As events of the United States elections unfold, thousands of Kenyans living in America have had first-hand experience.
There are some who have had a front-row seat to dramatic events.
For nearly two decades, Kenyan-born Henry Ongeri has resided in the US, working as an attorney in the states of Minnesota and New York. As an attorney, Ongeri is also a managing partner at a law firm that focuses on legal needs of American immigrants.
Since immigrating to the US, Ongeri tells the Sunday Standard that he has actively participated in the country’s elections.
In 2004, he worked on a Political Action Committee supporting the election of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate for that election, and his running mate, John Edwards.
Before that, he had participated in the re-election campaign of the late Senator Paul Wellstone.
Ongeri also reveals that he played an active role in the election of former US President Barack Obama.
“I do not know any African immigrant who was not involved in both Obama elections in 2008 and 2012,” he says.
But having experienced about five presidential elections until now, Ongeri says the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections have been distinctly unique.
“I cannot definitively say why. It seems like the American experiment itself is on the ballot,” he says. However, he also narrates that in the run-up to the election, racial tensions have reverberated across America, particularly in his city, Minneapolis, following the infamous killing of George Floyd, leading to protests that have continued until now.
“My hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, happens to be the city where George Floyd was murdered. Racial tensions and police brutality reverberated throughout the campaign and elections. Protests in and around Minneapolis have been ongoing ever since. November 3 most likely increased the crowd sizes,” Ongeri says, adding that the protests have been largely peaceful.
Prof Masibo Lumala, who has been in the US for more than a year now, working as a visiting professor at Purdue University’s School of Communication in Indiana, says the 2020 US election has recorded immense interest and excitement.
However, he says the election has been different from previous ones.
“This year has been unique. The majority of Democrats voted early, whereas many Republicans voted on the final day of polling,” Prof Lumala says.
He says there were major differences in the campaign styles of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
While Biden mainly campaigned via drive-in rallies and digital campaigns such as through TV ads in light of Covid-19, Prof Lumala says Trump continued holding crowded rallies in disregard to Covid-19.
Witnessing the elections in Indiana, where Prof Lumala currently resides, has been an interesting experience.
He notes that not only is Indiana a red State, the term coined for a US state that predominantly supports or votes for the Republican Party, it is also the home state of Trump’s running mate Vice President Mike Pence, where he was a governor between 2013 and 2017.
Prof Lumala also notes that Indiana is largely a rural and Christian State, additional factors that contributed to Trump winning the State by 57.1 per cent.
For Stephen Nduati, a Kenyan immigrant currently enrolled in a nursing programme at the Oklahoma State University in the US, the waiting period has been relatively calm in his state, Oklahoma.
“Trump won by a landslide here in Oklahoma. There weren’t protests here because the election was declared free and fair,” says Nduati, adding that protests have mostly been recorded in the swing States, where vote counting is still ongoing.
Nduati, who has lived in the US for two years, observes that Americans are not as emotionally attached to politics as Kenyans.
“Things are normal even as we wait for the election results. People are just following the process online and on TV as they go about their business,” he says.
The three US residents also point out what they term as ‘major’ differences in the election styles of Kenya and the US.
“Candidates don’t really hold election rallies here. People are also divided along party lines in the US, unlike Kenya where people are allied to specific personalities and move with those candidates even when they switch parties,” Prof Lumala says.
The three Kenyans also express surprise at the failure of the opinion polls to correctly predict the outcome of the election.
“There is a generalised sense of anxiety and apprehension across the US. Though pre-November 3, opinion polls predicted a landslide victory for former Vice-President Biden, the results have mirrored the 2016 elections when the pollsters were off the mark and did not capture the reality of a Trump presidency. Personally, I am not surprised that Trump would end up being a one-term president. More surprising is how close a contest it ended up becoming. That nearly 70 million Americans are willing to retain Trump for another term boggles the mind,” notes Ongeri.
Prof Lumala also says the race between Biden and Trump, which defied poll predictions, casts light on whether opinion polls are necessary, even in Kenya, noting that they only inflame passions. Ultimately, some residents opine that perhaps, the 2020 elections have put the US democracy to test.
“In the past, systems have worked but because of Covid-19, many people voted early, causing delays in vote counting,” says Prof Lumala.
Under a Biden presidency, the residents expect immigrants, including Kenyans, to have it easier moving to the US.
Change of guard
“As a practitioner, I regularly witness the practical consequences of the change of guard at the White House. The list is long, but of particular note are increased deportations, general anti-immigrant sentiment, heightened scrutiny, and closed borders.
“There are expectations that a Biden administration would return the US to the more “normal” standing in the world,” says Ongeri.
Nduati, on the other hand, anticipates a minor effect of the outcome of the election on immigrants already in the US, noting that there are already established rules protecting legal immigrants.
Prof Lumala says the outcome of the election will likely have a minor impact on US-Kenya relations.