It takes only a glance at international headlines to be thankful for Canada’s peaceful democracy.
As Kenya heads to the polls to elect a new president, a local Kenyan is anxious for his family at home in Nairobi, which saw more than 1,000 election-related killings in 2007.
Daniel Njuguna, who has been living in Brandon now for eight years, is worried for his parents and siblings, who could be potential targets in an uprising following today’s presidential election in Kenya.
Some news reports out of the country say there is prediction for violence today and Njuguna’s disconnection from his home country is heightened by predictions of gloom.
Reports have also emerged that criminals were planning to disguise themselves as police, while 530,000 illegal weapons are in civilians hands.
The threat level of today’s vote in Njuguna’s home country has risen in recent weeks and around 99,000 police officers will be on duty as 14 million are expected to head to the polls.
“It’s the only home country I have in this world,” he said. “It is difficult for me to be all the way here … if anything happens to them or their country, it would be a really sad thing.”
While the Kenyan population in Brandon is small — maybe less than 10 directly from the country — Brandon University political science professor Allison McCulloch said she believes for many immigrants coming to Brandon, it can be hard to watch these types of events from a distance.
“It’s a lot easier to keep up-to-date in your home country through social media and that type of thing, that information is much more accessible and I can only imagine it keeps them connected to home.”
McCulloch has written about Kenya’s electoral system and on the bloody 2007 election.
“Even in the last year there has been some clashes, there has been about 400 deaths … certainly part of the fear right now is that what happened in 2007 will be repeated this time around.”
While constitutional changes have been put in place to curb potential bloodshed, many are calling the upcoming election to be the most important since the country gained independence from the British Empire in 1963.
“This kind of electoral violence, there is a pattern to it, but 2007 was a much larger example of it,” McCullah said.
Deep divisions between social classes and tribal tension in the country is the primary reasons for the violence in Africa’s most powerful country, economically.
While Njuguna’s family isn’t considered super rich, he said they are middle class. His parents own several pieces of real estate in Nairobi and as a result could be targeted by criminals in surrounding slums who may be unhappy with the outcome of the election.
Uhuru Kenyatta, one of the two top candidates for president, faces charges at the International Criminal Court for orchestrating the 2007-08 post-election violence. If he wins, countries could scale back relations with Kenya, and Kenyatta may have to spend a significant portion of his presidency defending himself to the international community.
Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, also faces charges at the ICC.
Kenyatta, a Kikuyu who is the son of Kenya’s founding president, faces Raila Odinga, a Luo whose father was the country’s first vice president. Polls show the two in a close race, with support for each in the mid-40 per cent range. Eight candidates are running for president, making it likely Odinga and Kenyatta will be matched up in an April run-off, when tensions could be even higher.
At home in Brandon, Njuguna, who said his family is down-playing the violence, hopes tonight won’t begin a repeat of the violence five years ago, but is bracing for the worst.
“My pray and hope is that it doesn’t come to that,” he said. “I really don’t know what to do, I can’t really just drop everything and go home … I don’t even know if the airport would even be open then.”
“I’ll keep tabs on my parents every hour, every day,” said Njuguna, who hopes to return to his home eventually.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from The Associated Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 4, 2013