Thursday, February 28, 2008
I popped down to the local shop and the place was buzzing with excitement. Shop staff and customers all crowded round the TV and we heard Kofi Annan say:
‘Let peace and reconciliation begin in Kenya today’
I felt the prickly sensation of tears behind my eyes and goose bumps all over my skin. Relief and smiles all round.
Now we will no longer have to watch the local news compulsively like our lives and futures depend on it, or dread radio broadcasts that report on further deaths and outbreaks of violence. Perhaps I can guiltlessly flick through Hello and OK in a mood of escapism and not feel I must feverishly summarise daily headlines and commentary in Nation and the Standard newspapers.
Our housekeeper said that it must have been the Americans who changed Kibaki’s mind and persuaded him to share power:
‘This Kibaki, I think he thought they would hang him like Sadaam!’
Monday, February 25, 2008
A South African friend told us:
‘I kid you not! It was only Raila Odinga speed walking on the running machine next to mine this morning!’
Someone else spotted him on another occasion and rather bravely introduced himself, even giong as far as proffering his hand for a shade. This unfortunately proved to be not the thing to do because Raila studiously ignored the gentleman.
Yesterday, a British friend saw Raila in the club pacing down the path to the swimming pool/gym area. My friend smiled brightly and said:
Which he felt might be the right etiquette in a members club, but again the gaze of Raila hidden behind dark glasses, while flanked by two body guards in matching African shirts (it was Sunday) did not flicker the remotest response.
The African style of leading is obviously a far cry from the UK/USA style of acting at all times as; ‘The People’s President’. Smiles etched painfully on faces and always a minute spared for a potential voter.
Mothers and wives often must necessarily stay at home for work permits are generally only granted to one half of a couple. For each to have a permit is considered excessive unless you are both qualified professionals whose skills cannot be sourced locally, or you are involved in some kind of training program. As a result, husbands return home from work after an arduous day at the office after a ‘not too bad’ twenty five minute commute, to be welcomed into a spotless house, children freshly bathed, hot meal in the oven and relaxed wife proffering a gin and tonic. Finding a baby sitter is never a problem. Book clubs, golf and bridge circles can always be sought out. The local shop will give you credit and there is always someone to help carry your bags for a few shillings.
There is an element of ‘make do and mend’ as shopping is basic and you soon learn to make the best of what is available. ‘Safari Style’ consists of grass mats, sheepskins, locally made hardwood furniture, cow horns and soft furnishings made from fabrics sourced at the second hand markets. A farmer’s wife I met recently said that when she first arrived in a remote rural district, she was only able to visit the local town five times a year and her container from Germany did not arrive for six months. They started with not a stick of furniture and she had a post war cook book which suggested substitutions for rationed ingredients, which was helpful when all that she could cook was what was possible to grow or rear. Cows are still milked by hand and farm machinery is often circa 1950.
When I got married and moved to Africa for the first time two days later, I was pretty unprepared for the fact that in doing so I was losing my independence, just like those new 50s British brides must have felt when they gave up their single status. I had no car, no job, no friends and no family close by, no money except for what my husband earned and in addition I didn’t understand the local language. On arrival I became ‘Mrs X’ and there was very little more to say about it as my former life was pretty irrelevant. However, it had its benefits too; moving to Africa fast tracked my husband and I from renting a tiny flat in London to living comfortably in a three bedroom house with a four wheel drive, sizeable garden, a dog and reliable house help within one year.
I realised before long that, as an accompanying ‘spouse’ or ‘dependant’ on an expatriate contract, opportunities for furthering my career would prove to be difficult. Without a medical or teaching background, my degree in History of Art had not stood me in good stead for the rigours of the developing world. Finding friends and figuring out what to do with my time was tricky. Exploring craft markets, making curtains, sketching and rearing an Alsatian puppy just weren’t quite enough. After a short spell of working at the British high Commission as local hire staff, I quickly decided that producing a baby was the best way forward. After having a child, I soon met new friends with equal amounts time on their hands. We now have three children who enjoy the attentions of two parents, two wonderful nannies and two friendly gardeners. There is always an adult who has the time to stop and talk or listen to an inquisitive child. When popping out to play dates or shopping trips we can choose to leave the baby at home to sleep. In shops and restaurants, children are welcomed with open arms. When off on holidays, we know that we can leave our home empty but in safe hands.
