In December of 2007, I went to Kenya with a group of twenty other students from the College of Charleston to build a health clinic for a wonderful group of children who had lost their parents to AIDS. Even before we reached Nairobi or the remote East Kenyan town of Kitui, election campaigning had started, with promises left and right to end corruption and bring economic stability to the country. As we were leaving just before Christmas, votes were cast.
Then, from what I heard from a Kenyan friend who stayed longer, government controlled television and radio were cut off just hours into the counting, and the winner was announced to be the incumbent president by however many millions of votes. The candidate with the second most number of votes then claimed election fraud.
Although I had just returned from the country and tried to keep up-to-date with the goings on, I didn’t come across as much coverage as I do here in Iran. Perhaps Kenya wasn’t as big a story in the world, or perhaps I wasn’t checking the right sources. At any rate, what I did read was that the post election violence concentrated mostly on the ethnic groups to which the incumbent and challenging presidents (and vice presidents, even) belonged. A high profile Kenyan who tried to stop the violence was assassinated; houses and cars were burned, and people who were not necessarily even involved in the politics were killed. With neighboring countries as mediators, the two sides were able to reach an agreement for a coalition government, which has sporadically made headlines for its ineffectiveness.
Clearly, this isn’t a direct parallel. It doesn’t have neighbors who are necessarily in a position to get involved (think: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq), and considering the backing of the Supreme Leader for Ahmadinejad, it seems doubtful that power-sharing could ever happen. Iran hasn’t experienced ethnic violence between its citizens, just violence between the government forces and its citizens. I’m beginning to wonder if the fact that the Kenyan government had to bend to accommodate its people is going to end up being another difference between the two.