This is the first part of a series on post-election Kenya by Featured Artist Jeff James.
While travelling through Kenya in March 2013 during the post-election tension, as tribes took sides and the supreme court debated the validity of the election, the faces of politics were plastered on nearly every surface, and the tension was palpable in every part of the country I visited.
On the shores of Lake Victoria, home to the Luo, the victor should have been Raila Odinga, and his loss means corruption is at hand. When around people of Kikuyu or Kalenjin descent, Uhuru Kenyatta was the fairly elected president.
In diverse Nairobi, everyone had an opinion and those opinions usually fell along tribal lines. However, the one opinion held in common among everyone I spoke to, was that this time, regardless of the results, peace would be kept.
In the last presidential elections in Kenya, more than 1000 people were killed in the post-election violence. This photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba won first prize in the World Press Photo awards after the 2008 elections:
…. It speaks to the past — the ancient past in terms of weapons used and methods of engagement, but it also points to the present and the reasons for concern.
The posters, however, tell a more universal story, the story of politics and division, fragmented nations ripped apart by political (or ethnic) alliances. Arrogant politicians who think the charm or innocence of their looks, posturing self-importance and hard work, can sway the opinions of the majority.
Sadly, sometimes it works and despots get elected and lead nations into insolvency. And sometimes courageous leaders are elected, but are despised for making difficult and unpopular decisions. But rarely, if ever, is a person elected who can unify a nation around a common vision with the power to cut through the diversity of our values and soften the boundaries of our beliefs.
“I’m motivated to make photographs because it helps me understand the world a little more deeply. But also photography allows me to construct my own narratives by deconstructing the intended stories of the quaint and altruistic that distort and permeate the American landscape.
The process of photography for me is very much about exploration and discovery, so in that sense I am a walking photographer. I need to be on my feet moving through my environment to find the elements that speak to my experiences, prejudices, hopes, and dreams.”