There is a social responsibility that comes with employing staff. The common perception is that expatriates live a high life and their local contribution is negligible but employing staff you are giving a number of people a livelihood when jobs are scarce. The average person in full time employment will be supporting up to twelve family and extended family members who are often living up country. The learning curve is steep when managing pay rolls, pay rises, helping out with medical bills, providing loans for school fees and stumping up when unexpected family funeral costs need to be met. Calculating overtime and holiday pay can be bewildering. Buying monthly supplies of sugar, tea and soap for staff can be a chore. Finding a position for a friend’s ayah’s sister is the sort of thing that we 1950s housewives do.
As in post war Britain, we occasionally suffer from shortages. Water dries up, power is cut off and telephone lines go down in heavy rain. Sometimes there is no sugar in the shops, or a fuel shortage and we are madly searching for a place to fill up our cars. The postal system is erratic and unreliable. Wood fired ‘kuni boosters’ are used to heat water, and small electric pumps push water from ground storage tanks into roof tanks. Many houses have a small diesel fuelled generator to keep the fridge going during lengthy power outages and to provide lighting at night time. Instead of open plan kitchens and mod cons, we still have poky, dark and poorly designed 1950s or even 1930s style kitchens. Threatened security and armed burglaries are a common concern and topic of conversation. Not just for the expatriates, but for the local community. The new Kenyan professional middle classes are being particularly hard hit especially when they cannot afford security firms and electric fences.
In this small community you will find news travels fast. Without the support of extended family; friends rally around in times of trouble. If someone is ill in hospital there will be hundreds of offers to help out with the school run. When a new baby is born there will be bunches of flowers dropped off at the gate along with a fresh baked cake or lasagne and offers of practical help. Nothing can be kept a secret either, so don’t expect to keep it to yourself if a marriage is breaking up or if you ignominiously lose your job.
Overall, life is good for the expat housewife in East Africa. Many are involved in charity work and contribute to fund raising initiatives. The Government may be in turmoil but the people you meet and live among are open, friendly and interesting. We cherish our annual trips home to catch up with relatives and friends, but we don’t envy them their housework, cooking and lack of time for themselves. For a young family growing up, this is the place to be.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
The reason it’s so awful is simply because you have, nine times out of ten, run out of money completely. In December we had Christmas and in January school fees were to be paid. You think to yourself:
‘Oh well, February is such a short month it will whiz by, it can’t be too bad.’
But in fact it drags on endlessly. The kids’ half term is spent bouncing off the walls at home as it’s not possible to justify a mini break in February.
By the end of the month you wonder why in hell you magnanimously gave your household staff a pay rise at the beginning of the year because in actual fact you can’t afford it, but then you remember what a comparatively measly salary they earn and that the work done is worth a hundred times more. Savings must be made elsewhere in the monthly budget.
Almost without fail each year I hone in on my husband and nag him into selling a seldom used, gathering dust ‘toy’ in his collection in order to tide us over on the cost of grocery shopping until March. It could be a cobweb gathering, full size professional spec. surf board (we now live nine hours from the coast, so really?), an ex army two wheel Landrover trailer (who needs one?), or more likely something from his arsenal of motor sport related toys. This year we pinned our hopes on selling some superfluous, ‘Rhino Charge’ super sized Unimog tyres to a lorry breakdown recovery service vehicle who showed some real interest, but sadly in the end drew a blank. It is divine retribution (in light of the amount of toys gathering dust) that my husband’s birthday falls in Feb, so the most he can hope for by way of family presents is pants and socks. (At this point I can hear all you male readers oozing sympathy.)
This year is worse since the country has had the worst couple of months in its history and her future prospects have been carelessly thrown up in the air like a pack of cards. We still don’t know exactly how they will land so are left pondering:
‘Can we still afford to live here now that the shilling has depreciated and the cost of living has risen?’
