UN-HABITAT and UNICEF held a peace meeting at UN headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday in an effort to persuade young Kenyans to be ambassadors for peace in their troubled country. And the stories and tears flowed as young people recounted what happened as post-election violence ushered in a grim new year for the East African country.
The most vivid memory Aisha Abdulaziz remembers was of the well dressed man pleading for his life as an enraged mob attacked him with long ‘machete’ knives, clubs any other available weapon.
“All that I could do was to watch in horror even as I asked, echoing what the victim seemed to be saying, why no one was coming to the rescue. On my own, I could do nothing but I thought that with all the people around, at least someone would have enough courage to stop the killing taking place right before our eyes,” she says.
As a resident of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum sitting cheek and jowl with some of the most opulent estates of Nairobi, the 21 year-old Aisha found herself in the eye of the storm that was the violence which, erupted in Kenya after the disputed last December elections.
Kibera is in the constituency represented by opposition chief, Mr. Raila Odinga, who is disputing the re-election of Mr. Mwai Kibaki as president. The violence has claimed some 700 lives and over a quarter million people displaced. Countless thousands have lost their homes, businesses and everything they own.
Although skirmishes in the estate especially around election time is normal, Aisha says what she saw in her neck of the woods his time round was simply tragic. “Gunshot wounds, women and girls getting raped, starvation became daily feature of life in our area,” she recounted.
Aisha believes that Kibera - and indeed the whole of Kenya - can still be saved and she is convinced the people best placed to bring about the healing the country needs are the youth.
And on Monday, Aisha was part of some 700 young people drawn from various parts of Nairobi to discuss ways of influencing their peers to avoid violent acts and be ambassadors of peace.
The meeting was organized by UN-HABITAT and UNICEF.
UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka reminded the young people that the development of a prosperous and peaceful Kenya hinged on their shoulders and that they should give that responsibility the seriousness it deserves.
In as much as there were resounding calls for justice, she said, this should be done without the spectre of violence: “We should emulate the great figures in history like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi who led great resistances in their respective countries but who abhorred violence as a means of achieving their aim.”
Mrs. Tibaijuka said people had very high expectations of Kenya because of the great strides the country had made in nearly every sphere of life warning that it would be regrettable if all that was left to go down the drain.
Borrowing from the popular HIV/AIDS slogan, ‘Chilling’ meaning abstaining from pre-marital sex, the UNICEF Country Representative, Mrs. Olivia Yambi, urged young people to make a pledge to refrain from violence.
Earlier, the participants sang a stanza of the national anthem while one of the artists present led the meeting in a patriotic chant talking about Kenya’s virtues.