware, and it wasn’t until the violence erupted that I saw that tribal tensions are the shaky foundation that Kenya, like many African countries, is built upon.
However, the amazing thing was watching Kenyans rise and rebuild after the 2007-2008 Kenya Post election violence. I saw them vote to have a new constitution put in place in 2010, and I do believe that this new constitution plays a role in this recent ruling by the courts.
I confess that I watched nervously from afar, as the election day drew near a month ago. I knew that tribal tensions were still there and that there was fear of corruption and irregularities by people in the opposition. And when the murder of one election officer occurred a few days before the election, I could sense the fear in many people as I talked to my friends in Kenya.
And so, I was not shocked, when the election results were announced, but I was relieved that violence on a large scale did not occur this time, even though there was some violence and deaths.
There are many reasons why, this time was different. I believe many Kenyans stood up for peace, and also the use of technology meant that irregularities could be captured, thus giving the opposition the information they needed to take the matter to court. The Opposition leader also made the right decision to take the matter to court instead of going out on the streets in demonstrations, and this time the judiciary actually got the chance to judge and make a ruling.
This to me is proof that in ten years, a lot of changes can be made, and that each change adds on and builds unto the rich tapestry that is democracy. It’s a sign that Kenya is moving forward in the right direction. However, the truth is that there are still uncertainties in the coming days. As Kenyans go to the polls again on the 17th of October, already some politicians are defecting from both the Jubilee (party of the current President Uhuru Kenyatta) and NASA (the party of opposition leader, Raila Odinga ). The Supreme Court and the Electoral commission (IEBC) have been put in the spot light, and often times on the receiving end of the attacks and counter attacks of the two main parties.
The fact remains that democracy in Africa is deeply steeped in tribalism, and this overwhelmingly has an influence on how people vote and how politicians decide which party to belong, and it will be interesting to see what happens next, but I do hope that Kenyans remain peaceful as they return to the polls soon.