For days I have been able to do nothing more than hold my breath and watch the atrocities unfolding in Kenya as violent objections continue in response to the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki. When it comes to news coverage, I want less of the dramatic “still smoking” violence or descriptions of how this looks to international outsiders and more about non-rioting families and what it means for them to be displaced. The truth is, I have no clue as to what it entails, not on a level of daily survival. Where is the human interest? Why is this always the last detail to get coverage? I despise?the media’s limitations and, at the same time, am drawn to ?each story like a moth to flame.
Yesterday I read “Kenya’s crisis spreads gloom over Africa,” a Reuters article in which journalist Barry Moody opened with:
Kenya’s sudden spiral into chaos after years as a regional anchor has badly set back Africa’s democratic progress and will strike a heavy blow against the economies of a wide swathe of neighbouring nations.
What troubles me most is that this statement pertains to Africa as a whole, as if an entire continent can ever be affected in one particular way by a single event. Skimming through Google or surfing a feed aggregate will reveal only a seriously flawed and over generalized assumption while missing the nuances involved. Sadly, these are the impressions that stick with people.
Interestingly, Moody ‘s argument lies in direct opposition to what his content suggests. Perhaps this is to create a sense of tension in his piece. Instead, it creates a great deal of tension toward the article for me. Although one quote backs his opening statement, the two most poignant quotes refute it by saying:
“The politics of every country in Africa are very, very separate. African politics are all local and all personal … I don’t think it has any wider implications at all,” said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society.
Control Risks senior Africa analyst Chris Melville agreed: “While Kenya is at the heart of an unstable region, we do not consider that the current situation will significantly contribute to regional instability in the short-term.”
What I question is how a region so troubled could have been influenced by Kenya’s democratic process to begin with, particularly since this is not the first time that tribal issues have arisen over?an election. Does Moody truly believe this? While I understand that Kenya’s economy is taking a serious tumble and that supplies and tourism are at a standstill at the moment, I tend to agree with Dowden and Melville. Politics and tribal relations have borders and, short term, economic factors will not likely create regional unrest. I suspect that the effects will have a broader reach only if the violence and turmoil continue for any great length of time. Obviously, the possibility exists – but we’re not there yet.
Aside from my concern, the current political situation has my family and friends understandably taking notice. Something happening half a world away seems surreal until you know someone with a connection, no matter how remote that connection is. All I can say is that I’m glad people are paying attention, regardless of the reason. Sadly, my greatest fear is that accounts of “uncivilized” people will tarnish some already suspect perceptions of those people worried for my safety. Must we always fall back on these words? These are a people in turmoil due to serious complications within their government. To call them uncivilized is too easy and has too many dire implications.
This is not to say that I’m not wondering what the violence means for both the country and for my trip. My first thought was that, although I’m standing by on purchasing airfare to Nairobi, ideally things will settle down before I travel and I can be of some help in restoring the daily functions within the already impoverished Kenyan villages of Kiminini and Kitaleto. Surely, help will be needed there now more than ever. I have just learned that the NGOs affiliated with Village Volunteers have not gone unscathed by the violence and the effects of displacement. I hope against all hope that this isn’t so for the sake of Kenya and Village Volunteers, but if significant danger continues to exist over the next few months, my focus will have to shift to Ghana. Either way, I plan to go to Africa.