Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Referendum

Some of you might know a little bit about the current political environment in Kenya but for those of you who don't, I wanted to give you a very basic background because it's something I've been thinking about and living with everyday here.

Kenya gained its independence only about 100 years ago. It was settled initially by Portuguese traders and eventually by German and British colonists. The appeal to these groups in Kenya came from the delicious coffee, tea, and spices, as well as ivory (now illegal). One of the larger independent tribes in Kenya was the Kikuyu tribe who fought for political independence from the colonists and eventually gained rights for Africans within the first political structure. Jomo Kenyatta acted as president of the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) but then became the leader of the more aggressive Kenya African Union (KAU).

The KAU fought European colonists in numerous uprisings and movements for African rights (such as the right of an African to own a coffee plantation) mainly backed by the Kikuyu tribe. When Kenyatta became the first Prime Minister of Kenya, the Kikuyu were the first tribe to benefit since Kenyatta himself was a Kikuyu. Within the political structure of Kenya there are hundreds of smaller political parties, although they call themselves a democratic nation. These smaller sects have tried to unify for years to achieve progress for the people, but as you can imagine with so many different groups it is hard to appease everyone.

A more official declaration of independence came in December of 1963 and Kenya was declared a republic in 1964. Kenyatta served as an autocratic leader until his death, leaving both racial and tribal animosities that still exist today. The leaders who followed Kenyatta also served in an oligarchical fashion and further suppressed certain groups and minorities.

The Referendum which was voted on Wednesday August 4th, 2010 was a concentrated attempt at emancipation for the people of Kenya. The constitution that WON with 67% voting "yes" (approx 6 mil. people) and only 30% voting "no" (approx 2 mil. people) included things like a woman's right to own property, youth's rights, and is taking away the power from the corrupt bourgeois leaders. There is a bill of rights and also a dual-citizenship clause which might allow Kenyan born citizens to also have, for example, British citizenship (which Guy's friends are all hoping for since most of them either live in the UK now or go to school there).

Guy and his family have been kind enough to endure my questions and we have been talking a lot about what this whole process means for Kenya. It is the most important step to the progressive movement since Kenya's independence! The referendum is not perfect and will take many years of implementation, clarification, and hard work, but to vote 'yes' was a step in the right direction, and Kenya has been celebrating since Wednesday evening. Corruption will still exist, but the the constitution is now working for the people and not a few rich politicians from dominating tribes.

I watched the official announcements last night of the results and there was a collective "thank you" from the leaders that Kenyans went out to vote for the future of their country. After hearing short speeches from the Prime Minister and President, it was clear there is much work to be done, but the "people have spoken." For many this result brought a huge sigh of relief and everyone here is happy there wasn't any reported violence.

Kenya is a relatively new country and they have come a very long way in the past 50 years, but I want everyone to keep it in their prayers. The people have so much hope and pride in their home and I can't help but feel their frustration at the corruption and forces holding them back from progress. These people are smart, economical, and enterprising! They are a huge growing force in the world and they deserve to be represented by their government and share equal rights under the law.

I am so lucky to be here during this turning point in the country's history and to witness the spirit of the community since they are all so in tune to the pace and direction of their futures. It is so refreshing to be here during this time of change, and there is something so stimulating and electric about the energy of these people! Try to imagine if you were there when the Declaration of Independence was signed, or when women first gained the right to vote! It's really exciting!

I have to say, again, that I am so thankful to Guy and his family for being the perfect people for me to experience Kenya with. I am so spoiled to be around highly educated and informed citizens who have so much passion for their country and home. This experience has changed me and although I don't know everything about all this political stuff, I think I know enough to appreciate the process.

Keep Kenya in your thoughts!


P.S. Ciara, thank you for telling me about the cheese. I guess now I can stop eating it with every meal. ;)
P.P.S. Everyone please continue sending me emails. They are a welcomed reminder of my home and the people I love and miss so much.
P.P.P.S. Cody please take care of your thumb and try not to injure yourself while I'm so far away, it makes my tummy hurt! Use a wire hanger if the cast gets itchy! :) I love you!

1 comment:

  1. I'm thinking Miss Wade may be retiring soon and I know the perfect replacement. I'm just saying, history and writing are clearly your strengths (among lots of others)