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Common Ground, Common Good

A call from Kenya's youth for unity, not reprisals, after Westgate Mall terror attack

As former rival gang members from Nairobi's slums we know that the best response to violence is peace and unity. In the wake of the Westgate Mall terror attack, we implore people in Kenya not to respond with violence and reprisals, especially against Muslims and Somalis.

By Dan Orogo, Karl Marx, Alphonse Abong’oOp-ed contributors / October 4, 2013

A man throws a bucket of water to put out flames from a burning tire set on fire in a street by rioting youths, following Friday Muslim prayers in Mombasa, Kenya, Oct. 4. A religious leader on Kenya's coast says that the Muslim cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Ismael died from a barrage of bullets late Thursday.

AP

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Nairobi, Kenya

We young people from Nairobi’s informal settlements offer our deepest sympathy to the victims and bereaved families of the terror attack that killed at least 61 civilians and injured more than 100 people in last month's siege of the Westgate Mall, for which Somali’s Al Shabab terrorist group has claimed responsibility. But we also wish to make an appeal both to our fellow Kenyans and to the world community: We implore you not to respond as these terrorists want us to respond – with interreligious violence and reprisals, especially against Muslims and Somalis.

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As Kenya searches for answers, Kenyan police and citizens must be careful to avoid the unjust profiling and hatred that will divide rather than heal a grieving people. Ill-treatment of Somalis in Kenya has already been reported. We know from experience that the best response to violence is peace and unity – through compassion, compromise, and community dialogue.

Many of our community of youth dedicated to peace are former rival gang members who have now reconciled. All of us have felt the pain of politically motivated, inter-ethnic violence. We lost families and homes in the carnage following the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. But we also found a productive way to move past the violence.

Through an initiative called Kenya Tuna Uwezo, we put aside our differences after more than a decade of aggression and led peace initiatives throughout this year’s election campaigns, resulting in nonviolent elections in Kenya. The project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by NGO-partners Global Communities, PeaceNet, and Kituo Cha Sheria.

For us, reconciliation came through first discussing our grievances with external facilitators from the NGOs. We then worked within our community to seek what lay beneath each conflict – such as land rights and evictions, or discriminatory government policies. After this, we sat down with the groups with whom we were in conflict, who went through the same process.

Together, through community dialogue, we sorted through our perceived divisions to get to the issues that really divided us. We recognized times when politicians had manipulated us for their own purposes and we learned about our rights as citizens under the Kenyan constitution. And over time, together with our former enemies and now friends, we crafted solutions to the very real problems that have led to conflict.

Today, we campaign for peace in our settlements, educate our peers about their rights as citizens, seek to influence government policies to create a fairer Kenya, and directly address issues such as land rights.

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