As Kenya prepares for general elections on March 4, 2013, much of the country is bracing itself for potential outbreaks of violence. Despite the air of anxiety across the country, however, one community in Isiolo has a reason for celebrating.
After a period of extended drought in Kenya, the last of 17 months of food distributions finally came to an end this week. But rather than finding a community that is anxious about the future in Isiolo, you find a community that is excited! Excited about the water that is now filling their water pans (painstakingly constructed by hand), excited by the first harvest ever realized in a community that has always relied on their animals for a livelihood, and excited about the way World Renew’s disaster response project has brought them together to think about a collective future.
To mark the end of this period of need, the community decided to host a celebration at the last food distributions and invited World Renew to celebrate with them. Like any ‘potluck’ everyone brought something to share: potatoes, tomatoes, goats, firewood, and pans. Within a few hours a large scale cooking operation had begun.
In this time of celebration there is also increasing anxiety. Isiolo has been through repeated periods of unrest as land issues, inter-ethnic tensions and politics often combined, with violent results. In this context a celebration takes on an air of defiance, with community member after community member speaking about the importance of remaining united and not allowing the incitement of violence.
Kenya celebrated 50 years of independence in 2012, and the next president will only be its fourth president, and only the second to be democratically elected. In December 2007, disputed Kenyan presidential elections resulted in six weeks of violence that left more than 1,000 people dead and 300,000 people displaced. We hope and pray that this election will be different.
There have been many political reforms in the intervening five years, most notably the introduction of a new constitution in 2010 which has resulted in a decentralized system of government and the creation of new government bodies, such as the Senate and Counties. As a result, in addition to voting for a President, Kenyans will be voting for five other levels of elected office. More Kenyans have registered to vote than ever before and the practical complexity of ensuring each voter has the opportunity to cast their ballot is enormous.
Across the country the vast majority of Kenyans want a peaceful election, but a small minority is undermining the efforts of the majority. Peace rallies are held where record crowds gather, while in nearby cities leaflets promoting hate are distributed.
“Unity is like a tree. It takes time and great care for a tree to grow, but when it does, it provides shade for us all,” says Chris Shiundu, National Disaster Response Manager, addressing the community as seedlings were distributed to replace the firewood used in the celebration, “but one person, looking out for their individual interest, can take the shade from us all.”
In Isiolo, amid the election anxiety and fears of unrest, one community is still celebrating the accomplishments they have made toward improving their livelihoods and chances for a better future. They are worried about political unrest, but are praying for unity.
Jemma Rose, a local community leader, concludes the gathering calling for prayer, noting that “Nobody can give us security but God”.
Please join us in prayer for a peaceful election in Kenya, for the safety of the staff of World Renew and its partners, and for God’s blessing on the nation.