Monday, January 28, 2008

Violence continues in Kenya

I only have a minute, so I can't go into much explanation of the situation at the moment, but I'd like to ask you to pray for the oldest son in my host family, Denny, and his wife, who live in Nakuru. Brian (right), the oldest of the three boys living at my house, is Denny's son.

More violence has broken out in Nakuru and Naivasha in the rift valley, in retaliation for violence earlier against Kikuyus. Much of the violence is against Luos, but also against Luhyas, which is the ethnic group my family comes from.

Like I said, I don't have time to go into much explanation, but I do want you all to know that this is not a simple case of "ethnic violence" like much of the western media typically presents about conflict in Africa. There are, as always, so many deep roots to the situation, and the U.S. and Europe have certainly had a role to play economically in many of the root issues in this conflict in Kenya. I'm sure many of you understand, but I know that the media tends to simplify these situations and it sometimes comes across as "those backwards Africans who kill each other in tribal wars and don't know how to handle democracy." That is not the case AT ALL and I just want that to be clear.

Got to go. Thanks for your prayers for Denny and his family, and please keep praying for peace with justice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I’ve been struggling a lot with motivation lately. I know that my thesis is getting much closer. Sometimes that is enough to motivate me to want to work hard and get it done, but more often than not, I have this feeling that if I just ignore it long enough, it will go away. So while I was eating lunch today, I made myself a screen saver that says, “If you want to be done, you have to keep working!” I’m hoping that this, along with my other bag of motivational tricks will help me stay focused and keep working.

I really do want to be done. There are a lot of other things I want to be able to spend my time doing, but they’re limited right now because of the time needed for my thesis work: doing more around the house, being able to better fulfill my commitments and responsibilities at church and at CDC, being more active in my neighborhood and continuing to build relationships, being able to spend more time with Dave when he’s off and with other friends. I know it will feel really good when I’m done and that my schedule will be more free to pursue other priorities, but that doesn’t always translate in my mind and emotions to a desire to work hard now.

In the bigger picture of the thesis, of the last year, and even of grad school, I really am almost done. I’ve learned so much, but sometimes it’s easier to see the challenges, the pain, and the difficulties instead of the joys, the growth and the bigger purpose. My pastor mentioned recently at Bible Study about how we are so often on a journey or in a battle to overcome or push through a particular challenge, sin, difficulty, etc. and we give up just when we’re almost there and it gets really hard. If we had just kept pushing on, we would have made it, but because we gave up, we end up starting all over again. I really think that’s where I am right now - in a battle to overcome the challenges and myriad temptations and to finish. I am developing strength and character through this process, as well as working on something that’s end result will be very useful to my beloved community in Kenya. But it’s so tempting some days to just give up. If I don’t put all the things I’m learning into practice, not only will I not finish my current work, but I will also not be well prepared to pursue the rest of my calling effectively. I must continue to fight this battle and, by the grace and power of God, to overcome. A big thanks to all of you who have been praying and continue to pray for me in this time. I know that my God is faithful and that I can overcome all things in Him.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Michigan Primary update

Well, I’ve had several blog posts in my head for the last few weeks, but not much time to let them out! So, I’m taking a break from my thesis work to post an update on the primary last week.

I voted in the democratic primary and I finally picked who to vote for though I would be thrilled with either of the main democratic candidates.

I really considered voting in the republican primary instead, but when I looked at the issues that each candidate addressed, the majority of the issues that the republicans were concerned with are just not that important to me. I really do not care about “2nd amendment rights” (the right to bear arms) and if I did, it would definitely be towards more gun control, not more gun freedom. I don’t agree with many of the candidates positions on immigration (I think we need a more humane and realistic policy, not a more militaristic one). I don’t think “global terrorism” is really as significant a threat as many of them portray, necessitating an aggressive military solution. I don’t really agree with most of the conservative economic policies. And I don’t think the best way to deal with abortion is to just ban it. Most of the issues facing our society are very complex and when I explore the underlying issues, I just don’t think that most of the republican positions address them in the best way.

