When Kenya holds elections early next month, a Paw Paw couple will be among those serving as election observers. Joe and Kathy Ossman are volunteering with the African Great Lakes Initiative. They have also been keeping a blog about their time in Kenya.
Joe and Kathy Ossman spoke via Skype with WMUK’s Gordon Evans, some highlights:
Kathy Ossman says infrastructure challenges affect everyone in the county, even the wealthiest. She says roads are in poor condition and safe drinking water is not always available. Joe Ossman says even in the capital of Nairobi, the vast majority of people walk to work, even more than a couple of miles because the roads are in such poor condition. He says infrastructure is a major issue in the campaign.
The couple has served as facilitators in voter education sessions. Joe Ossman says since these are the first elections under the new Constitution, it important to get the word out about what they’re going to vote on. Violence followed the last elections in Kenya in 2007. Kathy Ossman says that was one of her concerns before going to Kenya. But says she has felt safe for the most part. Kathy says she hasn’t seen anything that makes her worry about election-related violence. Joe Ossman says they haven’t received any word of threats against U.S. Citizens. For the most part election-related violence five years ago was Kenyan against Kenyan. Joe says “And we don’t look Kenyan.”
Joe Ossman blogged about the expenses spent campaigning and some unusual places people campaign. He says the leading candidates for President are spending lots of money on helicopters to get around the country, and in some cases fixed-wing aircraft to travel. Kathy Ossman says the couple attended the funeral of an elderly neighbor who passed away. One of the traditions is that anyone who wants to speak about the person who has died can speak. Kathy says about 11 or 12 of the candidates for local office showed up, put a donation into the collection plate and then spoke at the funeral. Kathy says she and Joe found it intrusive, but people there did not seem to mind, and some of the candidates got a nice round of applause. Bribery is illegal under a new code of conduct for political candidates, and has always been illegal. But Joe Ossman says it’s been common practice. Kathy Ossman says the code of conduct is a step in the right direction toward fair and honest elections. She says there have also been changes in the court system, and people are commenting that the judiciary is stronger and independent.
Joe Ossman says there are positive initiatives aimed at preventing future election violence. He says the national body conducting the elections has done a remarkable jobs of establishing systems designed to prevent fraud. Joe says alleged electoral fraud was probably the main cause of violence five years ago. He says after the 2007 election one candidate who lost and alleged fraud told his supporters to take to the streets. But Joe says all of the candidates have signed a pledge to pursue any challenges in courts, rather than the streets. Elections will be held March 4th. Kathy Ossman says they and other observers will watch to make sure that elections are being held fairly. And she says they will be able to respond quickly to any warning signals of discontent of conflict.