Will Ken be elected to Kenya’s Parliament?

This is my good friend, Ken Okoth:


Ken lives in Kenya, and he will be visiting Triangle Learning Community middle school for at least eight video-conference sessions over the course of the 2013-14 school year. By visiting with us on a regular basis, Ken will help us gain a deep understanding of life in Kenya. He will also challenge us to have a broader global perspective, and will specifically give us an idea of what life is like in Kenya and other regions in Africa that he knows about.

Ken is in the news lately — at least in Kenya — because he’s running for a seat in Kenya’s Parliament.  Here’s the campaign poster from the Facebook page for Ken’s campaign:

ken campaign poster

The Kenyan general election will be held on March 4. Ken won his party’s primary election, so he has a good chance at winning. If Ken wins, he will represent an area in Kenya called Kibera (also spelled Kibra, apparently), a slum located just outside of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Here’s a map of Kibera from Google Earth:

Kibera Map

As you can see, Kibera measures 2 miles long by about half a mile wide. The green to the right of the letter “a” in Kibera is a golf course. Kibera is an appealing place to live because it’s about two miles from downtown Nairobi. People who live in Kibera tend to walk to work in Nairobi rather than take the bus so they can save money.

A recent article from The Economist magazine about Kibera, titled Boomtown Slum, noted that

Kibera may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet. Residents have no choice but to look after themselves. If they want to escape poverty—and have the necessary drive—they will try to strike out on their own.

I asked Ken recently about Kibera’s population — he said it’s about 850,000 people. For context, the city of Durham, NC, where Triangle Learning Community middle school is located, has a population of a bit more than 230,000. How did I find that out?  Well there’s this thing called Wikipedia…

Durham population

Below, I’ve made a purple shape on Google Earth that shows how big Kibera would be if you put it in Durham, NC.  Traveling from the golf course on the left to the Northgate Mall is about two miles — the same length as Kibera.  And it’s a bit more than half a mile from the mall down to TLC in the lower right corner.

So this purple shape is about the size of Kibera:


(NCSSM is the North Carolina School of Math and Science, and is just there as another landmark to help orient people who are familiar with Durham)

Now imagine more than tripling the population of Durham, and cramming everyone into that one purple square mile (2 miles long times 1/2 mile wide equals one square mile)…

Durham with purple

Now remove running water and electricity.  That starts to give you an idea of the conditions in Kibera, where Ken grew up.

If you click on Ken’s name in this sentence, you can read a profile from Georgetown University, where Ken attended graduate school. That profile explains how Ken grew up in a 12-foot by 12-foot, one-room house in Kibera. Here’s the start of that article:

ken blurb

From Ken’s Facebook page, here’s a picture of the house he grew up in.  In this particular picture, President Obama is visiting Ken’s old neighborhood:

Ken's Kibera House

I’m excited for Ken, but also a bit anxious, because Kenya’s elections have been in the news lately, and there’s a fear that violence may accompany the election. This piece from the BBC, titled Kenya: fears of electoral violence explains how the city of Kisumu was one of the hardest-hit in terms of electoral violence:


So where is Kisumu, relative to Kibera and the capital of Kenya, Nairobi?  Good question!

Kenya overview

On this map, Kisumu is about 150 miles from Kibera.  If you look at all of Kenya, you can see that you would have to travel about 250 miles to get from Kibera to Malindi, a place I’m pretty sure most readers have never heard of…

Why am I thinking about Malindi?  Well, the New York Times’ East Africa writer, Jeffrey Gettleman, recently filed a story from Malindi, titled Neighbors Kill Neighbors as Kenyan Vote Stirs Old Feuds.

Here’s an excerpt from that article:

Ever since vicious ethnic clashes erupted between the Pokomo and Orma several months ago in a swampy, desolate part of Kenya, the Tawfiq Hospital has instituted a strict policy for the victims who are trundled in: Pokomos on one side, Ormas on the other. The longstanding rivalry, which both sides say has been inflamed by a governor’s race, has become so explosive that the two groups remain segregated even while receiving lifesaving care. When patients leave their rooms to use the restroom, they shuffle guardedly past one another in their bloodstained smocks, sometimes pushing creaky IV stands, not uttering a word.

“There are three reasons for this war,” said Elisha Bwora, a Pokomo elder. “Tribe, land and politics.”

Every five years or so, this stable and typically peaceful country, an oasis of development in a very poor and turbulent region, suffers a frightening transformation in which age-old grievances get stirred up, ethnically based militias are mobilized and neighbors start killing neighbors. The reason is elections, and another huge one — one of the most important in this country’s history and definitely the most complicated — is barreling this way.

In less than two weeks, Kenyans will line up by the millions to pick their leaders for the first time since a disastrous vote in 2007, which set off clashes that killed more than 1,000 people.

