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Jokes and anxiety as Kenyans follow knife-edge US election

By Mercy Adhiambo | November 5th 2020

Men gesture as protesters gather at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The ballots were being cast over 10,000km away, but that did not stop Kenyans from following every minute of it, and with all the enthusiasm.

Debate on who was likely to win between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was hot online and off the net. On WhatsApp chats, Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags, they rallied behind the candidate they were convinced would win. For some of them, it got so serious that bets were placed on the table.

“My brother and I have a Sh15,000 bet on our candidate. I am team, Biden. I have a good feeling about my candidate,” said Christine Semo in Nairobi.

On social media, when Americans posted they had not slept as they awaited results of the tightly contested poll, Kenyans had tongue in the cheek advice for them. “I would advise you not to wink. In Kenya, it is at this hour that tables turn and figures start changing. Do not sleep,” said Isaac Ng’eno, on Twitter.

When Americans talked of the palpitations and anxiety they were experiencing as the results trickled in, again, cheeky comments streamed in.

“At least your palpitations will last a few hours. Ours go for many days. Sometimes, returning officers disappear. Ballot boxes get lost. You can die glued to your TV screen,” said Elijah Musongi, while recounting events that have followed past elections in Kenya. In the comment section, people narrated how it could have been worse if it was a Kenyan election.

“Here, counting of votes is never over until there is a countrywide blackout. When lights are back, your candidate has been floored,” he said, alluding to the power failure witnessed during the 2007 elections.

Memes flowed. Speculations on who will bear the Potus title continued. Comical similarities between the Kenyan elections and the US one were drawn.

“Trump has said he will not accept defeat. What a déjà vu. Next, Miguna will swear him in. Handshake loading in the USA. Then they will have a BBI. We have lived through what America is going through,” wrote Patience Wanja.

Kenyans in the US also spent the better part of the day trying to analyse the unfolding events. Their campaigns and commentaries started way before the day of the elections.  

“If you have not voted and are eligible to vote, please consider voting. This is a historic election and your vote may make that difference,” Maggie Kwabena wrote on Kenyans in United States Facebook page that has more than 50,000 members.

Others made videos and even planned for sleepovers for Africans in the US who are eligible to vote. They took the opportunity to reminisce the changes that affected immigration laws and were implemented by the Trump administration. Some of them felt a change in leadership could be what would ease visa restrictions imposed on those entering USA.

“I was put on a forced administrative process at the embassy for two years. I was separated from my family for that long. The visa rules got crazy,” narrated one of the followers.

There was also the group that was aptly called “Team Clueless” on social media hashtags. They said they knew very little about American politics, and why they were not bothered.

“I have spent the whole day on Google trying to figure out what Electoral College is and why it is always mentioned in elections,” said a user identified as Sandra Kims on a post that was discussing Kenya’s obsession with the USA elections.

Others marvelled at how voting in the US always captured the global attention, and why Kenyans particularly seemed to be fascinated by the elections.

US ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter also added his voice to the discussions on his Twitter page when he responded to claims that America was losing its grip on the democracy it had long prided itself in.

When a user questioned why the White House had barricaded itself behind a non-scalable wall just before the elections, McCarter responded that he saw nothing wrong with that. “Walls and fences make good sense to me. Is there one at your house? No lecturing going on, so you can relax. We should be praying for peace in the election in the USA and in Kenya,” he said.

When asked why Trump never visited any African country, Carter responded: “How long did it take Pres Obama?” By last evening, Kenyans who were following the election process on social media admitted that it had been an emotionally draining experience whose results they anxiously waited for.

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