Today, Kenya is holding its first presidential election since 2007, and all I can think about is the fate of one 4-year-old refugee boy living in Nairobi, the nation's capital.
I met Aman and his mother Fana last February while visiting Nairobi on behalf of RefugePoint, the organization where I work. RefugePoint identifies refugees in life-threatening situations across Africa and helps relocate people to places where they can rebuild their lives in safety.
On the afternoon I spoke with Fana, I was interviewing more than 50 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in one of Nairobi's most notorious refugee neighborhoods. Each woman's story was more harrowing than the last -- a young girl bartered as a bride in exchange for food; a woman forced to deliver her baby under an abandoned stairwell; a nurse brutally assaulted for failing to keep a severely-injured solider alive.
I interviewed Fana last.
Born in Ethiopia, she told me about her fiancé, whom she hadn't seen since he was abducted several years prior in their home country. The two met while they were in college and soon fell in love. Her fiancé was active in a campus political movement until one day he disappeared during a government crack down on student protestors and he was never seen again.
Inspired by her fiancé's courage, Fana continued to campaign against her country's authoritative regime, until her name appeared on a list of targeted students to be detained. Frightened, Fana fled across the border into Kenya in search of protection.
Sadly, her journey led to more violence. Fana was assaulted and eventually gave birth to Aman. When asked if it was difficult to raise a son she didn't choose to have, Fana looked down at Aman at her feet and replied, "No, it is not difficult to love my son."
When I asked what dreams she had for his future, her mouth transformed for the first time into a radiant smile and Fana said her dream was the same as all mothers: "I hope one day he will be president."
In reality, though, Aman will likely never be president -- of any country. As refugees, Aman and Fana cannot return to Ethiopia where minorities continue to be persecuted, nor can the pair gain permanent residency in Kenya. Moreover, if the Kenyan government's recent directive to relocate all refugees inside Nairobi to the country's already overcrowded refugee camps is upheld in Kenya's supreme court, Aman will almost surely spend his entire childhood, if not his entire life, as a refugee.
While Fana may have overstated that all mothers want their children to become presidents, it is fair to say that all parents hope their children will be safe and have the opportunity to be successful.
My hope is whichever candidate prevails in Kenya, the president will join world leaders to improve refugee child protection throughout Africa so Aman and other refugee children can realize their fullest potential and no longer live in fear.