While many Kenyans are avidly following the US vote, not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.
On Monday night #AmericaDecides was trending on Kenyan Twitter. Today the hashtag has switched to #USADecides and Kenyans are just as active commenting on the ongoing elections in the USA. In fact, some people in the western town of Kisumu are so passionate as to hold a mock election of their own!
A welcome respite from Kenyan politics
The excitement is palpable but naysayers are using the same hashtag to bring fellow Kenyans back to the hard reality. The Ministry of Health is in the throes of a massive scandal, with over 5 billion Kenyan shillings (around $50 million US) missing from its coffers. This case of corruption is only the last and the most spectacular in a long series of graft allegations made against the current administration.
It looks like the roller-coaster US election provides a moment of respite from the constant disappointment that is the Kenyan political scene. Or maybe all the posturing, bickering and personal attacks have struck a familiar chord with Kenyans? In any case, passions are running high tonight.
I look on in disbelief, feeling a little dazed like I do when a major sporting event takes over the news. I can’t help but begrudgingly follow, if only because my timeline is flooded with the same hashtag. Even then, I can’t wait for it to be over so we can afford to focus on something more pressing, like how to fix this corrupt system we live in.
East African fervor for US politics has its fun moments though. I remember that in 2008, when I lived in Tanzania, prints were made with Obama’s face set in an oval frame and repeated across the rectangular fabric. My friend had a special shirt made from this material. Obama fever was the stuff of legend!
This time, I wonder what people will come up with. Memes of Trump being denied entry into Kenya? A Clinton-themed matatu? I look forward to a new burst of creativity on the streets of Nairobi.
It’s this same creativity, applied to the domain of technology, that ensures that whoever is declared the winner in the next few hours, Kenya can proudly say that it came out on top. The Nairobi-based software company Ushahidi has launched a citizen-led campaign monitoring irregularities in the election process.
This sounds like the bittersweet tune of schadenfreude: tables have turned on the US, always quick to lecture the world on democracy, and now in need of Kenyan technology to act as a decentralized election watchdog.
In a cheeky tweet @kim_yoanakim, offered President Obama refuge in Kenya, should Donald Trump win. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that and that there will be no use for Ushahidi’s expertise during this election!
To all US citizens and residents: may you have a peaceful outcome today and for the four years to come.