‘Why did we invest here? We should have invested in somewhere more stable. Now it’s too late.’
‘Should we realistically consider leaving at some stage? Our rosy future we had planned out in Kenya looks somewhat bleaker these days.’
While the international press have depicted Kenyans as a machete wielding lawless mob, the truth is that most people feel let down by politics, frustrated by politicians and utterly disillusioned. They are many, many times less well off than they were eight weeks ago. The troubles of a poor Kenyan are almost impossible to quantify by a Westerner. While we bemoan the fact that the cost of food has gone up, the shilling has depreciated and our futures are uncertain, some might have lost family members to brutal murder, watched their homes go up in smoke along with all of their belongings, watched friends being wounded or maimed, lost jobs which once provided the only means of getting food and surviving, others have even lost their children in the chaos of being displaced and all in one fell swoop. For people like me, that would all be far, far too much to bare, but for many Kenyans it’s just life and still somehow they heroically keep going in the usual hopes that: ‘Mungu atasaidia’ (God will help).
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
‘I have been following your blog and am delighted by your buy Kenyan campaign. I seek out Kenyan things at the supermarket, which is such a relief as the local products are always so dodgy and old looking that it is nice to have an excuse not to buy them!’
Talking of food, I just received a text message from our former night watchman with HIV who lives in Kibera:
‘Good afternoon? We are ok, we managed to get food from Moi foundation again (the last lot was looted from their home in the post election troubles). We also acknowledge your constant support. Safe drive all day.’
That last bit reminds me of the time he waggled his finger at me for chatting on my phone as we pulled out of our gate at home one day.
One of the ladies told me today that the secondary school system is in complete chaos following the Government’s election pledge to offer free secondary education for all. Many parents have switched their kids over from the private to the state system, only to find that it is the same cost, if not more expensive due to the fact that the schools have not yet got the Government funding that has been promised.
Following an unhappy time at her old school after tribal tensions running high, her daughter made the switch from private to state school. Our housekeeper then paid the required fees (which ended up being the same as at the previous private school) and her daughter is going to the new school each day, but still being denied access to the classroom, having been told:
‘We don’t accept kids who have switched from the private system to the state one.’
The crux of the matter seems to be that the state school have taken fees from more kids than they can physically cope with.
Also she is being asked for an extra fee because her grades fall below an imagined threshold. Our housekeeper feels that this is blatant corruption and fears that her child (albeit she is now 19 years old and desperately trying to finish her education) is being victimised on a tribal basis as it’s a Kikuyu run school. Options for schooling are now running out and she is considering trying to get her money back from the state school in Nairobi and then sending her daughter back to Western Kenya to stay with relatives, so that she has a better chance of getting a hassle free secondary education.
Sadly, I’m not sure if she will have much luck up there either. Many schools have already been so disrupted by the displacement of teachers and students and vandalism of the schools themselves and now they are failing to get promised Government funding to subsidise free tutorial fees. Many doubt that the Government have enough money to offer free secondary education, as it doesn’t have the donor backing that the scheme for free primary schools did. University lecturers have been appealing for assurances of personal security before going back to work. It's such a struggle for people to just get an education.
While things are still so very much up in the air between the Government and Opposition party, the simmering tribal tension will go on.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Meanwhile, we have been existing in a kind of hiatus for some time now. At least the man who operates the barrier outside my daughter’s kindergarten is no longer carrying around a bow and arrow (not really sure how affective in a crisis he thought this choice of weapon it might be anyway?). We’re no longer afraid to drive to the other side of town for fear of rioting. New expats are arriving and hopefully some tourists are dribbling back. Some ventured off to lodges offering cheap deals during half term and others made the most of deserted Mombasa beaches.
I’ve been elected onto the kindergarten parents association. We are organising a craft fair to raise money for the Kenya Red Cross. Guess who has been put in charge of the cake stand?!
p.s. My mum in England tells me that Delia Smith is sticking her neck out in the UK ‘buy local’ food debate and promoting Kenyan shelled peas. Good for her!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
‘Annan: Deal close, I will stay to end. Agreed: Start poll probe by March 15, Constitutional review in a year. Structure of new Govt outstanding.’
