In 2008, in the wake of the post-election violence, a group of young people in the Kibera slum decided enough was enough and it was time for peace. Kibera was one of the places worst hit by the violence, largely due to the density of population and the diversity of tribes living so close to each other. The election violence was fought along tribal lines, as the election itself was contested.
Amani is a Swahili word, meaning “peace” and that is Amani Kibera’s goal. Since establishing themselves as an NGO, the organisation has worked hard to achieve significant impact in their community. The main activity is to promote peace through sport and so they established a football competition in Kibera, providing uniforms to teams and umpires. This simple act instils a sense of belonging in the young players, most of whom are young men who are most susceptible to the negative influences of drugs, alcohol, and idleness from unemployment.
In February 2011, Amani Kibera opened the only public library in the slums (where between 1 and 2 million people live). Everyday students flock to the library. Often the home environment is not conducive to effective study, as most houses are only one room where the cooking, eating, sleeping and living all occur. So the library provides a space for students to concentrate, and also to get assistance from volunteer tutors.
Amani Kibera also established a girls group, where the young women learn how to make bead jewellery which they sell to raise money for their school fees. For those who are too old to return to school, Amani Kibera has started a fashion institute where the women learn how to design and produce clothes so they have a trade and a way to earn some money.
In December, Amani Kibera celebrated its fifth anniversary with a football tournament and a series of peace concerts. It was timely to have a large celebration of peace as election campaigns are currently in full swing and there is an uncertainty of what will happen this time. The theme of the festival was “Ukabila ni Ujinga” – Ethnicity is Stupidity. It’s time for Kenyans to think of themselves as Kenyans, not along tribal lines; and it is time for the political aspirants to stop campaigning along those lines as well.
Teams from all over Kenya were invited to participate in the tournament, following the goal of promoting peace through sport. The day of the finals had such a party atmosphere. Music blared from the speakers and local dance troupes performed for the crowd while the games progressed. I’ll have to confess that all the commentating occurred in Swahili, and I was so distracted by the acrobatics off field, that I lost track of who was playing and even who won in the end! I was honoured with the privilege of presenting some awards to the players…. although again I’ll confess I wasn’t exactly sure what they were!
The peace concerts were held each weekend for the month of December. Local artists were invited to perform and I was so impressed by the talent hiding in Kibera! We took a parade through the slums, singing peace songs and flying banners with messages of peace to promote the message. My banner read “Umoja ni ngovu”, which means “togetherness is strength”. At one stage a man we passed by, got swept up by the parade and with joy told us that he had thrown his panga (machete, which is a useful tool and it’s common to see people carrying them everywhere. However it’s also the weapon of choice in Kenya) in the drain and was ready for a peaceful election. Another man asked me if I was a political aspirant, to which I smiled and replied that Kenya needed to be led by good, strong Kenyans – how could I presume to represent Kibera in the parliament?!
Both days I visited the celebrations, I was overcome with the positive and inspiring atmosphere. I really got the feeling that Kenyans do not want to live through another terrifying event such as 2008 and they are striving to unite and encourage each other to live peacefully. There is little tolerance for political aspirants to push a strong tribal message. There is still some healing to be done, which was neglected by the nation’s leaders after the 2008 violence, but on the whole I’m quietly confident that, although there may be minor spats here and there, Amani Kibera’s message is felt and supported throughout most of the country.