Fellows

Kenyans waited in line for several hours to cast their vote in the election on Monday.

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#KenyaDecides – Reflections from a Regional Fellow

Kenyans waited in line for several hours to cast their vote in the election on Monday.

I cast my first vote in 2002. Since then, I’ve been back to the polling station 4 more times. I’ve voted in 3 general elections and 2 constitutional referendums in 11 years. It only occurs to me now that we appear to be a country that loves elections, and I am firmly committed to participating in this love of elections every single time. I believe in the democratic process and the rule of law, even when things don’t turn out as I think they should. I am not alone in this. Despite the disastrous results of the 2007 election, we as a nation turned up in huge numbers for the 2010 constitutional referendum, and we voted in a new system. And on Monday, March 4, 2013 we had a record 86% voter turnout.

I present all this information because it is often exasperating to see how international media has chosen to talk about this election. We have largely been reduced to stereotypes – tribal Africans who can’t wait to go to war and slash their neighbors with machetes. At the heart of Acumen’s DNA is a focus on dignity. We take away people’s dignity when we fail to see them as more than a simplified, one-dimensional narrative. We fail to protect their right to grow and develop and aspire and be more when we peddle stories that generate fear without also telling the stories that inspire hope.

My story is this: I stood in line for 3.5 hours in the relentless heat to vote for the leaders I believe will get us through the next 5 years. Whether or not they win is secondary to the fact that I have the freedom to express that constitutional right. I voted safely, and spent that time in the line making new friends with the people around me as we discussed our hopes for the future. I’ve watched amazing, brave Kenyans in the online space document, monitor and build systems (Uchaguzi, IEBC, local media houses, Twitter) that aim to ensure transparency and accountability.

I am so proud of my country. I worry about a few things, but my belief in Kenyans’ drive to make things work regardless of what happens trumps that fear. The fact that we waited in line and ignored the hyperbolic warnings in the media to exercise our rights proved a simple truth: We will be okay.

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Rachel Gichinga was an Acumen Fund East Africa Fellow in the Class of 2011-12. She is currently the Community Manager at iHub Nairobi.

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