Condoleezza Rice and Jendayi Frazer are due to arrive here from the States on Monday, hopefully to put some tight thumb screws on the stubborn politicians, though Bush is purposefully not coming to Kenya during his current African tour. Adam Wood, British High Commissioner in Kenya mentioned freezing MPs and business people’s UK bank accounts, as well as denying UK visas as possible measures against those responsible for derailing peace talks and instigating violence since the December election.
Above all, we are thrilled that Annan has pledged to stay until the end of the negotiations. It's incredible that he has maintained an extremely positive attitude in the face of a particularly ugly set of Kenyan problems. In fact, his attitude has gone a long way in restoring confidence in Kenya’s future. The violence here has also ostensibly stopped and we have been able to go back to 'normal' for now.
The business community is hopeful that things will be sorted out soon. When an agreement is reached between the political parties, it means that work decisions currently delayed or put on hold can finally be made, which in turn will mean that business can resume proper and the economy will be able to build itself back up again. At the moment the general attitude is:
‘We can tentatively conduct business for now, and we can hope for a resolution which we are increasingly confident will be found shortly, but if it’s not found we don’t even want to think about the consequences.’
Many estimate that it will take not less than a year to get back to where Kenya was economically, before the election took place. For instance, a Kenyan school mum I know who works for the airlines says that things are now very tough for them. A week or so ago they carried only four passengers on a flight from Heathrow to Nairobi and the number of flights operating on the usual routes has been cut. My cousin who is visiting here from England now said that his BA flight was surprisingly full, so it seems that intrepid tourists are gradually coming back but it will take a significantly long time for the airlines to get back to catering for the pre election quantity of travellers in and out of Kenya.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The Telegraph newspaper yesterday published that the British International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, made a statement appealing to romantics to buy Kenyan stems for Valentines Day. Excellent, I thought – until I read on to learn that he was immediately challenged by critics who said surely shoppers should be buying local or organic, or not buying roses at all as they are not in season in Britain. Grrr. I’m pretty sure I do understand the arguments about food miles and carbon footprints but I can’t help still feeling totally unconvinced about boycotting Kenyan produce.
‘Buying local’ is not necessarily an eco friendly approach because you are not always buying goods produced with low carbon emissions. My mum in law forwarded me an interesting article by Richard Woods published in The Sunday Times news review (February 3rd) entitled: ‘Get off your food miles guilt trip’. The article still left many questions unanswered and it was clear that the whole ‘food miles’ issue is still cloudy, but at least it seems to be being reassessed. He explains that while ‘food miles’ and the concept that: ‘local is good, long haul bad’ is an easy concept for shoppers to grasp, the arguments are not so straightforward. In fact researchers are using a new term; ‘LCA or ‘Life cycle assessment’, which quantifies the whole environmental impact of growing, transporting, selling and consuming a product. This re branding has thrown up some interesting results where it was discovered that it’s in fact significantly more eco friendly to buy New Zealand apples and lamb than British.
‘Various bodies, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Carbon Trust, are trying to formulate a method for calculating LCAs for consumer labelling. A pilot scheme involving Walkers Crsips, Boots and Innocent drinks started last year and has expanded to include food giants such as Tesco and Coca Cola.’
Tomatoes grown in Britain under heated greenhouses have far higher emissions than tomatoes from Spain grown in the open. Surely buying beans or flowers which are grown naturally under the African sun, where the average carbon footprint per person is absolutely miniscule compared to the West and where they have been economically packed and transported in bulk, often on planes that are ferrying tourists anyway, is preferable to choosing a ‘local or organic’ product:
‘Local production and a distribution system involving lots of vans and cars miss the environmental economies of scale.’
Besides all that – doesn’t England and the West have a responsibility to support produce from Africa? I’ve said this before, but why put aside so much money each year from the annual ‘Gross Domestic Product’ of a developed country to put toward overseas aid, if you are then denying the developing country the right to hold a place in world trade and become wealthy, all because of a dumb concept like ‘food miles’? Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with the other?!?
