Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hard, Urgent Lessons from Kilimanjaro & the Slums of Nairobi

Snows of Kilimanjaro

SPIEGEL: How would you judge the outcome of these elections?
Maathai: I think it's strange that the opposition clearly won the parliamentary election, and yet Kibaki won the presidential vote. But the election commission bears the brunt of responsibility. It didn't do its job properly, because it took far too long to announce its results. The entire process was not transparent. The vote counts should have been announced directly at the polling stations in order to prevent completely different figures from being presented in Nairobi, which is what happened. But who actually won the election? I have no idea. It could have been either of the two.

Hard, Urgent Lessons from Kilimanjaro & the Slums of Nairobi

By Richard Power

The melting of the snows of Kilimanjaro is a bad omen.

It is a warning sign from a high place, and for all to see.

It does not bode well for the planet.

And, indeed, for the rest of our lives and for generations to come, Hemingway's "Snows of Kilimanjaro" will have an extra dimension of poignancy and pathos.

The brilliant story, and the book that bears its name, are already recognized as an exquisite examination of loss's impact on the human psyche.

Hemingway evoked the image of the snow-capped peak to capture the popular imagination and communicate a deep and complex meaning.

But in the 21st Century, Kilimanjaro's meaning has gotten even deeper and grown even more complex, because the snow has vanished (and it will not be coming back).

The climate change crisis is upon us.

And now another troubling omen has issued from Kenya.

The violence that erupted in the aftermath of Kenya's disputed presidential elections has taken a heavy toll: hundreds are dead, tens of thousands are in dire straits, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and the crisis has the potential to escalate into something much worse.

The climate is vital to our survival, so are our democratic institutions.

The human race as a whole, and the populace of any given country in particular, are dependent upon the health of both.

We ignore these omens and undermine their import at our own peril.

It struck me as both ironic and encouraging that as bloodshed and chaos were unleashed on the streets of Kenyan cities, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), the son of a Kenyan immigrant, stood at a podium in Iowa to declare victory in the state's caucuses and draw the world's attention to an uprising of hope in the US body politic.

Hope is needed, but hope alone is not enough.

Will is demanded, and courage.

Without will and courage, the hope cannot be protected. And it must be protected -- for the sake of democratic institutions in both the USA and Kenya, as well as for the sake of the planetary climate that allows us all to indulge in the promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Here are excerpts from two important pieces about the crisis in Kenya, with links to the full texts -- one is a Der Spiegel interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmental leader, Wangari Maathai, and the other is from NYU professor Tavia Nyong'o, writing in The Nation:

SPIEGEL: Ms. Maathai, Kenya has been shaken by violent unrest. What can be done to end the violence?
Wangari Maathai: The opposition, in particular, must call upon its people to exercise prudence. It must convince its supporters to stop the looting, murdering and destruction. The leaders of the opposition must speak to their people in their own language. They have a lot of influence. Time is running out, because at some point we will have reached a level at which violence becomes an end in itself and can no longer be stopped.
SPIEGEL: Is the opposition solely responsible for the violence?
Maathai: Not exclusively, of course, but so far most of the murders have been committed by supporters of the opposition, the Orange Democratic Movement.
SPIEGEL: Does this outbreak of violence surprise you?
Maathai: It makes me deeply sad. I would not have thought that this could happen in Kenya, that people could be driven into a church and then set on fire. The violence is unbelievably brutal, and it is very intense and spontaneous. Nevertheless, this development was predictable. A large segment of the population has long felt very strongly about being treated unfairly. ...
SPIEGEL: (Opposition candidate) Raila Odinga has called for new elections within three months, and he has said that he envisions a transitional government until then.
Maathai: I think that's a reasonable proposal. But I don't think three months is enough. It might work in half a year.

The admittedly dire situation unfolding in Kenya today--where violence has flared up in Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, Mombasa and elsewhere--is not another Rwanda. The underlying crisis is more like that of Ukraine, where, four years ago, an election commission also rigged the results in favor of one candidate and a commanding majority of the people rose up in protest, forcing a cancellation of the fraudulent election and, ultimately, a revote that installed Viktor Yushchenko as president. Raila Odinga has yet to get his revote. But he has vowed not to negotiate with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki until the latter admits the election was stolen and resigns. (In an unusual coincidence, the banner color of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, like Yushchenko's, is also orange.)
Running clearly ahead in all major polls leading up to the December 27 election, Odinga, by the government's own figures published on an official website, won four of the eight regions of the country outright and ran a dead heat in two others. ...
A tale of two cities is unfolding in Nairobi, as the middle class retreats to its protective enclaves to wait out the worst while people in large slums like Kibera, part of Odinga's parliamentary constituency, are cordoned off from vital food and commodities, made prey to thuggish gangs and terrorized from exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly. On election day, the voting queue was a grand, if temporary, social leveler. Now the fate of democracy seems to rest on the shoulders of the most vulnerable. ...
The way to end the tragic violence is to demand a speedy return to full democracy, transparency and accountability. Kenyans once looked to Kibaki as the man who could deliver all three; their disappointment in him has now turned to bewildered astonishment and anger that he would let Kenya burn rather than admit electoral defeat. ...
In Ukraine, repeated displays of people power on the streets peacefully but forcefully drew the attention and conscience of the world and unseated an illegitimate government. Kibaki's greatest fear is a repeat of such people power. Much is riding on how events unfold now; peaceful demonstrators attempting to reach a rally called by Odinga were met today with tear gas and hoses. But vibrant demonstrations by the opposition should not precipitate further bloodshed. To the contrary, it is the only valid alternative to tragic and wasteful violence.
Tavia Nyong'o, Kenya's Rigged Election, The Nation, 1-21-08

To follow developments in election security issues on a daily basis, I refer you to the fantastic work of both Brad Friedman (Brad Blog) and Mark Crispin Miller (Notes from the Underground).

For the Words of Power Archive of Election Security Posts, click here.

For the Words of Power Climate Crisis Updates Archive, click here.

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