Almost ten weeks ago, I set off to save the face of democracy. Or rather, to be part of the rescue team. I still remember my drive from my home away from home A.K.A Kalamazoo College, MI. I left my "K bubble" and found yet another bubble. Only this time, my bubble entailed tracking bills, selecting KEY VOTES, writing bill summaries, and answering the voters' research hotline. Not class notes, exams and an endless pursuit of As.
Awesome! That was my first impression when I arrived at the Great Divide Ranch, Montana. Surrounded by nature's perfect blend of mountains, rivers, lakes, trees and a big sky, the environment spells peace and tranquility.
I soon got to know my fellow interns. Though my accent said it all, I still remember glances that seemed to wonder what on earth I was doing here whenever I said I'm from Kenya.
Well, where I come from gave me every reason to be here. I love my country for many reasons, top on the list being the fact that it's maintained years of peace and stability in a continent stereotyped with violence, poverty and underdevelopment. But, I still feel edgy on the rampant corruption, clientelism, old-worn-out leaders and limited press, some of the issues that continue to threaten government of, for and by the people.
Reality hit home hardest when I compared my country's and America's most recent presidential election, which were only eleven months apart. It's baffling how different the two go down in history, one as a nightmare and the other as very unique and peaceful.
The lesson I picked from Kenya's 2007 December elections and America's 2008 November elections is that democracy is all about being precisely informed. It is about acting on facts, not propaganda, false hopes and lies. And staying informed is what PVS is about. That's why I chose to be part of this awesome organization.
I was particularly interested to see the world's most democratic and liberal state still working at saving democracy. That gave me hope. I figured that if America is still making efforts to save democracy, then Kenya still stands a chance to save the voices of the people, and so does the rest of the world.
At PVS, I experienced what America is doing that Kenya is not doing in its effort at consolidating egalitarianism. I got a chance to compare and contrast. While America is working at keeping democracy alive, Africa is watching democracy stay unconscious. And if it's left to die, the scars it will leave behind will continue to run deep. That's why, sooner than later, the know-how I've got from PVS will make my passion to save democracy in my own country a reality.
It's time a presidential election in any African state is not a cause of alarm not a moment to cross your fingers and hold your breath not a time for the U.N and A.U to start appointing mediators because the political tension that will erupt is too obvious. It's time voters feel confident that their vote will allow another life to be born in a free and peaceful environment, not lead to another loss of life. It's about time.
Sharing my experience is the start of a new beginning. The road is long and narrow, but I'm glad I'm taking that path. I am determined to pioneer an organization in my own community and country that will enlighten voters, just like PVSNon-partisan, Non-profit and Independent. I can bet on my last penny that an informed vote is a priceless vote; an uninformed vote is a punch on the face.
-Brenda Otieno (University of Nairobi, Kenya, 2010, Political Science and Communications major, from Nairobi, Kenya), Key Votes Intern