Feature: Kenyan slum youth on the frontline to promote peace ahead of August polls – Xinhua


NAIROBI, July 15 (Xinhua) — Steve Omondi has vivid recollection of the chaos that ensued in her neighborhood in December 2007 following announcement of disputed presidential election results.

The 32 year old football coach and his next of kin found themselves on the receiving end as marauding gangs took advantage of the chaos to attack and rob innocent civilians.

Omondi and his family members were lucky to escape slaughter thanks to benevolence of a local priest who sheltered them until the post election skirmishes subsided.

Born and raised in Nairobi’s sprawling Kariobangi estate, Omondi has grown accustomed to inter-ethnic skirmishes that usually erupt in Kenya every election cycle.

Nevertheless, the decorated former mid-fielder in a local football club has vowed to utilize his mobilization skills to advocate for harmonious co-existence among Kenyans from different political persuasions.

During an interview with Xinhua on Saturday at a peace caravan organized by local charities, Omondi said the tragic memories of 2007 to 2008 post election violence have motivated him to occupy the front seat and advocate for cohesion in this election cycle.

“Majority of slum youth have vowed to use their positive energy to promote peace in our communities as the country gears up for the August polls,” said Omondi.

He was among hundreds of youth who participated in a peace caravan that snaked through the densely populated Nairobi’s informal settlement to urge communities to remain cohesive in this election season.

Omondi was optimistic that peace will prevail in Kenya as the country gears up for hotly contested elections despite gloomy predictions from naysayers.

“We have traversed many informal settlements in this city and what is abundantly clear is that Kenyans from all walks of life desire peace irrespective of the outcomes of the forthcoming national polls,” Omondi told Xinhua.

Both local and international charities have been organizing forums, road shows and door to door campaigns in Nairobi’s informal settlements to advocate for peaceful campaigns.

The Priest in charge of Kariobangi North Catholic Parish, Filipe Resende disclosed that the youth have been receptive to the call for peace before, during and after the August 8 general elections.

“We have reminded youth from poor neighborhoods that violence does not benefit anyone and that it is incumbent upon them to reject political thuggery,” said Resende.

He noted that majority of the youth from urban slums who have embraced the call to champion for political tolerance happened to be victims of the 2007/08 post election chaos.

“It is refreshing to witness hundreds of slum youth join us in many forums around the city to preach peace, unity and tolerance of diversity. This is a promising trend in the country as we prepare for polls,” Resende intoned.

Campaigns have entered homestretch as Kenya brace for hotly contested election of a new president, lawmakers, county executives and ward representatives.

Aspirants from both sides of the political divide have been traversing the populous Nairobi slums in the hunt for votes.

The candidates for elective seats have been recruiting the youth to act as campaign agents aware that this versatile demographic holds key to victory.

Nevertheless, youngsters like Mary Muli, an 18 year old college student have resisted the lure of campaign money to opt for productive ventures like peace advocacy.

Muli and dozens of her age mates have formed a peace advocacy network that has been reaching out to disadvantaged youth in the urban slums to engage them in preaching cohesion as the campaign season reaches a peak.

“The young people in this country should observe decorum and tolerance to political diversity as we head to the polls. We should be ambassadors for peace since chaos will only destroy our future,” said Muli.

Her sentiments were shared by Lavender Atieno, a 20 year old business under-graduate who has joined a growing rank of under-privileged youth from the slums to champion for harmonious co-existence among different ethnic groups in this election cycle.

Born and raised in the expansive Nairobi’s Korogocho slums, Atieno has on numerous occasions encountered the ugly manifestation of political hooliganism.

As a teenager, the bubbly youth witnessed gangs hired by local politicians engage in running battles that left hundreds injured.

Consequently, Atieno vowed to utilize her creativity and communication skills to advocate for civility in political discourse.

“Peace is everyone’s responsibility and more so the youth who are often hired by aspirants for political seats to cause mayhem. The country is better off united than divided as we head to the polls,” said Atieno.

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