by Anne-christine d'Adesky
When I landed in Nairobi last month, it was a different city than the one I visited last July—an African capital full of strong, outspoken women who had gathered for Kenya 2007, a historic summit on Women and HIV/AIDS. The Kenyans I met then were excited and proud to showcase their country's leadership role in fighting the epidemic. The capital city seemed fresh-scrubbed after early morning rains; the people vibrant and confident, energized. 'Proud Kenya' was more than a popular slogan—I could feel it.
Now Kenya appears a different nation, one scarred by tribal fighting and roadblocks preventing travel. In Nairobi, the capital city, the community leaders were regrouping, still shocked, after risking their lives to get to one of the few hotels with armed security. Overnight it seemed, their strong democracy had exposed deep ethnic fault lines. The economy appeared to bustle in the shops of the city centers only masked the fact that millions of Kenyans are jobless, especially the youth, who had taken up machetes and crude tools to express their discontent. The political leaders were locked in a naked grab for power. It reminded me of being in Haiti, where overnight coups wake you up to a harsh new reality, one where the new day feels surreal and uncertain.
Above all it reminded me of something I seem to re-learn, in such situations: that the law, like the Constitution, or the ballot, exist as mere pieces of paper unless the people invest and commit to their principles. I remembered anew: democracy, like peace—like an economy—is something we build and then must continually defend, an active, ongoing process. I believe Kenyans will write new chapters from this crisis, from this violent challenge to their democracy, led by a new and bold generation of peacemakers.