On The Ground

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A waiting game in Kenya

People in Kibera and crowd around the television awaiting election results. Photo credit: @kelvinnews

Nairobi looks like a ghost town these past few days with most businesses closed and the transport system almost at a standstill. Most people have been cautious and remained indoors since Monday. Things are still very calm but there’s increasing frustration with the slow pace at which the elections results are being tallied and announced.

We are in a crucial period right now and it is palpable. However, I – along with so many Kenyans – am hopeful that peace will endure.

I say that because of how strikingly different this election feels compared with 2007. On Monday morning, I thought I’d be among the first to vote but there were others with a better idea – I understand that some people queued up at 3AM. Voter turnout estimates ranging from 70 to even 88 percent show that Kenyans were eager to exercise their democratic rights. Most importantly, it’s a clear sign that they’ve overcome the cynicism that followed the 2007 general elections. The queues were long but good-humored, a little disorganized at first (which caused significant frustrations at some polling stations) but things moved smoothly overall.

An IEBC inspects ballot boxes in Nairobi on March 5, 2013. Photo credit: Reuters

The government, more specifically the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), has proactively reinforced messages of peace publicly and is closely enforcing Election laws. For example, the candidates had to finish their campaigns 24 hours before the voting day. This meant that Saturday, March 2nd was a very busy day in Nairobi – the two leading candidates had their final campaign events less than a mile from each other. The police did a great job in keeping the two sides apart and ensuring that they used different routes when vacating the venues. The most vivid imagery of the day came when some of the opposing supporters met, embraced and were filmed urging other Kenyans to follow their example. This was unheard of in 2007!

Among the business community, there is a real sense of confidence as economic indicators including the Nairobi All Share index and strength of the shilling remain stable. In conversations I’ve had with Acumen investee companies and other organizations, there is a commitment to the region and a shared feeling that we are here, part of the fabric. That solidarity can be felt among the larger community and even reflected in conversations that family friends with different political allegiances have in their homes, where the strong desire for peace unites us beyond any ideological divide.

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Duncan Onyango is the Director of Acumen East Africa and based in Nairobi. Acumen East Africa has invested nearly $20 million in sustainable, scalable enterprises delivering affordable health, housing, sanitation, and agricultural inputs and services to low-income communities in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. The East Africa Regional Fellows Program is in its second year.

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