By 9 a.m. on Monday, clouds of black smoke blotted out the sky. A mountain of tires burned. Roads were blocked. Young men poured into the streets of a slum in Nairobi, gleefully carrying huge, jagged pieces of concrete. In Kisumu, a city on Lake Victoria, witnesses said police officers had fired on a crowd. A 5-year-old boy was in critical condition after being shot in the back. A demonstrator was killed. For the past several weeks, Kenya’s opposition leaders have turned Mondays into protest days. Now they are threatening to hold demonstrations twice, and soon four times, a week. Many Kenyans are shaking their heads with a sense of fatigue and dread, saying, Here we go again. Kenya is a relatively prosperous, developed and politically tolerant African nation. But elections have not been its strong suit. In the past 25 years, almost every presidential race has been marred by violence; the worst one was in 2007-8, when ethnic rivalries cracked open and more than 1,000 people were killed, many in deadly protests.
Kenya spent years trying to heal its wounds and recover from the devastation, culminating in a tense but more peaceful election in 2013. Despite widespread distrust of the results, the country held together, helping it recapture its image as a bastion of stability in the region.
Now, with another election scheduled for next year and the opposition already mobilizing thousands of people, many Kenyans are worried about recent economic gains’ being reduced to char blowing in the wind.
“It’s getting very nervy,” said Aly-Khan Satchu, an investment adviser in Nairobi. “The economy crashes and burns when we fumble these elections. What’s worrying is that this is happening so early, that we already have this degree of contestation.”