Five years ago, the country of Kenya plunged into an unexpected pit of violence spurred on by a hotly contested Presidential and parliamentary election. Neighbors turned against each other, formerly quelled ethnic tensions boiled over, and the country detracted into a period. A dormant volcano of national distress had exploded. In the end, it took the influence of the then Secretary General of the United Nations to broker a patchwork peace treaty to bring the nation back to its feet. In all, more than 1,200 people died in what was supposed to be a shining example of African democracy. A beacon of hope for a continent seeking a model to move forward with liberty and self-governance.
On Monday, March 4, 2013, Kenyans will head back to the polls to cast their vote. But this time, no one is taking this event for granted.
Voting is a fundamental part of building a successful democracy. For that matter, it is an important component towards raising a community out of poverty. Voting is a particular act by a particular person, that when combined with the similar acts of a nation’s citizens, culminates in a national decision. Without the ability to vote, a citizen is deprived of a relationship with national outcomes. And without the ability to vote confidently, that is to vote with the confidence that your vote (and others for that matter) will be counted correctly, a citizen is deprived of their confidence in the democratic system itself.
The measure of a country’s strength might be when its people can disagree peacefully. For some time now Kenya has been regarded as a bright and rising star on the continent of Africa. A country where its people have been able to setup a cohesive system of government, invested in its infrastructure, experienced significant economic growth, and begun to take a lead in addressing its own poverty. Kenya was, and still is today, the standard for how the continent can find solutions its own problems.
That is why the election violence of 2007-2008 shocked the world. Kenya has a role to play as a regional leader, and the world should hope for its success. Because of the last election, President Obama recently encouraged Kenyans to approach these elections with civility and peace.
Peace is not inherent in elections. Peace is a discipline. It sometimes requires sacrifice. It might mean not getting it your way.
This should be our prayer for Kenyans and those around the world in struggling democracies. Elections are all well and good, but only a means to both a moral and political end. We must pray that Kenya’s elections are conducted in peace. And that the culminating decisions of the nation, comprised of the millions of individual votes, cast by its own citizens, is a vote for the reign of peace.
As part of Food for the Hungry’s desire for communities to prepare for emergencies they may face, we have been active in promoting messages of peace leading up to the elections. Recently, FH along with its partners, have promoted a campaign for peace in one of areas that experience the highest levels of violence in 2007.
On March 4, and the days following, it is our hope that Kenyans will look beyond their differences and ultimately cast a vote for peace. Because it is through peace that the country will thrive.