Sorry to rant. I know that there are further arguments about ‘fair trade’ in Africa but right now, especially after all that has taken place after the December election in Kenya, people need jobs and an income more than ever. Putting more people out of work really doesn’t help. I’m sure that there is pressure on large agricultural producers in Africa to adopt Fair trade practices eventually, but for now – please, please just buy Kenyan and therefore you are going some way to helping the people that need it most.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I really don't blame him for trying to wrap things up. I'm sure he didn't expect to be here 'talking' for over a month. His departure will be strange - it feels a bit like being dropped at the school gate as your parent leaves you alone to fend for yourself in the dog eat dog world of the school yard.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Disputed poll, rigging, vote tallying, ECK failure to do its job, disputed presidential poll. Media ban on live broadcasting. ODM press conferences claim that they were the rightful winners of the election. ODM flat refusal to recognise Mwai Kibaki as President.
Outbreaks of violence countrywide
Property destroyed and protests take place mainly in slum areas of Nairobi, Mombasa and in Western Kenya. (Kisumu and Eldoret worst hit). Pockets of violence, burning, looting, threats. ‘Peaceful’ countrywide Mass action – called for by ODM (on six days named days over three weeks). Illegal demonstrations take place. All rallies outlawed by police. Brink of civil war. High state of tension. Many stay inside their homes. Panic buying in supermarkets. ECK chairman makes press statement saying that he was ‘pressured’ into announcing results before investigating flaws in vote tallying.
Desmond Tutu arrives
Tutu diffuses high state of tension on first day of organised ‘mass action’ which is called off by ODM mid afternoon. Nairobi city centre disrupted. Businesses close in fear of looting. Protestors largely made up of male youths. Eldoret and Kisumu burn. Rioting in Nairobi slums: Kibera, Mathare Valley, Karangware. Police pour into Uhuru Park, Nairobi to prevent gathering from taking place. Demonstrators are blocked from exiting slums to reach town centre. EU speak out and calls the election ‘flawed’. US Ambassador states election ‘not free and fair’. Gordon Brown makes statement citing irregularities. Kalonzo Musyoka appointed Vice President. Kibaki goes ahead and appoints his cabinet. Desmond Tutu leaves having diffused some tension but unsure of how things can move forward in Kenya.
Further days of ‘mass action’ announced
Protestors brandishing knives. Demonstrators in running battles with police, tear gas canisters, protestors gassed, rubber bullets fired into the air, live ammunition used by Police, instability, standoffs. Rumoured instigation of violence by ‘leaders’. Roads blocked. Traffic paralyzed in Western Kenya. Trucks burned on roads. Drivers threatened and are asked to reveal tribal ancestry. Farms burned. Deaths. All property, businesses and people assumed to Government supporters are targeted in Western Kenya. Horrendous news pictures of violence both broadcast locally and internationally. International Travel bans imposed on Kenya. Tourists leave and industry inundated with cancellations.
Houses and businesses burned. Hate messages. Hate radio broadcasts inciting racial divides. Tribal antagonism. ‘Foreigners’ (i.e. those belonging to tribes not originating from that area) told to get out of Western Kenya. Kenyans seek refuge in churches and police posts. Eldoret church torched with Kenyans sheltering inside (incl women and children). Tribal issues reawakened. Ethnic cleansing. Illegal roadblocks. Police accused of shooting indiscriminately. Innocent slashed to death (ie. with a machete/panga). Rape, molestation. Break down of law and order. Fear of Genocide. Comparisons made with Rwanda.
ODM blame Government for Police brutality and deaths. Government blame ODM for instigating violence and destabilizing the country. MPs claim to have received death threats.
Internally Displaced Kenyans (IDPs), Red Cross, human rights abuses, camps. Donations of food and clothes. Caravan of Hope Appeal. Charity. Impasse. Desperation. Humanitarian assistance. Jamhuri Park, Nairobi, Nakuru Show ground inundated. Thousands flee over the border into Uganda.
