With November 6 just a few days away, not talking about the elections would be akin to ignoring the giant elephant in the room (and the donkey too – we don’t want to appear partisan). Living 7-8 hours ahead of the U.S. news cycle and without a television set, we’ve been spared the barrage of electioneering advertisements, though we’ve been following the news online and have caught the campaign’s more salient soundbytes. As election day nears, it seems that the outcome is all anyone can talk about, so it was refreshing to meet some people who were oblivious to the election’s minutiae – at a recent trivia night, our team’s name, Mitt’s Binders Full Of Women, elicited puzzled looks from our British hosts.
Many Kenyans have expressed curiosity about our elections, which offers a convenient jumping off point to talk about the challenges ahead of Kenya’s March 2013 elections. The last presidential election here resulted in bloodshed, as the disputed results triggered a wave of inter-ethnic violence that left over a thousand dead and more than half a million displaced between December 2007 and February 2008. Thus, we frequently find ourselves discussing Bush v. Gore and how the candidates resorted to peaceful means and let the courts determine the final outcome of the 2000 U.S. election rather than egging their supporters on to violence.
In the intervening years, Kenya has redrawn its constituency boundaries and committed to re-registering all voters, an exercise that has yet to begin. This has created a good deal of nervousness in the international community, as many Kenyans don’t realize they have to register anew and the timeline for registration is very tight. No one wants a repeat of 2007-08, so it’s disconcerting to see signs, including recent violence in some parts of the country, that Kenya may be headed in a similar direction ahead of the 2013 elections.
Given President Obama’s Kenyan roots, many Kenyans are following the run-up to our elections with as much interest as their own. In fact, the Embassy is hosting a giant election night viewing party with a guest list running into several thousand (larger than our 4th of July celebration). For a while, it seemed that only senior embassy staff would be invited, but D recently learned that he’ll have to work the event as well, so he’ll be reporting for duty a bit before 5am next Wednesday. Being a representative of the U.S. Government, one naturally has to curb one’s political views in public conversation. So when asked for whom he voted, D tends to pivot the conversation towards an explanation of the dynamics of the electoral college process, the mechanics of absentee voting, and the importance of voting. It will be extra difficult to mask his excitement or disappointment as he watches the results announced in a room full of Kenyan government and business leaders next week.