Kenyan Pundit indirectly characterizes recent events in Kenya by describing his trip to the airport en route to South Africa.
We arrived safely in Joburg earlier this evening. The trip to the airport was one of the scariest moments in my life. Though we had planned to leave for the airport early in the morning even though the flight left late in the afternoon, winding up took much longer then we expected and we found ourselves left with only one route to the airport - Lenana Road to Upper Hill - then Uhuru Highway past Nyayo. Arwings Kodhek, Mbagathi, area around Kenyatta Hospital were already no go areas by 10:00 am with groups engaged in running battles with the police and walking around back roads harassing people. The drive was tense, each landmark felt like a small victory (actually the whole thing felt like an evacuation) - past DOD phew, past Nairobi Hospital phew, into Upper Hill phew, down Uhuru Highway phew, then we got to the roundabout that takes you into West when we saw a big mob approaching from Industrial Area and just about to walk right into a confrontation with GSU and police who are all over Nyayo Stadium. There was no conversation in the car until we reached the airport. If we had left the house even two minutes later we would have driven right into that mess. Five minutes after we passed by, there were gunshots in the area and Mombasa Road was a no-go area. Crazy.
If that account sounds crazy then read the comments from his readers describing their own experiences in the capital and elsewhere. This article from the Baltimore Sun provides the background to understand Kenyan Pundit's post with its references to Bishop Tutu and pleas for cell phone companies to provide ways for overseas Kenyans to get in touch with their relatives.
NAIROBI, Kenya - Postelection chaos swirled like a hurricane over this African capital yesterday, with a strange eye of calm reigning over an abandoned downtown while a storm of tear gas, hurled rocks and arsonists' smoke swept across the city's ring of slums. Heavily armed police blocked tens of thousands of angry marchers from attending an opposition rally in a central park, while the two leaders locked in the bitterest presidential election in Kenyan history showed no intention of negotiating their way out of a deepening political crisis that has killed at least 300 people.
Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, the declared winner of last week's vote by a razor-thin margin, lashed out during a hastily called news briefing at "the senseless violence instigated by some leaders" driven by "personal agendas." That charge clearly was aimed at Kibaki's archrival, opposition candidate Raila Odinga, who insists - and his claims are bolstered by the reports of independent poll monitors - that the election was stolen.
"I have no power to change what is happening right now," Odinga said, swatting away flies in front of a Nairobi morgue packed with battered corpses of scores of Kenyans, most of them impoverished slum dwellers beaten or hacked to death over the past four days of political rage. Asked whether he would consider a power-sharing arrangement with Kibaki, Odinga retorted, "Who wants to share power with a thief?"
Kenya's morgues could grow more crowded if a stream of peacemakers fails to bring either politician to the bargaining table. The latest to try was Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who left the opposition Orange Democratic Movement party headquarters in Nairobi yesterday, apparently empty-handed. The U.S. government announced it was dispatching its Africa troubleshooter, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, to Kenya, a country once hailed as one of the continent's most promising democracies.
Here's one famous American with connections -- and relatives in Kenya from an AP story in 2006.
Hundreds of U.S. Embassy employees and their families cheered and sang to greet Sen. Barack Obama after he met Friday with President Mwai Kibaki during Obama’s first trip to his father’s homeland since taking office. ...
The Illinois Democrat and his family are headed Saturday to the western village of Nyangoma-Kogelo, where Obama’s father grew up and where his grandmother still lives. ...
On the streets of the capital, Nairobi, reactions to Obama’s arrival Thursday were mixed. “I consider him a hero, [a] bright and real politician who has made it to the U.S. Senate despite the hurdles facing African aspirants there,” said Jonathan Mutisya, 36, a legal clerk. “But, however, I don’t think his tour will bring much benefit to Kenya’s common man. Perhaps his relatives will benefit from him.”
Obama has often claimed the world would look more sympathetically upon an American leader with an African or "world" background; someone "like" them. But identity politics cuts both ways. The hypothetical question is whether Kenyans, currently wracked by tribal conflict, would interpret actions by a President Obama as that of a neutral American or a partisan member of a Kenyan tribe. As Johnathan Mutisya, the man interviewed by the AP remarked, "perhaps his relatives will benefit from him." Obama probably doesn't calculate his actions based on whether it will advantage his family, but perhaps not everyone in a tribal society will believe that.