Kenya referendum: How groups came together to prevent violence
Ahead of the historic Aug. 4 Kenya referendum, observers warned of a recurrence of the ethnic violence that killed more than 1,300 after the 2007 presidential vote. But key groups helped make sure that did not happen.
For Robert Kipkorir, sipping tea by the roadside while young men washed his pickup truck early one recent morning, the fact that this month's highly charged Kenya referendum passed peacefully was no surprise.Skip to next paragraph
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“There was no reason to fight, because no one had been cheated, no one felt they were an enemy to anyone else,” the passionfruit farmer says.
He concedes that he opposed the country’s new Constitution – passed with 67 percent support in the Aug. 4 vote – but he has accepted the result because “we lost fair and square.”
There was a good deal of concern across Kenya, especially in Rift Valley towns like Iten, where Mr. Kipkorir lives, that the country’s first national vote since the disputed Dec. 27, 2007 election could spur the same type of ethnic violence that killed more than 1,300 people back then.
Some 63,000 police officers patrolled polling stations for this month's historic vote, almost a third of them in the Rift Valley.
In late 2007 and early 2008, hundreds of people died as the majority Kalenjin tribe turned on people from other ethnic groups who had settled here.
But last Wednesday, polling was calm and ordered, and the result was met with enthusiasm nationwide.
So, what changed?
“We were all shocked by what happened after the last election,” says Rev. Maritim arap Rirei, a community services officer with the Anglican church in Eldoret, a large Rift Valley town 15 miles southwest of Iten. “Immediately, we began work. We gathered people from all communities [tribes], we called meetings of ordinary people, we focused on ways to show that only unity and peace will bring growth to Kenya.”
Rev. Rirei and his colleagues were far from alone.
'Cows for peace'
Hundreds of organizations, funded with millions of dollars from within and outside Kenya, ran workshops in village squares, organised meetings in church halls, and arranged peace programming on local FM radio stations.
“We focused on allowing people to talk of their local frustrations, but tried to show that only by working together with all Kenyans can peace live in our country,” Rev. Rirei adds. “No community can be an island. An island cannot grow, you must interact with others to learn, to educate your children, to make things better.”
One program launched by his group, which is part funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as by German and Kenyan Christian organisations, was called Cows for Peace.
Under this program, participating families were given one cow each.
Each family cared for a cow and earned money by selling the cow's milk – all on the promise that they would donate the cow's first calf to a neighbor from another tribe.
“Sharing ownership of an asset, it’s something which teaches us so much,” Rev. Rirei says.
Fake fights in the slums?
In Kibera, one of Africa's largest slums on the fringes of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, Kepha Ngito has been working with some of the most violent agitators who took money from political leaders to stir up trouble around the last elections.