from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – NELSON Mandela famously said sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does and speaks to youth in a language they understand.
Ahead of the August 9 elections in Kenya, the country is making the most of its global athletics powerhouse status as a means of reaching two million youths with the message of peace and inclusivity ahead of the poll.
The Special Olympics Kenya, in partnership with the National Police Service, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and the Mkenya Daima Initiative, have launched the Amani Torch Run with that objective.
The torch run will tour the 47 counties, until July 5, when the torch will return to the capital, Nairobi, for the lighting of the National Peace and Inclusion flame.
This will culminate into the signing of the NCIC Peace & Accountability Charter and the Mkenya Daima Peace and Leadership Pledge, by political leaders and Kenyans alike.
The Amani Torch Run that is divided into seven routes – Central, Coast, Eastern, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western regions.
“Nothing brings people together like sports,” said Thuo Cege, Chairman of Special Olympics Kenya.
“As we launch The Amani Torch Run today (Tuesday) in Nairobi, our vision is to reach and share the message of inclusivity and peace to all Kenyans with and without intellectual disabilities,” Cege said.
Thuo added that persons with “intellectual disabilities” were considerably more vulnerable to overarching threats arising from electoral violence, with their plight often unaccounted for.
Dr Stephen Jackson, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya, said, “Kenyans are renowned worldwide for long distance running and for being a bastion of peace in the region.”
He said time and again, Kenyans have also proven that peaceful polls can change governments.
“It is therefore brilliant that today, you (Kenyans) have put these two important things (sport and peace) together to run for peace and speak to young people on this important topic,” Jackson said.
Despite it being a bastion of peace in East Africa, the 2007/08 poll was violent.
Mkenya Daima Initiative has encouraged more public and private collaboration in advancing the message of peace and positive electoral participation by the youth and all citizens.
“Our goal is to inspire Kenyans to elect good, accountable leaders and for us to have a prosperous Kenya afterwards,” said Dr Vimal Shah, Mkenya Daima chair person.
“If everybody does their part as a responsible citizen, we shall definitely achieve peace and we urge all Kenyans young and old to embrace the Mkenya Daima message of taking responsibility for Kenya,” Shah said.
Police have committed to maintaining peace in the country, before, during and after the general elections.
“Insecurity is brought about by our very own friends, relatives and colleagues in the community and we know them,” Edward Mbugua, Deputy Inspector General, said.
“It is therefore everyone’s responsibility to respect the law and maintain peace wherever we are. Security starts with you (citizens),” Mbugua added.
NCIC has reminded Kenyans that while not all citizens might instigate electoral violence or hate speech, the effects impact on everyone in the community.
“We have witnessed untold suffering such as loss of life, limb and property. The scars left behind makes people lose peace of mind and become worse off in society,” said Rev. Dr Simon Kobia, NCIC Chairman.
“It is therefore prudent that we are here to light up the torch of peace and put off the flames of hatred and violence. Today, we want to remind all Kenyans, from all walks of life that we are one people.”
Charles Nyambe, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Africa, said for peace to work, Kenyans must believe and practice it.
“Just like our athletes practice it, Kenyans should view each other with tolerance, acceptance, respect and dignity which are all hallmarks of peace in the community,” he said.
Mkenya Daima is a non-partisan multi-stakeholder platform formed in 2012 with the purpose of inspiring peaceful elections and smooth transition of leadership.
Uhuru Kenyatta, in power since 2013, is completing his second and final term.
His deputy, William Ruto, and longtime opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, are favourites to succeed him.
– CAJ News