In a lot of fundamental ways, we just don’t speak the same language. I am way more concerned about fighting poverty, racism and injustice, about protecting the environment, about working for a society in which all people can live a whole and healthy live without leaving the most vulnerable people behind, about making sure that all people have access to quality education and health care. I am strongly opposed to the war we’re fighting in Iraq. I am tired of the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy where no one can really hear or understand each other (I think the most effective way to reduce abortion in our country is to address the underlying issues so that our girls and women are not in a position where they feel like abortion is their only option.)

Anyway, back to the primary. I think the whole primary situation marginalized a lot of voters in my community. My community is mostly African-American and a lot of people were really excited about the possibility of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate. But then they had no voice in determining who their candidate would be. I think a lot of people will be frustrated if he loses, knowing that their ability to vote for him might have made a difference. In addition, in a place where most people don’t have access to private transportation, many people work several jobs trying to make ends meet and it’s not exactly a great idea to be out walking after dark, the costs to voting were just too high for a lot of people when the returns were so little. Given all that, would you wander out in the snow to vote for candidates that didn’t seem to care about you, knowing that your vote probably wouldn’t count anyway?

A very interesting and informative part of the whole thing for me was the exit polls. On the democratic exit poll, they asked who you voted for and then who you would have voted for if all the candidates had been on the ballot. It was really interesting to see the breakdown by gender and race on who people voted for and who they would have voted for. The most interesting (and frustrating) part, though, was seeing the difference between the republican and democratic exit polls.

I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and guessing that the questions were so different because they couldn’t correlate democratic responses with the candidate voted for, so they didn’t bother to ask, but having studied social science research and being not your typical democrat, the polls seemed so biased and I felt totally ignored. For example, on both polls, they asked what the voter thought the most important issue was, but the choices on each poll were totally different! When you write the choices in a survey, if you don’t get the right range of options, you don’t find out what people really think. A biased poll will yield inaccurate results. Then on the republican exit poll, they asked lots of questions about religion and church attendance, but not a thing on the democratic poll! I did take a look at the Nevada polls, which were more complete, and there were still big differences between them. The republican polls got into much more detail about religion and I really felt excluded as a strongly Christian democrat. Do they really think that all evangelical Christians are republicans!? I felt like I was being stereotyped and ignored as a non-republican.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that all the democratic candidates are on the Florida ballot! What’s up with that?

But what’s done is done. Maybe as a country we’ll rethink how we do primary elections. I know my vote will count in November. I just pray that our next president will be able to unite the country behind a progressive agenda and that we’ll be able to work together for a better, more just and more whole society.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Paradoxical View

I'm sitting (on a VERY comfy couch) by the glass fireplace in the front of a coffeeshop, watching the snow come down distorted through the heat waves of the fire.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Have I lost my right to vote?

I still haven’t decided who to vote for in the presidential primary next week. Oh wait …

it doesn’t matter…

because nobody’s on the ballot anyway.

Yep, that’s right. Only one of the major candidates is on the ballot.

No problem, I’ll just write in whoever I want.

What!? I can’t do that either? What do you mean, the candidates didn’t authorize themselves to be counted as write-in candidates? You have got to be kidding me!

So you’re telling me there is no way to vote for the candidate I pick?

What!? Even if I do vote, it won’t count anyway because we get no delegates at the national convention!?

Is that constitutional?

It’s already been to court and the primary stands. What’s a voter to do!?

I know this is nothing compared to the election fraud in Kenya, but I am still really frustrated about how the Michigan primary election is turning out. Because Michigan decided to hold its primary elections early, the democratic party has boycotted the primary and says that MI will lose all its delegates at the national convention. Only one major democratic candidate is on the ballot and none are campaigning here. For the republicans, all the candidates are on the ballot and a couple are campaigning, but they still lose half their delegates. I understand the concept of breaking the rules and getting the consequence. But it wasn’t the voters who decided to move the primary up, and we are the ones being marginalized. For a country with such low voter turnout anyway, what good does it do to alienate so many voters.

When they first started talking about it, I thought it wasn’t such a great idea, but that it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal, because everyone said that no one would really deny Michigan and Florida’s delegates. So I figured I’d just vote for whoever I want and assume it would all work out. But that’s not really an option anymore. So once I make up my mind who I want, I can either vote for the one candidate on the ballot or vote for an “uncommitted” delegate who can go to the convention and vote for whomever he or she wants. Not sure what I’m gonna do yet. Gotta love this American democracy.

