Walk. Listen. Care. Grassroots women’s groups help keep peace in Kenya

by Mukelwa Hlatshwayo, CSM Contributor from NAIROBI, KENYA

149174Beatrice Karore, a community leader involved in peace building during Kenya’s elections, stands outside a local vocational college in Mathare that served as a polling station. Though the opposition is challenging the vote count, Kenya has so far been spared the deadly violence that marred earlier elections.Paul Stremple

September 2, 2022


The Kenyan presidential elections are over, but peace campaigner Beatrice Karore’s work is not done.

One recent cloudy morning in Nairobi, the founder of Wanawake Mashinani – Swahili for Grassroots Women – walks to her office in Mathare, one of the most densely populated slum areas in the Kenyan capital. 

Sliding a heavy-duty padlock off a thick metal door, Ms. Karore and her team file into the tiny room that serves as their headquarters, and sit on blue plastic chairs. Over loud music blaring from a nearby shop, Ms. Karore begins with a prayer for a good “walk for the peace” ahead.

Ms. Karore is one of dozens of grassroots peace activists across the country who sprang into action in the months leading up to Kenya’s Aug. 9 presidential elections. Now, as the country waits for a final verdict on disputed results, that work has become increasingly important.

The Supreme Court is due to hand down a judgment on Sept. 5, after opposition candidate Raila Odinga challenged official results that showed him losing to William Ruto by a margin of 200,000 votes. A former prime minister, Mr. Odinga has blamed five previous presidential election losses on rigging – claims that have sparked deadly riots in the past. 

For now, an uneasy calm is holding. But some campaigners fear the Supreme Court verdict could yet unleash the violence that followed disputed polls in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed, and again in 2017, when more than 100 people died. 

As her team walk out of their modest office into narrow passageways crammed with shacks, Ms. Karore says she knows the current lull is far from guaranteed. “We [are still] doing peace campaigns to empower the community,” she says. “We realized that when there is no peace, everyone loses.”

149174Paul StrempleResidents walk up Mau Mau Street in Mathare, a Nairobi slum area, after Kenya’s presidential election. The area has in the past been a hotbed of election-related violence.

Future precedent

What happens in Kenya ripples out to the wider region. East Africa’s wealthiest nation is a business and technological transport hub for the continent, and has often hosted talks for more volatile neighbors like South Sudan and Somalia. 

Page created on 9/4/2022 12:13:57 AM

Last edited 9/4/2022 1:20:18 AM

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