Posted on Monday 11 February 2008

… The countryside is now consumed with violence. The Rift Valley is a no-go zone for Kikuyus, who have responded by burning the Luo sections of Naivasha. Both sides have erected roadblocks on all the main east-west highways and ripped up the rail lines running from Mombassa to Uganda, Kenya’s inland neighbor. This has brought commercial shipping to a halt. Uganda is facing mounting prices and severe shortages as most of its trade passes through Kenya by rail or truck. The tourist trade, Kenya’s economic engine, has disappeared. Most major travel agencies have refused to make bookings until April and the Mombassa resort economy has collapsed. A collateral victim of the crash in the tourist trade has been Kenya’s flower and fresh produce industries, which until the election fiasco had been doing a booming trade to Europe. The cargo holds of the aircraft carrying tourists back to Europe had been filled with locally grown fresh flowers and produce, high quality items with a stiff premium attached during Europe’s winter months. With cancellation of most tourist flights, the airfreight business has crashed. In effect, all the main industries in Kenya have ground to a halt…
"Do you know what Kenya’s biggest industry is?" asked our guide Antonio.
"Tourism," answered several.
"Not any more. Now it’s cut flowers," he responded. "Every day, the holds of the Tourist planes are filled with fresh flowers bound for Europe.

As we headed for the Serengeti, our Tanzanian driver, Abu, said, "In Tanzania, we do not have Tribalism like Kenya. We intermarry freely and no longer fight."

These comments, and others like them, didn’t mean too much on our trip. We were preoccupied with Lions and Zebras, not government. I doubt any of us knew we were visiting a place ready to explode. Our Kikuyu guides spoke of their government and tribal system frequently, but seemed at home with the Masai in the Game Parks of the Rift Valley. This talk of tribalism sounded more historical than contemporary. I was reminded of a trip to then Yugoslovia in the early seventies. We had no idea it was a place consisting of diverse groups waiting for Tito to die so they could get back to fighting. When the wars broke out there after his death, I had to look up the various factions on the Internet to even get the groups straight. While there, I thought they were all just Yugoslovians when I was there. In Kenya, I knew there were differences. It shows in dramatically different physical characteristics, but I had no real grasp of the gulf among them. The rebellion against the British in the 1950s was led by the Mau Mau, a mostly Kikuyu group. That rebellion was ultimately supressed, but probably hastened the Kenyan independence. Since then, the dominant Kikuyu Tribe has controlled the country. Until very recently, Kenya has had a form of government known by the impossible term, a "one Party Democracy." So, what has happened  with the incumbant refusing to step down when beaten at the polls isn’t all that surprising.

The goings on in Kenya and Burma this year call attention to how tenuous mankind’s hold on governing itself can be. Ten years ago, I would never have thought that the United States of America would be an example of this as well, but here we are. George Bush and Dick Cheney have distorted our government into something I barely recognize. Rogue politicians like John Bolton make the rounds of the talk shows like they are contenders rather than random nut cases, preaching hatred of the Arabs in general, and Iran in the specific. Rush Limbaugh spews hate and contempt out of millions of radios daily. Charlatan religious fanatics like James Dobson speak as if their crazy world view ought to have something to do with the fate of the country. We’ve played with fire for going on eight years now. Right now, we’re still sort of okay, but it’s never guaranteed. We need to look to Kenya and Burma, and learn…

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