Months of political campaigns ended over the weekend, 48 hours before the 2022 general elections. The dark cloud of the 2007 post-election violence still hangs over the country and has prompted different peace campaigns to avoid a repeat of the same. Some of the campaigns are led by voters who were minors during the 2007 elections. One such person is Kennedy Okoth.
Okoth is a resident of Kibera, the same place he was staying with his parents during the 2007 post-election violence. He is also one of the people that were directly affected by the violence and still carries scars of the same to date.
“I was unaware that there was a planned demolition. I found myself in a commotion. That was the first time I ever received a painful beating. I still have scars on my body. I don’t want to speak about it so much because it is traumatizing,” he told Parents magazine.
Okoth is now a father of two. With a third baby on the way. Though his priority lies in protecting his family, he is also cognizant of the fact that everyone around him needs protection and must also maintain peace.
It is for this reason that Okoth joined Kijana Jihusishe a life and peace initiative program. He is currently a peace facilitator training youths on how to conduct themselves and maintain peace during this election period.
“Youths have been used the most to castigate violence in these slums in recent years. We have lost several youths in such election malpractice because people in slums have been taking politics at heart more than those in other estates,” he notes adding that this makes young people more vulnerable and suitable targets by politicians.
Okoth and other peace champions conduct peace-related dialogues with representatives in different slums within Mombasa, Kwale, and North Eastern parts of the country. The attendees of these forums are community members of the respective slums, local administration, and bodaboda riders. Targeting Bodaboda riders is not by accident as Okoth, who is the Kibera bodaboda usiku Sacco which has approximately 70 members, reveals that they are easy to target.
“You know it is very easy to use Bodaboda riders to plan violence because of the flexible mode of transport which, make it easy to reach people. So we play a key factor in ensuring peace where we stay and beyond,” Okoth says.
Outside the Kijana Jihusishe initiative, Okoth shares short videos and messages on his Instagram and Facebook accounts. This helps him to pass peace messages to those who miss the physical dialogues. He is also an election monitor in the early warning, early response team in Kibera, whose role is to monitor the likelihood of violence issues and respond promptly. He says they convene dialogues with the authorities and the antagonizing parties to avoid such conflicts. He urges youths to love each other as one nation regardless of their diversities and political affiliations.
“The future is with us, and we are the future leaders of tomorrow. Let us be conscious of whatever we are doing in the political arena. We will need each other after the elections,” he urges.
Just like Okoth, Edwin Ogega cannot bring himself to forget the 2007 post election violence. At the time he was a form 3 student. He would later move to Kibera in 2008 and has remained there to date where he and his wife raise their three children. Ogega and his wife are registered voters in Kibera. He is also a Bodaboda rider which is his way of fending for his family. As a result, Ogega believes it is his responsibility to maintain peace in the area for the sake of his family and business. Just like Okoth, Ogega is aware of the fact that Bodaboda riders are mostly used by politicians to disrupt peace. However, he is confident that the narrative is different this year as most Bodaboda riders have committed to being peace ambassadors in the country during this election period.
“I have signed to be a peace ambassador because I trust that I can maintain peace by advising my colleagues anywhere. I have been trying to advocate for peace everywhere,” said Ogega who is also an election observer.
Ogega is the chairman of the Bodaboda riders association in Kibera and he approximates that there are about 500 Bodaboda riders in the area. As their leader, Ogega has taken it upon himself to ensure that the riders are trained on how to maintain peace.
“We have trained Bodaboda riders, who are mostly used to interrupt peace during elections to improve, vote peacefully and ensure everyone is safe. We have advised them and they have agreed to ensure they maintain peace,” he told Parents magazine.
His peace-keeping efforts have made him popular with residents of Lindi ward in Kibera and earned the nickname ‘Maraga’ after the former Chief Justice David Maraga due to his style of handling conflicts among Bodaboda riders.
Jared Ontita, a member of the committee in Nairobi of the Eminent person on Peaceful Alternative Dispute Resolution says they have brought on board different persons who use mediations and dialogue to diffuse tension.
“This time round the eminent team is made up of young people who are influential in their communities especially the mapped areas within Nairobi which have been mapped as a hotspot and most of them are in informal settlements,” he says.
According to Ontita, the committee of eminent leaders is non-partisan and consists of young leaders drawn from community elders, religious groups, business leaders, and opinion leaders convened by International Republican Institute (IRI) to implement a program on mitigating possible election violence in Kenya.
“IRI aims to enhance the capacity of civil society actors and also work with Kenyan political parties and candidates especially in targeted hotspots to commit to. Ours is to promote practices that will not trigger potential violence during this election,” he reveals.