Tuesday, January 29, 2008

dispatch from nairobi 2

after reading this article, i sent an email to my brother in nairobi, asking if he still felt safe. here's his response:
Very safe. I am living a good life here - in most ways no different than any other trip. Then I read the newspaper esp the nytimes and you think it is civil war. I've spent the last three nights sleeping in korogocho at a sandal makers home. He lives next to luos and luhyas and Kisiis and they are very poor as you know. No tension at all. We spend our nights together watching the African cup of nations soccer tournament and then the news.

The overwhelming spirit I hear from kenyans here rich and poor of all tribe is this is tragic, the leaders are idiots and it must end. But their certainly is a very tense undercurrnt.

I spend my days in Mathare slums, huruma and korogocho, mostly meaning with community groups in preparation for our peace dialogue, drama extravaganza and soccer tournament. It is very peaceful. Very multiethnic. I read the news and I understand everyone's concern. It is real. I am not stupid. Kisumu and kisii and migori early last week. Then eldoret and nakuru by Saturday. Then naivasha Sunday. Look at a map. What comes next? Kibaki has made no public statement in days. Raila's language continues to incite, focusing on stolen elections and justice. This thing looks like it is escalating. But other than occasional violent gangs here and there - that mostly engage in destruction of property - the risk of this thing escalating into the chaos some are predicting is unlikely.

I also think Jeffrey's times articles, while factually accurate, paint an inaccurate picture. The overwhelming majority of people even in affected areas like eldoret nakuru naivasha close and lock their doors and do not face the violence. The stuff that is being done is horrid - gang rapes and church and house tribal executions. But the majority of people here want the perpetrators to be identified and this nightmare to end. I thought Jeffrey's article today clearly implied the killing was political. I thought it really suggested that odm killed the guy for taking a moderate position. There seems to be very little evidence for that, though it certainly makes for an interesting theory. I know a girl was just arrested this evening in connection with the murder. She was the girlfriend of the deceased (she is a friend of a friend - she apparently knows nothing). Anyway, all I am saying is I think gettleman, when given a choice between painting Kenya as a sober place with chaotic tribal outbreaks and painting Kenya as the next Rwanda, he consistently chooses the latter (or his editor does).

In any case, I have plans to get out of here quick - down to namanga and into tanzania if necessary or up to nyeri and marsabit. When I tell people here that, they laugh. Day to day in nairobi, and in most parts of the country, the business day is pretty normal.

I also think it is accurate that the violence based on land issues in the rift valley has a life of its own independent of the election issue. What is making less press is that the urban violence, a lot of it, is similarly based on landlord tenant disputes through a tribal lens.

But this will likely all end very quickly when rails and kibaki agree. The rift valley land issue is very related to the election dispute. Kibaki and raila on paper agree on most issues. The major issue upon which they disagree is devolution. There is no provincial govenment here. Everyone is appointed nationally. Odm made it clear it would create provincial legislatures. To the rift valley and nyanza and western, that means they can escape national government (ie kikuyu) control. Some read the rift valley violence as wanting to eject kikuyus who never should have come to the rift valley four decades ago. Others read it as a demand for devolution - a kibaki victory means continued national control. So unless raila and Ruto supporters desert them, odm agreement with pnu will quell the situation in the rift valley.

One interesting historical footnote about rift valley violence. When kenyatta became the first president, he and his cronies grabbed huge swaths of land in central province - the kikuyu homeland. Kikuyus were chased off their land. Where did they go? Kenyatta made sure he had a place for them in rift valley. That pissed off the people living in the rift valley because kenyatta took land from them (see Palestine). Moi, though a Kalenjin from the rift valley, largely protected the kikuyu right to be there. It is ironic that kibaki is now the great protector of rift valley kikuyus. Why? Because kibaki and many of his advisors (and their parents and families) were among kenyatta's cronies who received land sending the people to
the rift valley in the first place.

All for now. Ivory coast 1, mali 0.