Habesha

[Okay – out-of-sequence post here. As I mentioned previously, I’m publishing last week’s posts serially on a one-week delay. But I’ve been getting enough queries about the situation right here right now, that I wanted to give y’all an update.]

We’re sitting under an umbrella in an Ethiopian restaurant in Kenya, discussing Nigerian soap operas, and I’m thinking that the world is both bigger and smaller than I can possibly comprehend. The smoke of incense and scent of thick, sweet coffee swirl past us from the next table and hang in the air. Breathing it in, the weather is almost a metaphor for the mood on the street: thick with anticipation.

Rumors are that most of the county votes have been tallied, but only a few – perhaps a strategic few – have actually been announced. Uhuru’s early lead, initially over a million, has shrunk dramatically, possibly enough to force a two-candidate runoff. But there’s enormous uncertainty: the electronic tabulation system has failed spectacularly – some say by design – and questions are flying about who gets to decide who gets access to Bomas, where the paper ballots are being manually tallied. Then of course, there are the shenanigans with the interpretation of the election code: the winner must have a majority of the popular vote. But is that a majority of the ballots cast, or only of the votes that have been deemed “valid”? The surprisingly large number of “rejected” ballots could easily make the difference between the two.

Regardless, there are rumors that the IEBC will announce results tomorrow, and the press is falling over itself with rampant speculation of the consequences. Naomi gestures to the tables around us and says it’s a good sign that the restaurant is full. If Kenyans thought all hell would be breaking loose, they’d be at home, stocking up on food and water. She and Tiago both speak from experience. Hell – everyone here speaks from experience; they’ve seen a remarkable range of what can go wrong (or right) in an election. They’ve seen Cote D’Ivoire, the Congo and a dozen others, and they’ve learned to read the street.

Without warning, the clouds open up, and rain pours from the sky. It splatters in thick drops on the stone tiles at our feet, but the umbrella protects us. Tiago looks out across the courtyard – it was also like this in Sierra Leone, he says. Everyone was afraid of violence when the results were announced, and then the rains came, and it was alright. He reminds us that he doesn’t consider himself a spiritual man, but who knows, maybe – just maybe – there could be something to it.

[It’s important to emphasize that the international media are really hyping up the “election violence” story. They’ve completely missed the widespread national “Never Again” movement that dominated this election. Likely there will be localized hooligan violence – there is everywhere in the world during elections. But 2007 is so fresh in these peoples’ minds that there’s an enormous drive to make the outcome and inevitable transition peaceful. Everyone knows that they have more to lose than to gain if things go sour.]

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