Leaders maintain hard line approach
‘Where is Kibaki?. Raila visits Eldoret. International intervention. Jendayi Frazer arrives from US. She states: ‘US will not be conducting business as usual in Kenya’. Arrival of Eminent African personalities. African Union chairman, John Kufour visits, but seemingly leaves without gaining much ground in search for peace. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visit postponed due to ill health. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni arrives to mediate. Further Accusations of police being partisan in tackling violence. First Convening of Parliament. Election of house speaker. MPs swearing in. Kalonzo forms committee for truth and reconciliation – ODM rejects Kalonzo as peacemaker and are offended by his stepping forward.
Arrival of Kofi Annan
Raila and Kibaki shake hands outside Harambee house after first meeting. People of Kenya heave a premature sigh of relief.
Revenge attacks carried out in central Kenya
Reprisals against tribe members originating from Western now living in central Kenya. Backlash. Naivasha house burned with sheltering victims inside (incl. women and children). First Nakuru, then Naivasha in flames. Angry Mob. ODM MP shot/murdered outside his home. Within 36 hours second ODM MP shot in cold blooded murder. Standoffs between police and demonstrators. Historic land issues of Rift Valley/central Rift resurface. Tribal issues. Ethnic cleansing. Appeals for military intervention. Terrified residents driven out. Youth with bows and arrows. Forced circumcisions. Mungiki bussed in to ‘cleanse’ areas of ‘foreigners’.
Brink of civil war again
Kenya teetering on a precipice. Future hanging in the balance. Knife edge. Further eminent statesmen visit. Annan appoints his peace and reconciliation team to include: himself, Graca Machel (former South African first lady) and Benjamin Mkapa (former Tanzanian president). ODM slogan ‘no peace without justice.’ President Mwai Kibaki maintains he is ‘duly elected.’ News reporters and media bosses reveal that they have received death threats.
Annan lead Roadmap to Peace proposed
Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation committee formed, to include three representatives from each party. First on the agenda: Stop the violence, how to deal with the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Those responsible will face the full force of the law. All guilty parties to be; ‘brought to book’ for playing their part in the violence. Attorney General has evidence against some MPs for instigating violence, chooses not to name names while ‘truth and reconciliation’ talks ongoing. Perpetrators of violence charged and placed in police custody. Investigations ongoing. Mediated talks ongoing. Dialogue continues.
Flawed election hotly debated in mediation talks
Kofi Annan asks press not to speculate on the details of talks but urged the public to be patient until an agreement can be reached. Annan warns anyone conspiring to de rail peace talks. Rumoured bugging of Annan’s room in the Nairobi Serena hotel. Displaced Kenyans start being transported en masse out of temporary shelters at police posts, prisons and show grounds, to be repatriated with ancestral/tribal lands. Business leaders speak out on failing economy. Estimated 400,000 Kenyans to lose their jobs. Tourism and manufacturing industries hardest hit. Flower farmers appeal for peace as they approach their busiest most profitable time of year: Valentines Day.
Head Quarters – Harambee house – the Presidents Office
Leader: Mwai Kibaki (tribe: Kikuyu)
ODM – Orange Democratic Movement (Opposition)
Head Quarters – ‘Orange house’ – I drove past it on Friday and it really is painted a very, very orange colour. Neon is the best way to describe it.
Leader: Raila Odinga (tribe: Luo)
KICC – Kenya International Conference Centre
Head Quarters where the results of the election were tallied and announced to the press.
ECK (Electoral Commission of Kenya)
Violence broke out even before final results were announced as frustrated Kenyans waited four days for votes to be counted and a winner announced.
ODM and PNU strongholds (ODM = Western Kenya – PNU = Central Kenya also known as ‘Kenya’s bread basket’)
Kalonzo Musyoka – at time of election he was an ‘aspirant’ in the Presidential race leading a separate party called ODM – K. He failed to garner significant votes, but was chosen by Mwai Kibaki to fill the role of Vice President shortly after the election in a move that infuriated ODM.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
For many, going out to work simply translates into earning just enough to live, pay the rent, buy food, pay school fees. With no income you cannot eat and with more people out of work, we all fear an increase in crime as people are driven to desperate measures. Let’s hope that the tourists come back soon and that factories can get up and running again at full productivity and the roads are made safe again without delay. Let’s hope that to counter the economic downturn; the government create many more jobs in the wake of the crisis by using their newly announced fund for those affected by the violence to rebuild the areas that have been destroyed.
