Kenya election: The men of violence making a fresh start

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Kevin Ouma

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Edward: Growing up in Dandora there was little time for fun and games

The world watched in horror as violence swept across Kenya 10 years ago, in the wake of a contested election. A decade later, two men heavily involved in that violence have united to try to prevent a repetition after Tuesday’s vote. But they know, reports Alice McCool, that a return to violence is what some politicians and gang leaders want.

Utaona. It means ‘you will see’. That’s what the boys in the neighbourhood keep saying,” says Edward, eyes wide. We are sitting in a sunny courtyard in Dandora, an informal settlement in east Nairobi – home to the city’s rubbish dumps, and much of its violent crime.

It’s days before the Kenyan election, which has become an increasingly tight race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Posters of the smiling faces of candidates are plastered anywhere they will stick, and buses rammed full of supporters waving flags and dancing to afropop tunes can be found on every corner.

Edward and James (not their real names) are noticeably tense. Both now pushing 40, 10 years ago the men were among the perpetrators of the widespread post-election violence, which took the lives of about 1,500 people and displaced 600,000. Dandora, their home, was a hotspot.

“This time we have been going house-to-house, telling all people that whatever the outcome of the election we should respect it because we live together,” says James, the taller and surlier of the two men.

“There is no need to destroy our environment that we have invested in for so long.”

Walking from James’s small office to Edward’s home in a different zone of Dandora, they point to the rusty, once colourful gate of the primary school they attended together. Inside the compound people are busy checking long printed lists of voters’ names that have been pinned up on the walls.

“We’d meet during break-time in the playground. We played with footballs made out of polythene bags,” says Edward.

But growing up in Dandora there was little time for fun and games.

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