NGOs role in a calmer environment after elections
Fifteen years ago, more than 1,100 people died in the violence following the 2007 elections. Kenyan elections have since occupied international headlines and tensions have risen across the country as painful memories come flooding back.
But the truth is, things have gotten better. While tensions rose during the recent elections, so did calls for peace. And even though this year’s results were contested, the arguments were resolved in court rather than in the streets.
When the election results were announced on August 15, the entire country held its breath. There were pockets of protests but by early evening, there was calm. It was as if we made the collective decision to change our mindset and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
This change has happened incrementally over the years and while we still have a long way to go, it is important to recognise progress when we see it. Much of this cultural shift can be attributed to individuals and organisations that have campaigned for peace, promoted tolerance and established strong community relationships over the last 15 years.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have helped shape the progress made in Kenya’s elections since 2007. While NGOs do not have a political objective, they play critical roles in youth development, conflict resolution, partnership development and peace building.
Many NGOs operate in some of Kenya’s most challenging environments, such as informal settlements. Often located on the outskirts of major cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa, informal settlements are home to hundreds of thousands of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds who have moved to urban centres in search of opportunities.
With political parties largely affiliated along ethnic lines, these closely packed, multi-ethnic communities can give rise to conflict, as was the case following the 2007 elections.
Within these communities, NGOs facilitate partnerships with local education, government, and school leaders, helping create networks that build trust and promote peace. These networks also include community-level clinics and health care services such as ambulances.
Most importantly, these informal networks include people of all ethnic groups, helping ease tensions by creating interpersonal relationships and power structures that are not dependent on who holds power.
Since the early 2000s, NGOs have also played lead roles in establishing and operating sports for development and peace programmes that encourage young people to work together toward a common goal. These initiatives impart an appreciation for diversity and tolerance at a young age and give youth the opportunity to experience firsthand how it feels to be part of a team.
Players recognise that each team member has valuable skills and ideas to contribute, and these underlying principles continue to shape players’ mindsets as they grow older and move into leadership positions in business, politics and civil society organisations among others.
Additionally, these teams provide safe spaces where youth can learn and ask questions about topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health to gender equity. Some NGOs even use the platform to teach youth how they can engage in peaceful advocacy efforts, encouraging them to exercise their rights and push for change in constructive ways.
Despite the progress made over the last 15 years, many of us are still anxious during elections. CFK Africa, the NGO I lead, has now experienced five elections, and we still don’t know exactly what to expect each time.
In advance of the recent election, we prepared for potential supply chain disruptions, ensuring that the CFK’s Tabitha Medical Clinic in Kibera and maternity home had enough critical drugs, such as antiretrovirals for HIV.
While the post-election environment this year has been relatively calm, CFK’s paramedics did respond to one emergency call on the day the election results were announced.
A man was stabbed in the chest, reportedly after election results were announced, and needed emergency treatment and transportation to a hospital. Though we were able to evacuate him to a hospital, he died.
Even though this seemed to be an isolated case, his death is a grim reminder that, although progress has been made, much work remains to be done. The loss of one life is too many, and we must continue to work toward promoting peace, championing diversity and encouraging tolerance in our communities.
—The writer is the Executive Director of CFK Africa