Kofi Annan is still hanging on here in Nairobi and predicts that a deal could be struck between government and the opposition party by the end of next week. Annan really does deserve a medal (or ten), for what he has done here. A Kenyan friend of mine said that she would personally like to take him on an amazing safari to show him the best that the country has to offer by way of a thank you. However, I’m sure he’s counting the days until he can get the first plane out of here.
As the days pass, it becomes increasingly clear that both the Government and ODM, the opposition, have been guilty of some pretty underhand behaviour and neither party can poke their heads above the parapet too far as no one above blame. I hope it’s now time to put all the horror behind them and move forward to create a better, fairer way to run Kenya for everybody.
Friday, February 08, 2008
It may be a little known fact that most politicians and wealthy Kenyans send children to Europe and the States for study and often these children wind up emigrating. Holding overseas bank accounts and owning properties outside Kenya is the norm. Immediately after the election results were announced and violence broke out, Caroline Mutoko a DJ on Easy FM was appealing to overseas diplomats to implement such a ban on travel:
‘Why are the poor people now dying and losing what little they have in the way of possessions, whilst these wealthy ‘leaders’ can just choose to leave the country whenever they like. Cancel their visas, make their children and families come back and watch Kenya burn with us.’
The local newspapers reported that junior MP Mugabe Were, who was shot outside his house in Nairobi last month, had kids and a former wife tucked away in Italy I read. There is a general rumour that all of the ODM party leaders sent family overseas in the run up to the election, in case of (or expecting) ensuing disputes or violence.
The ban is a perfect way to pressurise the Government and Opposition to find a solution, without hurting Kenya or poorer Kenyans. Overseas governments are hitting the leaders where it hurts. Today’s Standard newspaper reported:
‘Panic gripped MPs and Cabinet ministers after news that at least 10 personalities had been banned from entering the US.’
Such a ban on travel has been implemented by Britain before on politicians linked to financial scandals and corruption in Kenya (i.e. Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing).
The fact that some Kenyan MPs and big swinging business personalities will suffer from having their lifestyles curbed unless they soften their approach and make a deal to end the impasse, may just be the push that Kenya needs. In addition, the fact that high ranking politicians and leaders of society might realistically be brought to book for their responsibility for masterminding violent uprisings throughout the country, must surely be striking fear in the hearts of many. There is no doubt that the most powerful guilty parties will never have to face the law courts, but injecting some fear into those who feel they are above the law may filter down and translate into a speedier more amicable end to the political crisis.
The fact that the country is receiving so much international diplomatic pressure to resolve the current situation can, in part, be thanks to horrendous lessons learned in Rwanda where overseas powers failed to intervene. The Standard reported today that pressure is now mounting on politicians from the United States, the United Nations Security Council and the European Union:
‘Strike a deal to end crippling crisis or else we intervene.’
Meanwhile, the job of relocating more than quarter of a million displaced Kenyans has begun. What a horrendous ordeal this has all been for them and now they have no choice in starting fresh somewhere new, far away from their homes.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
It has been difficult to give an update on the political situation over the past couple of days because talks between Government and the Opposition are still ongoing under the ever heroic mediation of Kofi Annan.
I wonder how many times the former UN Chief has asked himself:
‘What on earth am I doing here in
He must have been extremely disappointed when the Government rejected Cyril Ramaphosa as an additional mediator in the Kenyan post election crisis. The PNU accused Ramaphosa as being some sort of an associate of Raila Odinga, head of the opposition, so therefore not impartial. The South African government are infuriated by the rejection by
Yesterday post election talks were described as ‘hot’ by Annan, as both sides came head to head to begin to tackle the question of the flawed election itself. Each team brought to the table evidence of ballot rigging by their opponents in various areas of the country. Funny that they both accuse one another of the same crime and have hard evidence to back it up.
