The Ides of March

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First it was the Ugandans who wanted to be sure their flag was represented on the WorldRider machine. Later the Kenyans added their flag but wanted a few shillings – I traded a WorldRider Sticker!

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It was the Ides of March that he was forewarned, the day Caesar was assisinated by the “liberators” in an attack masterminded by one friend and now paranoid foe Marcus Brutus. But I’m far from the outstretches of the former Roman Empire, yet will be riding into enemy territory. The December elections and the violent aftermath have done more damage to Kenya that nearly any event in the last half-century to most African countries. Kenya, for the most part, has been a model of the new and modern Africa: big business, bustling tourism, millions in aid money and a growing economy. But all that was torn down in a matter of days when the current President, Mwai Kibaki, claimed victory for the December elections — a victory that was clearly fraudulent and looked down in disgrace by the international community. But most of the damage came from within with the opposition taking to the streets and killing more than 1,000, injuring, raping, looting and burning important buildings and destroying roads and bridges.

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One must be careful riding the roads of Kenya. Not sure if they just leave the carnage of past accidents or just don’t have the trucks to clean them up. Be careful!

And today, I’d be riding through the thick of it. I’d made an appointment at the only BMW dealer north of Windhoek and south of Israel. While Kenya inspired my interest, I now had my heart set on Ethiopia and therefore Nairobi and Kenya would simply be stopping grounds and a place to take care of business. To learn more about this country, I’d have to wait and visit again in the future.

The border procedures for both Uganda and Kenya were simple, quick and efficient. I had to cough up $70 USD for a Kenyan visa and while at the border an eager group of Kenyans were quick to find a Kenyan flag and adhere it to my panniers. “You must have Kenya flag Mr. Allan,” the proud man with his teeth falling out decreed, “this for you,” he then held out his hand expecting payment while the rest of the crowd frowned upon him. I gave them all WorldRider stickers and moved on my way.

Now I was heading into Kenya’s enemy territory.

Since 1992 Kenya has held multiparty elections. But even these were controlled through fear and violence largely brought on by then president Daniel arap Moi, famous for carrying his trademarked large stick-like scepter and who was Kenya’s second president, taking the reigns from Jomo Kenyatta who died in 1978. It was current opposition Raila Odinga who supported current president Mwai Kibaki in 2002 in an effort to beat Moi’s appointed successor, Kenyatta’s son Uhuru. Kibaki won more than two-thirds the vote and in doing so perhaps ushered in a new era of perceived prosperity to Kenya. And in the five years since Kenya has flourished. But unfortunately at the expense of some ethnic groups and the poor, uneducated and youth of the country. When Odinga decided to go up against the man he supported (perhaps forcibly) in 2002, in the December 2007 elections it appeared that he won the election by a landslide. Yet waking the next morning the country learned that somehow those votes disappeared and the government declared Kibaki winner. That’s when Odinga supporters hit the streets. And Kibake’s government follow suit in retaliation.

The rest of the story was a media frenzy and a sad situation for the people of Kenya. UN head Koffi Annan spent several weeks in Kenya mediating an agreement and US-president George Bush sent Condeleeza Rice to Nairobi to offer strong words to both Kibake: “The time for political settlement was yesterday.” Yet violence continued for more than two months after the election — most of it centered in the slums of Nairobi and the northwest provinces.

At my first petrol stop an hour or so after the bordering crossing on Masero village, the young man pumping my gas offered his perspective on the violence. “You won’t have a problem,” he offered first while remarking on the interesting position of the under-seat gas tank of my BMW. “There’s no problem — for today,” he continued.

“Does that mean there might be a problem — tomorrow?” I enquired.

“If the government doesn’t keep its promise. Maybe.” he offered. When I asked if he’d take to the streets with more violence he simply answered, “If I’m angry I will.” And when I asked if he was angry after the elections, he confided. “I was very angry. Very angry.” Later riding through Kisumu I noticed burned remains of businesses, homes and even a hospital was a charred mess. The road from Kisumu toward Nakuru was the worse road I’ve been on during this entire journey. No it wasn’t a dirt, sandy or muddy mess. It was a potholed nightmare. There was no avoiding the potholes. And it was impossible to make time. And each kilometer it seemed to get worse. I wondered if I’d ever make it to Nairobi.

But soon I was climbing down from Nakuru into Kenya’s amazing Rift Valley, past Nokuru Lake and then climbing up the eastern escarpment to elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. The wind whipped and tossed my bike around in the fiercest display of wind since perhaps Patagonia. But as the sun make its slow descent the glistening lake in the valley below along with the gentle sloping hills on the horizon froze me in my tracks while I watched and wondered how these people could be so self-destructive — torching a hospital of all places. A hospital.

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The amazing Rift Valley. My photos can’t do justice. I had to get to Nairobi.

I continued into Nairobi as the last of the sun faded in my rear view. With no clue of accommodation I used the GPS to navigate to the center of Nairobi where I discovered that all of this violence has brought tourism to a stop and hotels eager to lure travelers offered amazing rates. Unwilling to explore the city many nickname Nai-robbery by night I take up the manager’s offer at the oldest hotel in town — The Stanley.

The next morning my experience at BMW was a disaster. After paying a taxi-driver to guide me through the maze of Nairobi traffic, I arrive before 9am. By 2pm I learn that my bike hasn’t been touched. And it’s Friday. They won’t work on it until Monday. That’s when I decided to retrieve the bike and head for where I should’ve first: Jungle Junction — a veritable oasis in the middle of the insanity of Nairobi — a guest house and workshop run by a competent BMW-trained mechanic. I only wish I knew earlier. And I should have.

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