Giving Ethnic Divisions the Boot
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
14 February 2008
Anthony Njoroge passes the ball to
David Onyango, whose shot makes it past the goalkeeper to a
thunderous cheer from spectators at Huruma Stadium, in Nairobi's
Eastlands slum area.
Onyango's teenaged teammates, including Njoroge, hug him; nothing
surprising there, you might think. Yet just a few days before this
football game Onyango, a member of the Luo tribe and Njoroge, a
Kikuyu, were caught up in the ethnic hostility that has flared in
the wake of Kenya's disputed Dec. 27 presidential election.
Mwai Kibaki, declared winner of the poll, is also a Kikuyu, while
principal challenger Raila Odinga -- who claims the vote was
rigged -- is a Luo. The Kikuyu and Luo are respectively the first
largest tribes in Kenya, which is home to about 40 ethnic groups
in all. Much of the anger over past weeks has been directed
against Kikuyus, whose dominance of political and economic life in
the East African country has made them the target of considerable
Slums in the capital are amongst those areas which bore the brunt
of the violence. Amidst arson and rioting, a number of districts
have become dangerous for the members of certain ethnic groups,
and rather than run the gauntlet many residents moved to
neighbourhoods dominated by members of their own tribe.
"This has affected our normal relations. I don't want to be seen
as Kikuyu," Njoroge told IPS. "I was born and brought up here in
Huruma and my friends are from the area. Before now we never
bothered to know which tribe one came from."
The match that has brought Njoroge and Onyango together is part of
an initiative to relegate ethnic divisions to the sidelines once
again. 'Kicks for Peace', a football tournament for young people
that will wrap up Sunday, is being held by various
non-governmental organisations -- and has attracted over 100
Matches are taking place in eight slum areas, with various
dignitaries expected at the final game in the week-long event.
"In soccer you must play as a team. When you are a team you don't
pass the ball to your best friend or tribesman but to a teammate.
This is what we want the youth to have in mind in their normal
daily relations," John Muiruri of the African Medical & Research
Foundation (AMREF), one of the tournament sponsors, told IPS.
AMREF is headquartered in Nairobi.
Noted Ecosandals founder Matthew Myers, "The young people get to
understand that leaders will come and go, but until we as human
beings come together with creative solutions to eradicate
attitudes of tribal hatred from every corner of this globe, ethnic
cleansing and genocide will persist. That is what 'Kicks for Peace'
Ecosandals, also a sponsor, is a non-profit that produces sandals
for the international market, to benefit the shantytown of
Korogocho and surrounding areas.
Skits about reconciliation and discussions on ways of restoring
peace to Kenya are taking place alongside the matches.
Calvin Mbugua, who has assisted with organising teams in Huruma,
says he's used his personal experiences to help youngsters
understand that Kenyans can reach beyond ethnic divisions.
"I am a Kikuyu, but I was literally raised up by a Luo neighbour.
I had meals in his house with his children, who were my friends,
because there was hardly food at our home. He saw me as one of his
own children and the issue of tribe never came up," he told IPS.
"It is painful to see this hatred permeating our community. It
must be stopped," added Mbugua, who is also co-founder of a youth
He said that although the situation in the slums had calmed as
mediation efforts chaired by former United Nations
secretary-general Kofi Annan got underway, there was still
animosity among residents.
"They know the people who beat them up or burnt their properties,
and they find it hard to forgive them. Through the tournament we
hope to plant the seed of forgiveness among dwellers of Kenya's
Reports Thursday said Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) had
signed an agreement with the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to
end the political impasse, which has resulted in more than 1,000
deaths and displaced as many as 600,000 people, according to the
However, chief PNU negotiator Martha Karua was quoted as saying
that no conclusive agreement had been reached. Even though
international observers have also cast doubt on December's
presidential vote, Kibaki insists he won the ballot fairly.
While details of the reported accord were not immediately
available, speculation over recent weeks has focused on the
creation of a power-sharing government -- and Annan spoke of a
coalition" while briefing parliament Tuesday on the status of
Back on the football field, the deliberations of political leaders
receive short shrift from the likes of Mary Wanjiru, who scored
two goals for her team, and whose best friend is from the Luo
"Although the violence has not affected our friendship, you can
still feel the tension because of the sentiments bandied around by
people who make tribe an issue in this conflict," she told IPS.
"The politicians are fighting for power, but for us here it
doesn't matter who is in power: our fears, desires and struggles
remain the same."