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Kenya Election wobbles


There’s no doubt about it, we are all feeling some trepidation about this upcoming election on March 4th. This is largely caused, I think, by the fact that none of us really have a clue about what will happen. How will the election pan out? The only thing that seems fairly certain is that there will be an election run-off on 11th April, as it is unlikely that any one candidate or party will win an over 50% plus one majority.

What may cause problems is the fact that forerunning presidential hopeful Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, are scheduled to answer their charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague, on 10th April, for atrocities committed over the last election.  Kenyatta's main competitor is Raila Odinga.

Should I stay or should I go?

In light of the chaos that surrounded the last election, most international schools in Nairobi have decided to close for a belated half term from 1st -11th March. National schools will also close over the election period as they are generally used as polling stations. A possible run-off would take place over the Easter holiday. This leaves many foreigners unsure of whether or not to steer clear, or leave the country over this first election round in March, or travel during the second one in April.

Unwilling to be caught off guard this time, embassies are circulating evacuation guidelines, emergency packing lists and strategies in case of election crisis – which include tips such as; stockpiling food and fuel; preparing a ‘grab bag’ containing cash and assembling important documentation in case sudden departure or evacuation is necessary.

Reading this stuff can evoke ‘windy’ feelings in even the most level-headed individual. Highly tuned Embassy and development staff are talking in terms of ‘soft targets’ and ‘additional security measures’ – which leaves the rest of us raising an eyebrow at their somewhat dramatic view of the situation. Or are they just exercising caution? When I spoke to a former journalist at the weekend she said, “it seems odd to be fleeing a potentially explosive situation when in the past I would always be rushing toward it.”

The general consensus is that while some people have decided to travel, there are also many who plan to stay and hope for the best. Wonderful as it may sound, being stranded at a holiday destination and unable to return to your country of residence – let’s face it, for most people in the real world, it is simply not practical.

Who to Vote for?

A Kenyan friend of mine said that she doesn’t know who to vote for because she remains unconvinced by the all of the candidates. Many may choose to hotly deny it, but there are still huge swathes of the population – from highly educated lawyers to rural farmers, who will vote along tribal lines without even questioning it. Facebook and Twitter are currently being tracked to curb any dissemination of hate speech on social media which today is viewed as a bigger menace than the local radio which was blamed as the main culprit in the last election.

Individual politicians were party hopping and changing allegiances right up to the night before they were required by law to register their party. Therefore, the race seems to be less about party policy or politics than it is simply about individuals. The major parties and presidential candidates are as follows:

1. Jubilee:  Uhuru Kenyatta, running mate: William Ruto

2. Cord: Raila Odinga, running mate: Kalonzo Musyoka

3. Amani: Musalia Mudavadi

4. Narc-Kenya: Martha Karua

5. Eagle: Peter Kenneth

External monitors worry that Kenya will not be properly prepared to man and operate the new electronic voting system; there is large scale IECB recruiting and training that is not yet finished. There is also concern that the Kenya police force is not large enough in terms of manpower to ensure safety across the country.

While all of this uncertainty continues, the value of the Kenya shilling wobbles, it has recently devalued to a rate of: 89 shillings to the US dollar (from 85/-). Many private sector projects have been placed on hold while investors wait to see how things turn out.

I am not sure how to read the atmosphere. Cautiously optimistic or ‘grab bag’ at the ready?

Barack Obama had this message for the Kenyan people yesterday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgmVLJXS2x4

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