Saturday, August 14, 2010

Kenya: The New Way

Back in Nairobi to continue my work, and happy to be back. There's still a touch of Kenya's "winter" in the air, but anyone arriving from America's East Coast is not going to mind. Because Nairobi is so high, it's relatively cool most of the time anyway, and these days of 55-70 F are hardly a problem.

And the beauty of the place! My friends in other countries must tire, I think, of hearing me speak so much about the beauty of Kenya. But how can one not? The lush plantings and all the blooming flowers - both wildflowers and cultivated - make it a true pleasure to be out of doors, even if it's just to leave one's house for a quick stroll to the market.

Part of the excitement of this return is coming back to new digs, which I'll describe another time. Very nice, and even closer to my work, so I'll keep walking back and forth, enjoying the loveliness of the neighborhood (and getting my exercise!).

For now, I want to share some of my impressions about Kenya and the Kenyans since last week's referendum ratifying the new constitution. There was an enormous turn-out, and thanks to extremely careful planning, strong pre-voting education and awareness-raising for the citizens, and serious security measures, there was none of the violence that followed the 2007 elections. Nearly 70 percent of the voters approved the new constitution, leading Foreign Affairs writers Joel D. Barkan and Makau Mutua, in  "Turning the Corner in Kenya," to describe the referendum as "an outcome that raises the prospects for peace and stability in East Africa's anchor state and in the surrounding region."

Well said.

Certainly that's the impression I have, from conversations with Kenyan friends since I stepped off the airplane on Tuesday night. The focus now in Kenya is definitely on the prospects for peace and stability for Kenya's citizens, and they are anxious to move forward into a new period of peace and prosperity for their much beloved country.

The Kenyans have there own way of looking at life, their unique perspective (just as all people have, in all countries) and I, with my particularly personality, fall right into it. Indeed, with me there's sort of standing joke amongst my Kenyan friends - perhaps not so much a joke after all - when I don't quite grasp a Kenyan concept or a particular point of view. They are very kind, and they just look at me and smile and say, "Guy, it's the Kenyan way."

Of course. Isn't that what visiting different countries is all about? To experience and learn something about "the Russian way," "the French way," "the Australian way," "the American way," and so forth?

And now I'll be able to witness the new Kenyan way, and it's going to be a splendid adventure, one I anticipate with much enthusiasm. I have been particularly blessed to have experienced a couple of other such adventures (that might not be quite the right word, but I think in the sense of an intellectual or emotional "adventure," it works). With one I was able to get to Germany just a few years after the Wall came down, and to work there off and on for several years, watching the "new" Germany come together. And the same was true for my work in South Africa, with my first working visit coming just four months after the April, 1994 election that created the "new" South Africa. In both cases I was able to develop relationships - personal and professional - that enabled me to experience just how wonderful we human beings are as a global society, and I was able (not to put too fine a point on it) to learn so much.

It's going to be the same with Kenya. I am overjoyed to be in Kenya at this time and I'm going to love sharing what I learn. Stay tuned.

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