Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stuck at home again

In preparation for the 3 days of mass protests that are planned this week we have shut down activities and Fanette and I are at home again until further notice. The political situation has deteriorated into complete absurdity. After John Kuofor couldn't talk any sense into either side, Kofi Annan is on his way along with a cadre of highly respected diplomats including ex-presidents. Unfortunately Kibaki has said that Annan "wasn't invited" but is welcome to "have a cup of tea" with him. Kibaki continues to insist that he won the election, fair and square, and every time a high level negotiator comes to town he or Odinga change the rules of the game. The international community is discussing pulling aid, and even the US has said that it will no longer be "business is usual" (after they removed the giant foot placed firmly in its mouth after sending premature congratulations to Kibaki). However, given the current US obsession with rooting out Al Quaeda, I think it's unlikely that these threats are more than bluffing. African "Big Men" know how to pull the levers when the US wants something of them (think Mobutu playing the US and USSR off against each other to get billions in aid from each side) and I'm sure Kibaki has played this card already.

Meanwhile, people are dying. We can't work and people are dying of malaria. There are an estimated 250,000-300,000 IDPs in makeshift camps across the Rift Valley and Western Province, the vast majority Kikuyu. I visited the police station in Busia yesterday (people are camping at police stations because they feel safe there) and there were 3,000 people there, sleeping under plastic sheeting, in wrecked buses, cars, whatever shelter they can get.

My job has turned into figuring out the logistics of security, supplies and keeping things running during this situation, which is not what I signed up for but that's OK. I call the police several times a day to get security updates. I've been coordinating with MSF in Busia to get diesel (petrol stations had no fuel for almost a week), figuring out how to organize to ensure water at the house every day, assessing security on the road to work and to Busia to determine if travel is safe, putting together emergency rations at the house, planning when to go to the bank ahead of potential unrest to ensure we have money, etc etc etc. It's stressful, but never a dull moment.

My biggest concern right now is for Joseph, our driver, who is Kikuyu. He finally managed to make it home after spending nearly a week in hiding near Nakuru and now he's having to hide again. He is the only Kikuyu in the area, and I'm worried that he could be in danger if things get tense here. We spent the afternoon on the phone and online with HQ putting together an emergency plan for various levels of security for Joseph. He can't stay with us because then we are potential targets. Worst case scenario we provide him with a tent, food, water and a radio and he hides in the bush behind our house. I'm not worried for our safety because foreigners have not been targeted, but I am very worried about Joseph.

I'm also very upset with the reaction I got from the Catholic Mission when I called them and asked if they could take him in for a few days. The (white European) priest said "Don't send a Kikuyu here, it will cause us problems". It's absolutely outrageous, just when I was beginning to think that the church had actually done some good here. How Christian is that? Did they guy think that he might be serving a death sentence to this poor man? I'm absolutely stunned. Maybe I'm wrong but I thought that churches were supposed to assist people in crisis.

Anyways, odds are everything will be fine but we need to be prepared for all possibilities. Parliament has convened today, with Kibaki's Cabinet of cronies installed. Everyone is glued to their radios, and so far there has not been a barroom brawl. Tomorrow will be the test of the situation and perhaps Odinga will call off the protests.

Again, please let me emphasize that we are very secure and that no one should be concerned about our safety. MENTOR HQ has been providing great support and direction and they have a lot of experience working under much worse conditions than this. It's been a huge learning experience, having to plan for all possible contingencies, having to think creatively about solutions to problems, and how to keep one step ahead of the "game" of the political situation and the fallout that might happen here. The Canadian consulate knows I'm here, I spoke with them today, and there is a local warden 30km up the road. Their advice is to stay put, which is what we are doing.

I will try to keep posting more regularly especially over the next few days.

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