Thursday, January 31, 2008

Update on Kenya. Worse news every day.

Another friend of mine who is still in touch with friends in Kenya sent along a report today, this one from Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley that's had a lot of violence. He writes:

As Wasike describes it, towns throughout significant swaths of Kenya are barely recognizable. Most shops have been looted and few businesses remain open (and those that are open barely have any wares to sell). Many businesses and homes have been set ablaze and are either now in ashes or smoldering. Crops have been razed, livestock slaughtered, and as the press has covered, people murdered (roughly 800, to date). Transportation is virtually at a stand-still. The latter has repercussions throughout East and Central Africa as Kenya is the main artery connecting the entire region to its ports in Mombasa.

Wasike talks about the politically organized gangs of machete-wielding young men looking for people from "opposing" tribes to intimidate, injure or kill. For better or worse, those targets are dwindling as most people living as a minority tribe have vacated back to their tribal strong-holds. I'm not sure what the international press is reporting, but my friend is hearing a statistic of about 1/2 million such internally displaced persons.

At the moment there are still basic utilities in the towns and cities. But there is concern that things could take a drastic turn for the worse if that situation changes. Most significantly, people are looking to the current talks in Ethiopia, mediated by the UN and African Union, as the last best chance to quickly end the chaos and restore order. However, people are simultaneously worried that more political assassinations (there have been 2 in the past 48 hours) would more-or-less permanently derail such progress and put a stop to any meaningful political dialog.

I asked Wasike what people imagine might happen if these talks fail. He said that the most-discussed solution is that the Kenyan army would come in to restore order and impose a timeline for another election, once things have calmed down. However, he acknowledged that it's not clear if the army is unified enough to withstand the pressure of soldiers to side with their ethnic brethren. (Soldiers would be under tremendous pressure from their tribal members not to point their rifles at them, for example.) To date I have not read anything about such a military solution in the international press.

In spite of all that has transpired and the highly uncertain future he and his fellow Kenyans are facing, Wasike manages to comport himself with a tremendous sense of hope and optimism, and amazingly, manages to inject levity into our conversations.

But maybe the current situation in Kenya can most simply be conveyed by this. Wasike, a 42 year-old father of three and self-acknowledged non-religious person, has begun saying prayers and has asked others to offer their prayers for him and his fellow Kenyans.

I'm praying.

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I'm a biochemist at a small college.