Text messages, email, and the news
The following are a series of text messages and email from Jacintah and her brother Wycliffe. We have remained in communication, nearly every other day this past month. I am privileged to receive these daily updates and then contrast/compare to the news as presented by NPR, as follows.

SMS from Jacintah, 08-Jan-08, 07:45
“At least peace is kaming n seen. President is expected 2 meet opposition leader in order 2 have dialoge n reconciliation. The person uniting is president of ghana.”

SMS from Jacintah, 16-Jan-08, 07:45
“Jambo! Hope ok. We’re doing fine tho today other towns r having peaceful demonstration bt people have been shot n wounded at kisumu town.”

At this point, I had just listened to an hour long program on the Sirius NRP Talk station. I do not recall the guests’ names nor their respective titles, but a number of important points were addressed, including discussion of whether or not Kenya could become another Rwanda. This is what I gleaned from the program, my own paraphrasing applied:

Rwanda was fully planned, an exacting execution of genocide through the use of military and powerful “hate radio” propaganda. Rwanda was an ethnic battle with political overtones. The guests concluded, “What is unfolding in Kenya is political with ethnic overtones … and is not likely to become something more.”

When asked about the foundation of the ethnic tension that is boiling to the surface, one of the guests described two potential causes:

In the ’50s, when Kenyans began to organize to gain political power, the then controlling British made certain the tribes were not able to work together by curbing political parties along tribal boundaries. This ensured these new political bodies could not gain too much momentum, too quickly. It stands to reason that just fifty years later tension along these traditional boundaries remain fueled, in part, by the former British rule.

When the British exited Kenya, large plots of land, ranches and plantations were sold back to native Kenyans. In the Rift Valley in particular, those who often purchased the land were not originally from the Rift Valley, but from the central regions of Kenya, creating tension between the Rift locals and those who obtained the land.

Come forward fifty years and President Mwai Kibaki regains office by what appears to be fraud. As Kibaki is of one of the two largest tribes “Kikuyu”, the underlying tension for tribal power is amplified in a region which already harbors an elevated level of tension, and Jacintah’s text message (below) hits home.

SMS from Jacintah, 18-Jan-08, 07:45
“But the problem is now being seen as tribal, personal n above all hatred is wat is seen in xperienced.”

Email from Wicliffe, 18-Jan-08, 18:13
“Nakuru is calming down for the last three days. I witnessed good progress despite the mass movement call from ODM part. I hope this will be in the whole country in the near future. Other towns are really affected about 20 people have been killed for last three days of protest. In Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret and Mombasa most affected cities.”

Of course, nothing is as simple as a + b = riots, but it helps to understand some of the history, the potential fuel for these fires. The worst thing the media, any of us can do is turn a blind eye to the strife and write it off as simply “an African tribal affair” for this invokes an emotional shield, a safe disconnect. Everyone belongs to a tribe in this world, whether it is our family, our church, our school, our town, or our State. Consider what would be required to cause such a response in our selves or our neighbors; what would cause the breakdown of our societal norm –then seek empathy for those who are experiencing this now.