The 2017 Kenya Elections & Us

This is our second elections that we have been through living in Kenya. Last time we stocked up on food and fuel for a month as it was the first time after the 2007 elections which ended up being hugely violent. 2012 was minimal violence.

Now in 2017 everyone was so unsure of what would eventuate. We decided to stay in Nairobi because we’ve travelled a lot this year and we wanted to be here for our team in case it all went cactus. We’ve actually ended up with extras at our place. First we had an Aussie friend who lives in Uganda staying. When she left a friend and her son who live in the Kibera Slum have come to stay for a few days until the elections are over.

Here’s the lowdown on how it affected not just us but the public.

 

Beforehand

Usually in an election year there’s lots of upgrades on the roads, improvements in communities and better access to water. This year there was absolutely nothing. So things are more rundown than ever.

Nairobi is known to be an apartment city and there’s lots of building going on. However, for the past 6 months I haven’t seen as many busy sites. They’re there but not active. Maybe it’s because investors have pulled out but also businesses aren’t sure if they will get paid.

We’ve talked with a lot of business people and that’s their biggest problem. There’s plenty of work but people are not paying their bills. It’s usually a problem here but it’s blown up this year.

The elections were held on August 8th. That meant on 5th and 6th the shops were jam packed. Imagine what it’s like in your country leading up to Christmas when every man and his dog decides to visit the mall. Here people shopped like it was the end of the world. Everything was meant to be closed on election day but it was more than that. It was the uncertainty of what would happen afterwards.

That was the biggest thing that hung in the air all year – a sense of uncertainty.

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Will things flare up, will there be peace, will everything flare up?

It looks like half of Nairobi has emptied out. Many people have gone to their home village or to resorts. It’s deathly quiet, a bit like it is during the Christmas break. In our apartment block only half the people are here and it seems to be the norm across the city.

 

During

I went for a walk about 8.30am on the day of elections. Mainly it was because I was totally nosy as there was a polling booth just up the road from our apartment and I wanted to see what the turnout was like. I was really pleased to see it jam packed with people.

The roads themselves were empty and have been ever since. There is also an eerie quiet over the city. It made me a bit nervous because we are used to the noise of Nairobi.

After visiting some friends of ours in the morning we decided to venture out to see if there was a café open. We knew that the movie theatre was open and also a sports pub up the road but I thought Pete needed to get out. I was surprised to find that all of the eateries were open and packed with people.

 

After

The last three days have felt the longest ever. While I’ve enjoyed the lack of cars on the road what we really need is for people to get back to their normal lives. If people aren’t working, they’re not making money. That means school fees and bills won’t be paid when the term starts again in a few weeks. I was really pleased to hear the noise coming off the building site yesterday. These guys are earning minimal wages so it’s important for them to be able to feed their families.

The fact is if unemployment was lower than 65% in the under 25’s we would have a lot less trouble. It’s these ones who struggle daily and when a politician stirs them up or they feel like they’re not being listened to, it’s easy to stir them up. They’ll be the ones who will throw stones, set tyres alight and march up streets directly into tear gas thrown by police.

If a person is employed they are able to feed their family, pay school fees, buy clothes and pay the rent. When you’re employed you have a responsibility to turn up to work the next day. You don’t have time to get yourself in trouble and spend your nights stirring things up.

Now we play the waiting game. As soon as it is officially announced (hopefully today) then we will wait once again to see what flareups will happen because of it.

One thing I can say. The Kenyan elections have pretty much put the whole country on hold. Productivity has gone down the toilet and all we want to do is get on with our lives.

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New Years, Gunshots and Sparklers

It was only a few days ago we were glad to see the back of 2012 and celebrated the coming in of 2013, hoping it would be more prosperous, peaceful and an improvement on the past.

While we’ve been in Kenya for New Years before, it was different this time because we’re actually living here, not just visiting.

It was the first time I can say I got home sick for Sydney, for the entire day. I thought watching the fireworks online might help, but it made it worse. I missed the beach, the cafes by the beach, and being able to walk down the beach any time I wanted. I missed the conveniences of living in a first world country, like internet all of the time.

By the end of the day we had a large group of people over for a good Aussie barbeque, some fireworks and an outdoor movie (Mission Impossible 4), and the homesickness had gone.

It was interesting to hear from different people at the barbeque, from 5 different countries talking about their usual New Years Eve habits. What interested me most though was what has happened in Kenya over the last few years.

The last elections were held in 2007 and resulted in a lot of deaths, tribal fighting, destruction of homes and businesses and overall civil unrest. It all kicked off on Boxing Day. I remember being in Australia on the phone and internet for the whole day making sure my university students from here were all okay. I remember some saying that there were gunshots everywhere and they weren’t sure if their family members were even alive.

Move a few days ahead and apparently some people were letting off fireworks, the really noisy ones, which when people are already traumatised, is totally wrong. Hence, fireworks are now illegal. But, they are still sold in shops – go figure.

We had a few sparklers and even some loud fireworks which totally freaked out the little kids.

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Kenya seems to be a country of irony. There are armed police everywhere, but their AK47’s are so old they probably wouldn’t even fire properly. In fact forty something police were killed by cattle rustlers not that long ago. If they had working guns, they would’ve had the upper hand.

People are now fined $1,000 if they don’t have a first aid kit, emergency triangle and fire extinguisher in the car. However, you can get away without your brakes, indicators or lights not working.

Guards at the malls check the boot of your car for explosives but in reality if you wanted to blow up a place you could put them under your seat.

Of course, the best one is that there are a few sets of traffic lights, but no one seems to obey them.

I’m sure the shine of a new year is fading for many already but we’ve decided to embrace all the differences of living in a new country until we can really call it ‘home’. I’ll probably watch the fireworks of Sydney online again, but by Dec 2013 I am sure that I’ll simply shrug my shoulders at any new and whacky laws that come out and simply say TIA (This Is Africa).