After presidential elections last month, Kenya erupted into chaos. With all indications suggesting the vote was rigged in favor of incumbent Mwai Kibaki, rioters filled the streets. Some 600 people died.
It’s a complicated mess involving angry supporters of Raila Odinga, Kibaki’s opponent, and tensions between the country’s more than 40 ethnic groups. Arno Kopecky’s powerful photo essay, “Kenya on the Brink,” from his blog for the Walrus, helps make sense of the conflict.
The visual chronicle begins with pictures from election day (December 27). People calmly count ballots in small, poorly-lit rooms. While most polling places finished counting votes that night, a photo from a gymnasium in Nairobi shows people slumped over in chairs, waiting to hear final results that wouldn’t be delivered for a full day. As some people patiently bided their time, riots were already forming in the slums. A photo taken from a car Kopecky was riding in shows people jumping on the vehicle, “looking for a victim.”
In the days that followed, Kibaki was declared president and the violence worsened. “Reports started pouring in that every city, town, and village in the country had been torn apart by violence,” Kopecky writes. Images of fires, protesters waving signs and weapons, and citizens hiding in fear follow. Two moving photos show refugee camps in Kibera—temporary shelter for the hundreds of families whose homes were destroyed by fire. Due to supply shortages, women and children were forced to wait behind bars outside the entrance.
While much coverage of Kenya’s upheaval has focused on parsing enflamed ethnic tensions and lamenting a stable African country’s slide into disarray, Kopecky’s photos place the viewer among those affected and those perpetrating, offering a visceral context and perspective that goes beyond rehashed analysis.
Photo courtesy of Arno Kopecky.