I’m hoping that there won’t be much election-related violence in Kibera. Ken is a member of the Luo tribe, and members of that tribe had some conflicts with members of the Kikuyu tribe after the 2007 election, as detailed in this article titled Looming Election Threatens to Shatter Kibera’s Relative Peace Once Again.

So let’s try putting this together — there will be elections all over Kenya on March 4.  There will be elections for governors of the various states withing Kenya.  The map below shows some of Kenya’s states (Kibera and Nairobi are part of the Nairobi state):

Kenya States

There will also be a presidential election; and there will be elections for Parliament — Ken is running for one of those seats in Parliament.

Here’s a picture of Ken campaigning with Raila Odinga, one of the leading candidates for President (this was taken in October 2012 and comes from Ken’s Facebook page):

Ken Raila Oct 2012

And here’s a Q&A feature from the BBC about Kenya’s elections:


This election seems to be a bigger story in England than in the US, based on my initial research. Part of the reason is probably that Kenya used to be part of the British Empire. It became independent, along with many African nations, in the 1960s.

Here’s a summary of the last 100+ years of Kenya’s history, taken from the end of a recent article in The Independent, a UK publication. This article is looking at the Kenyan presidential election, and is a bit worried about what might happen if the candidate Raila Odinga does not win.  The title is: If Raila Odinga wins Kenya’s elections, Britain’s interests are secure, but if Uhuru Kenyatta wins…

Kenya’s long road to independence

The Berlin Conference of 1885 imposed formality on Europe’s Scramble for Africa, designating the 250,000 sq miles chunk from the Indian Ocean to beyond Lake Victoria as British East Africa. Today, it forms Kenya and Uganda.

The Scottish ship-owner Sir William Mackinnon set up the Imperial British East Africa Company and established trading activities. Fighting off tribes, and the two infamous lions the “Man-eaters of Tsavo”, he oversaw the construction of the railway from Mombasa on the coast 660 miles inland to Lake Victoria, at a cost of 2,500 lives.

High taxes, low wages and hardship after the First World War politicised a generation of would-be Kenyans. By the Second World War, Kenya was of strategic importance for campaigns against Italian forces. Nearly 100,000 black soldiers, askaris, fought for Britain in the King’s African Rifles. At the end of the war they wanted to keep their improved status, and became a vanguard for African nationalism.

Jomo Kenyatta, the charismatic son of Kikuyu farmers educated at the London School of Economics, demanded a political voice for Africans. He would go to prison for leading the Mau Mau uprising which began in 1952. Thousands were killed on both sides. In 1957, the first native Africans were elected. Rather than placate nationalist fervour, it fuelled it, and in 1963 Kenyatta’s Kenyan African National Union formed the first government. He proclaimed the Republic of Kenya a year later.

So now we have a bunch of questions.  What was the Mau Mau uprising? Who was Jomo Kenyatta? Was Kenya named after him? Will Ken win? Will Ken be safe? Who are the candidates for the 2013 presidential election in Kenya? What are the major tribes in Kenya? What language(s) do people speak in Kenya?

The whole idea behind TLC is to present students with compelling stories that they can empathize with, so that they generate questions they want to answer on their own (or with some help from teachers).

This is the sort of question-asking we will do on a regular basis at TLC middle school as we work to make sense of the world. Our curriculum in the morning will be based on whatever is going on in the world, whether that’s electing a new Pope, elections in Kenya, or some other issue that students seem interested in learning about.

The current elections in Kenya seem like a unique chance to see the world — particularly the country of Kenya and the slum area of Kibera — through Ken’s eyes.

Ken is a little busy right now (as you can imagine, with the election coming up in less than a week), but perhaps he will comment on this post soon after the election to let us know what happened…

In the meantime, GOOD LUCK KEN!!!


Post Script — Ken left this message on my Facebook page:

Steve, this is an excellent post. It is the end of my day here… Got up early for a short meeting with my campaign team this morning, attended a debate for Kibra MP aspirants (the first such debate in all of Kenya), rushed home to change into different clothes after the debate, went on a four hour door to door walking campaign across Lindi Ward in Kibra looking for votes. I had some other meetings before coming home tonight, and now am decompressing online catching up on email and social media. Tomorrow is another very similar day! Ken

Another post-script — here’s a picture from Ken’s campaign Facebook page.  In case you don’t recognize his back, he’s the one signing the pledge 🙂

no violence


Update on March 5, 2013 — KEN WON!!!

Ken Wins



About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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One Response to Will Ken be elected to Kenya’s Parliament?

  1. Fantastic – congrats Ken. What an amazing success story about this man. I think he has the ability to accomplish much more. Hard work and determination works wonders.

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