Today the first Kenyan General Election since 2007 takes place. Violence scarred the last vote, resulting in the death of over 1,100 people and the internal displacement of up to 600,000.
Many people here say that this election will be different, that Kenya has learned from the horror of that period. But tensions on the street are high and this election is all anyone can talk about.
Presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto are facing trial at the ICC, alongside others, for their role in the violence last time out. And the factors which contributed to it – ethnic rivalry, tribalism, corruption, unemployment and poverty – remain. There is every risk that the election process that starts as citizens head to the polls today will be the beginning of a violent and turbulent period for Kenya.
Yet there is hope. And I am proud, as a young Kenyan, that this hope is coming from us – the young people that are often held to blame for the violence of 2007/8. I am an actor in S.A.F.E., an NGO that has been using street theatre since 2011 to promote peace in the most at risk Kenyan communities.
In this time we have reached over 96,000 people with a message of peace, personal accountability and saying no to tribalism. Last month, we released the movie adaptation of our play, which has now been shown in cinemas across Kenya and on Kenya’s largest TV station yesterday, twice. The film’s key aim is to take an anti-tribalism message around the country and remind Kenyans that it is us – the people - who have the power to stop violence this year.
Our film, Ni Sisi, tells the story of a typical Kenyan village in the context of post-election violence. The characters explore issues of corruption, political bribery, racism and gossip. Friends who have lived and worked together all their lives are consumed by rumours and mistrust. But horrific consequences are avoided when the community pulls together to avert further violence. Ni Sisi literally translates as "it is us" and the message of the film is that it is us who fought, it us who killed, it is us who spread rumours. But it is also us who can change things. It is us who have the power to challenge bad leadership, it is us who save our community.
Using theatre and film, we have been reaching into the hearts and minds of communities. We know that when you make people laugh, you can impact people's attitudes more powerfully than in any other way.
This film tells a story that captures people’s interest and therefore their concentration. It has an important message so, while the audiences is laughing and crying along, they will also be learning. But it is not just us who have been working tirelessly to communicate these messages. Kenyan graffiti artists have covered a commuter train with messages of peace; satirical puppet shows are highlighting some of the idiocies of the electoral process, and musicians are promoting peace at large concerts. We’re all doing our bit and I hope that the rest of the world recognises and remembers that, whilst some Kenyans may be violent this election, the majority are fighting against it with all the tools at our disposal – art included.
Kenyans don't want a repeat of 2007/8. They are tired of bad politics and its consequences. For the minority who would want to cause chaos in order to benefit, or leaders who would want to incite others, our message is simple: Kenyans who would want to be violent should know that the rest of us will be watching, and we will record and report it should it happen. Change comes down to all of us. Ni Sisi!
Krysteen Savane is a S.A.F.E.'s Project Manager and a producer and actress in the film Ni Sisi, which can be viewed here.