sports for peace
One of the biggest obstacles to progress and reform in Kenya is the perpetuation of negative ethnicity, which pits neighbor against neighbor and threatens to undermine the fabric of Kenyan society. Though only a handful of Kenya’s tribes are large enough to command political influence, there are more than forty different ethnic groups in this country; at the village level, this translates into a significant risk of perpetual conflict, as competition over scarce resources and the airing of old grievances frequently leads to violence.
When a Kikuyu steals a cow from a Luo, for example, villagers don’t view it as an individual crime of opportunity. Rather, the act is seen as the continuation of a decades-old conflict; it is seen as an offense of one tribe against the other, and frequently leads to reprisals against the offending tribe. Following the contested elections of 2007, Kenya’s political elites exploited tribal grievances for political gain, inciting their followers to attack rival ethnic groups. The resulting post-election violence left more than one thousand people dead and forced over 300,000 others to flee their homes.
Since 2008, various NGO’s and development organizations as well as the United States and other donor countries have devoted considerable resources to reconciliation efforts aimed at fostering trust and dialogue among previously warring groups. On a previous trip, for example, Ambo inaugurated a water pump that had been built with USAID funds. The project brought together three communities that had fought bitterly over a single water source. With the help of a local development partner, USAID was able to encourage collaboration and friendship in protecting this water source that had in the past served as a focal point for conflict in the region.
Last weekend, Ambo once again hit the road to promote peace and reconciliation. After visiting the orphanage, Ambo traveled to the Ol Ari Nyiro conservancy, which is the site of the annual Laikipia Highlands Games. Organized by Kuki Gallman, one of Kenya’s leading conservationists and author of I Dreamed of Africa, the games bring together eight different highlands tribes to promote friendship through athletic competition.
This year, the US Embassy helped by donating t-shirts and trophies for the event. Over a thousand people attended the games, which featured track & field events, team sports, and the signature event of the day: the tug of peace. After the competition, the various tribal groups performed their traditional dances and many of the participants camped at the conservancy overnight, dancing by the light of a dozen fire pits until the wee hours of the morning.