If you live in Michigan (or Florida), do not give up. PLEASE GO VOTE on Tuesday. Prove that we as voters refuse to be marginalized.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Kenya Update

It seems like things have calmed down a lot, but it’s certainly not over yet. The first set of peace talks were rejected, though Kofi Annan backed by the UN may be more successful next week. Kibaki seems to be going on with business as usual, having declared the elections “final” and appointing a cabinet. He seems unwilling or unlikely to compromise. Raila Odinga has called for three more days of protests next week. So we’ll keep watching, waiting and praying for real justice to be accomplished in a way that brings peace and reconciliation.

About 600 people have been killed and 250,000 displaced. Homes, schools, churches and businesses have been destroyed. There have been lots of food and water shortages across the country. People are beginning to put their lives back together, but will be dealing with the death and destruction for some time. Some are afraid to go back to their homes. Others have no livelihood left. It will be a long road to recovery.

I think that everyone I know is okay. All but one of the kids in my host family (three of whom live in Kisumu where there was a good bit of violence and destruction) were already home for Christmas.

There are a lot of underlying issues that will need to be addressed, largely related to land and resource access. This is not something I have lots of knowledge on, because it is not as immediate an issue in the rural area where I’ve lived, but I do know that it is a significant area of tension across the country.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

News updates from Kenya

BBC news has had some good coverage on the ongoing unrest in Kenya. Here are several links to BBC articles. If you only have a minute, please check out the first two:

Q&A: Kenya poll violence
Kenyans plead for end to violence
Kenya diplomatic push for peace
Survivors recall church inferno

It still seems like a pretty intense situation. I haven't heard back from anyone in Kenya, but I do know that phone credit is scarce at the moment. I did hear from another friend that our friend Lucy and her family in Nairobi are fine. Now that it's daytime again in Kenya, I might try making a few phone calls to check in.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Pray for Kenya

Please join me in praying for peace in Kenya. I’m sure many of you have seen or heard some bits in the news, but here’s a quick overview.

Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections were held on Friday (Dec 28th), and the presidential race especially was igniting a lot of tribal division between the current president, Mwai Kibaki, who is a Kikuyu and Raila Odinga, a Luo. The first president was also a Kikuyu and there’s a lot of feeling around the country from other ethnic groups that the Kikuyus have benefited infairly as a result. Thus, many non-Kikuyus feel that it is their turn to have a president and that another Kikuyu president will only solidify Kikuyu domination. The Kikuyus are the largest ethnic group in Kenya, followed by the Luo and Luhya in western Kenya (my home in Kenya is in the Luhya area).

It sounds like there was almost definitely some fraud involved. I’m not sure of all the details surrounding the release of the election results, but I think most people expected Raila Odinga to win from the prior polls and initial returns, and were very upset when Kibaki was declared the winner after several days of delayed results. After the results were released, violence erupted across the country between Kibaki supporters and Odinga supporters, but mainly in Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret and Mombasa (the main cities).

I’ve been hearing today’s count that at least 250 people have been killed across the country. Yesterday, they were saying 150. Many homes, shops and kiosks have been looted and burned down. 35 or so people were killed in Eldoret when the church they were sheltering in was burned down. In Nairobi, it seems that most of the unrest is in the slum areas, which is really sad because the many, many good people living there are already so vulnerable. This means that hundreds of people have lost their lives and thousands have lost family members, homes, livelihoods, and really, all that they have. I know people who live in Nairobi, Kisumu and Eldoret, although I think many of them may be home in the rural areas for both the Christmas holidays and the election. I have a number of messages out to family and friends and am waiting to hear back on how they are doing.

Kenya has been a fairly peaceful country and, despite some local conflicts in various places, has not had much widespread ethnic violence. But the ethnic tensions have been simmering for a while and there is so much at stake with this election. Today has been pretty calm. It could very well settle down from here and come to a peaceful resolution. But it could also escalate and explode further. Odinga and his supporters are planning a peaceful rally on Thursday, which I dearly hope will be peaceful, but I know could easily turn violent with just a little provocation from police or opponents. There is a lot of international pressure for a fair outcome, but I’m really not sure how it will play out. I am praying hard for peace and stability and a good outcome. Please, please pray with me.