I have been to Kenya three times and each time my love for this land and its people grows stronger and stronger. The plush green highlands and the robust savannahs have no rival. The view of Fern Valley from the mountainsides is absolutely astonishing. One can get "high" from watching a sunset before Mount Kilimanjaro.
Millions of animals live in their natural habitat, replete with the stoic Masai warriors walking amongst the wildlife with no fear at all. The city of Nairobi with its impressive skyline is indeed cosmopolitan. The people have the friendliest and most genuine smiles. They are good folks.
The current state of affairs of this nation cannot be considered a shock to me because I have been watching it "brew" for sometime. The rioting on television brings back the memory of the Rwandan horror. Hopefully, it will cease soon, but the possibility is causing me to lose sleep. I have made good friends and we have great plans for the future. Right now, my main concern is their safety.
Kenya is in its third presidential regime. The first was led by their liberator Jomo Kenyatta. His term was long but necessary as they transitioned from colonialism to revolution to democracy. Arap Moi was an interesting leader, as he led by tribal coalition, versus the Kikuyu dominance of the Kenyatta regime. The current president is Kibaki, who is Kikuyu, but is constantly reminded that the other tribes, especially the Luo, have their place in government and power as well. Personally, I feel the fault of Kibaki's leadership is not tribal, but due to downright personal greed. Whenever I note a conflict of interest in commercial matters, there appears to be a direct relative of the president involved.
We once spent a lovely evening with a cabinet member enjoying libation while looking out over his personal farm – a palatial estate. He told us that President Kibaki had recently sent a military helicopter over his land to assess its beauty and value. Later, the president informed him that he was considering annexing (eminent domain) his land. I asked, "How did you respond"? He retorted, "I told him if he tried I will personally kill him." Confrontation between a president and a cabinet member can become very serious hard ball.
Such disputes and mysterious deaths (often reported by the press) becomes a way of life in Kenyan politics and it makes us appreciate our style of democracy.
Another indicator that something bad was about to happen was the recent elections held by the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We learned that our first contact and good friend, Laban, had won the vote. We later learned that he could not be inaugurated because the incumbent was refusing to relinquish the office. It was going to court and that may take years. Laban is Luo and his rival is Kikuyu and the opposing sides were starting to assemble in like fashion. Such is the case in the current national presidential elections. They (Kikuyu's) want to tie it up in court which would give Kibaki years of continued reign. The courts in Kenya move at a snail's pace. Thus, there is conflict in the streets.
In Kenya, one would think the tribal deal was all over by now. Every Kenyan is fluent in three languages. English is taught in the schools; each has his own tribal tongue (there are 37 tribal dialects); and finally Swahili, a regional language developed for commercial communication over 1,000 years ago, is also taught. It is spoken from the Congo, Uganda and Southern Sudan down through Tanzania and Malawi. It is truly a "Lingua Franca."
Basically, the Kenyans are united. They tolerate many religions and honor all cultures. It is this political/power thing that is causing the friction. It doesn't help that the United States and Britain, the colonial oppressor for over a century, have been rather silent on this election issue. The United States is always poking its "nose" in foreign elections but, for some reason Jimmy Carter and others weren't around for this last election.
President Kibaki is letting his lust for money (by way of power) get in the way of the democratic process. I say to him: It is time to go to Switzerland and count all the money you already have. The "party" has come to an end.
In the name of Jomo Kenyatta, let freedom ring loud in your great nation. Allow an accurate, transparent and honest vote tally to occur. Kenya is greater than you and freedom has no patience. My beloved Kenya, I pray for your safety and peace.
Harry Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.