Wangari Maathai: Profile in Courage
When I wrote in a blog
in early December about Wangari Maathai, the up-coming Kenyan elections, and dangerous signs of violence, neither I nor (I imagine) Wangari Maathai could have conceived that post-election Kenya
would spiral into interethnic conflict so severe and desperate
Perversely, however, I'm going to concentrate on the positives. While Wangari Maathai did, indeed, lose her seat
, as expected, many of us are relieved, since it will allow her to speak out beyond the constraints of politics. Indeed, she's doing this right now: meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu to find ways to mediate the crisis, asking for peace on the BBC and in the Kenyan media, and calling on both President Kibaki and the opposition leader (and aggrieved "winner" of the presidential election) Raila Odinga, to come together to stop the violence.
Another positive was that while the presidential election was, to put it mildly, filled with irregularities (something that even the notoriously supine attorney general of Kenya, Amos Wako, has noted), the parliamentary elections seem to have been generally reflective of the wishes of the people—and that the people kicked the bums out. No fewer than 20 cabinet ministers lost their seats, including some of the most notorious and corrupt time-servers. If Kibaki retains power, which it is currently hard to see him doing, he will either face a vote of no confidence when the parliament convenes, or, if he survives that, have to work with the opposition and bring many of them into his cabinet. The hope, of course, expressed by the people is for reform and an end to the cronyism and corruption that has marked Kenyan governance for decades. As of now, it remains only that: a hope.
Another positive has been the mobilization of a large number of civil society organizations, churches, citizen groups, elders, and others—all of them trying to stave off the kind of violence that has, over the decades, ruined all the countries that border Kenya, and made Kenya an importer of refugees, and not, as it is at the moment, an exporter of them.
Yet another positive has been the active engagement of the international community in attempting to stave off disaster in the way it did not
do with Rwanda. Now, Kenya is too complex an ethnic tapestry to be compared easily with Rwanda; and Kenya's economy is too robust and vital to the region to be forfeited in such a crazy, pointless meltdown. But Ivory Coast
was once considered a model democracy, and look what happened to it!
Finally, everyone acknowledges that what is happening in Kenya has nothing to do with elections or ethnicity per se
; instead, it has everything to do with politicians using ethnicity and elections to hold on to power. This acknowledgment is healthy, since it means that the checks on power are beginning to work. While that may be of little consolation to those who have lost their homes, or who saw their children burned to death in a church in Eldoret in the Rift Valley, it does bode well that the violence will end, a suitable political outcome will be reached, and Kenya can get back on the path of development again. And, once again, it will be the people, so often the victims of the violence called for in their name by unscrupulous leaders, who will make sure that happens.