"Samuel, are you worried about the elections? Do you think there will be violence like last time?"
"No, mama Caleb. It will be peaceful. Raila will just win."
"But what if he loses, or if it goes to a run-off. Do you think there be violence then?"
"It won't happen because Raila will just win."
"But what if he doesn't win."
"That won't happen."
This went on for a while, and I literally couldn't get him to consider the possibility of a loss.
His was not an isolated sentiment. There was a feeling that Raila had the momentum and the numbers. The election was stolen from him last time so, the logic goes, he should be a shoe-in now that the election commission has been depoliticized and international observers were keenly watching the process. Anyway, Raila's main opposition AND the running mate were indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, and Kenyans across he board were fearful of turning the country into an international pariah and taking the economy through retributive sanctions. Even though the polls had him neck and neck with Uhuru, it seemed he couldn't lose. People here didn't seem to be entertaining the thought.
That's what worried me most in advance of the election. It implied there would be a level of suspicion and outrage should the outcome be in another direction.
So, when Uhuru shocked his part of the country and won the election outright, I waited for some kind of outcry. Something ranging from public protests to utter pandemonium
There was none of it. Raila called for peace even as he called "foul play" and insisted he'd work through the courts.
|photo credit: sabahionline.com|
I'm sad for those who are mourning or feel robbed. But at the same time I'm ... well, "proud" seems a bit patronizing and I don't mean it that way, but that's about the feeling... proud that Kenyans have chosen peace.
Having a backdrop of violence can go one of two ways. Often it escalates. Violence begets violence, especially where grievances are given room to simmer and underlying issues remain unaddressed. There's nothing inevitable about this peaceful election. Over 1,000 families lost their loved ones and hundreds of thousands lost their homes last election. They are still in IDP camps. Those wounds are still festering. Many who experienced violence last time feared a reoccurance.
But a backdrop of violence can also mean that people work harder to maintain peace, having tasted the ugliness of bloodshed that almost no one wanted. This appears to be the story in Kenya.
In the five years since the last election, the electoral process was made more transparent, independent courts were set up, commissions to curb hate speech were erected, and a new constitution was passed which devolved authority to local levels where it can be held more accountable. While the vote counting was happening, there was a heavy policy presence in possibly volatile locations.
And Kenya is a relatively prosperous country, by neighborhood standards, in which people have a "stake in the peace." Even after the disappointing result, Kenyans in Kisumu seemed eager to get back to work.
I really love this country, which has accepted my family with open arms. I love the patience, the curiosity, the warmth and the hospitality of the people here. Maybe I should stop intellectualizing and just be thankful to whatever forces aligned to keep the peace here in Kenya.
P.S. I know there's a sense from some who feel wronged by the outcome and suspicious that votes were rigged that peace came at the expense of justice. I don't have a great answer for that. Hopefully the courts can prove or disprove any wrong doing.