Meanwhile, the most telling news since the crisis came from a meeting of business leaders yesterday, who clarified and quantified economic losses since the election. Since 2003
It’s all still in the balance, pending the outcome of talks between the Government and Opposition but we doggedly continue to believe that common sense will triumph and a solution will be found. My everyday routine seems normal for now, I am even tempted to stop reading the local newspapers as the whole ordeal has been so emotionally exhausting.
I spent a cheery morning with
‘Oh, we have seen it all before, it’s been much worse in
Monday, February 04, 2008
My life felt pretty back to normal on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday morning I was at a kids birthday party, which felt the same only, rather unusually, we mums were discussing Kenyan politics/economics, rather than closer to home neighbourhood social politics.
At home, we've been working our way through a huge cake that we bought at the friday afternoon school cake sale, which was staged to raise money for the Kenya Red Cross. The peanut butter cookies that I made turned out OK, but my friend warned me to label them clearly for the benefit of those with nut allergies - I was delighted that my biscuits sold quickly, nuts notwithstanding.
There is nothing worse than slaving over a cake that nobody wants to buy. It sits mournfully on the table for hours as you watch, wait and wonder if you are actually going to stoop to the depths of buying your own cake, in order to save face. I speak from experience because once before I pushed the boat out, making a chocolate cake 'a la Nigella' with real raspberries and cream filling and no body bought it until one of the teaching staff stepped in at the eleventh hour. With that in mind I told my friend from the outset that I would generously/selflessly buy the cake that she had made (secure in the knowledge that her cakes are always delicious). However, it was not until later when she loudly informed me of the rather surprising cost of the cake, right in front of the school headmistress. Feeling faint and cornered, I had to feign nonchalance and pull out my wallet muttering:
'well, it's all for a good cause'.
I think that the Parents Association raised quite a lot of money all in all and the sale was a rip roaring success - and it was for a very good cause.
On Saturday I began the task of creating of an Egyptian costume for a rather fussy seven year old girl who has her own strong opinions on how it must look:
'I have told my teacher that I'm going to be an Egyptian princess'
- a pauper really would have been far easier!
Meanwhile, after weeks of preparation, my husband was in 'petrol head' heaven all day on Sunday 'buggy' racing at Jamhuri Park, which, only weeks ago was home to thousands of displaced Kenyans who have since been 'moved on'. Some have returned home where possible, others are now camping elsewhere. His Saturday was spent fine tuning the buggy and getting oily hands while I had to quick unpick the embroidered name off his ebay purchased second hand rally firesuit.
On Sunday, I spent the day rooting out understanding friends with my three daughters in tow after making a decision not to eat dust in the scorching sun at the buggy racing track. We wound up having a lovely day visiting friends, lapping up their hospitality with relish, messing up all their toys and dirtying their kitchens.
We now take a collective deep breath and hope that this week passes with a fewer tragedies and dramas while Kenya continues down the 'road to peace'.
Friday, February 01, 2008
'Fortunately', it was soon officially announced that the latest murder had been a 'crime of passion' and not some sort of more sinister hitman style execution, as was everyone's initial fear. It transpired that the MP was travelling in his car with a woman who was having an 'intimate' relationship with the policeman. There was gunfire as the jealous lover shot both the MP and the two timing girl. The MP died immediately and the woman died later that day in hospital. The traffic cop was arrested immediately and is awaiting trial. There was subsequent rioting in eldoret, but not Nairobi luckily. I dashed to pick up my eldest daughter from school bang on time so as not to get caught up in traffic in case of demonstrations, but in the end Nairobi was quiet.
Some expats have considered leaving the country until all this upset dies down but for now everyone I know has stayed put. February is a new month and it's important to stay positive and believe in the politicians finding a solution through their talks and bringing peace back to Kenya quickly. It's hard to see how they will do it, but once they have reached an agreement, I think that the thugs will be called off and the country can then focus on rehousing those who have been displaced and rebuilding the economy. Lets hope the tragedy following the December election is nearing an end.
I guess that coping with the trauma of the past few weeks is all part and parcel of being an expat in a developing country. One friend of mine lived in Ivory Coast during a coup, another in Malawi when things blew up there. Most of the time it's fabulous living as an expat in Africa, but occasionally it can be ugly and that is the challenge.