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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

Kenyan women use food to promote cohesion amid poll concerns

By Ejidiah Wangui NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Beatrice Oloo and Jenifer Wanjiru have sustained their friendship since childhood and both experienced abject poverty while growing up in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

However, a month ago, their two-decade-old friendship almost came to a sudden end after the results of the highly contested Kenyan presidential polls were announced.

The two bosom friends, like millions of other Kenyans who took part in the elections, differed on the results announced by the country’s electoral body.

Nevertheless, they have put that unfortunate history behind them and are now preaching against tribalism in the slum that is always listed as a post-poll violence hot spot.

Oloo and Wanjiru are both in their mid 30s and are not leaving anything to chance ahead of Kenya’s repeat presidential polls on Oct. 17.

They are using food, the most unifying element, to preach peace especially between Kikuyu and Luo communities where the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opposition rival, Raila Odinga hails from respectively.

“I still vividly remember the horrific scenes that followed the announcement of presidential results in 2007. I and Wanjiru were going on with our usual business of selling clothes at a nearby market when a friend of mine called and told me to help Wanjiru hide as things were not good,” Oloo said.

“I was fearing the same could have happened last month after the opposition disputed the polls but we thank God, things weren’t as bad as they were 10 years ago, as we face another poll in less than a month time, we want to prove that Kikuyus and Luos can co-exist peacefully whoever wins in the polls,” Oloo told Xinhua.

The two women are now using recipes borrowed from the Kikuyu and Luo cultures to cool off the high political temperatures in the slum, with an estimated population of 250,000. Kibera is made up of 13 villages crammed into a area of about 2.5 square kilometers.

Even though they do not have a permanent place to pry their trade, they move from village to village selling the food on the congested alleys and they aren’t shy to state their mission to whoever cares to listen.

“One of our main dish is fish which is predominantly eaten in Kenya’s western region and githeri, a mixture of beans and corn—a famous meal in Kenya’s Central region. We make every of our client aware of our mission and so far so good,” Wanjiru said.

“There are places where we have been branded the Kikuyu-Luo moving hotel and this is a clear sign our efforts are being noticed. Whether Raila or Uhuru is president, I and my friend Oloo will still go back to our pockets to pay fees and rent, and this is our message to everyone in Kibera,” she added.

On Oct. 17, Kenya is scheduled to hold another presidential poll and Oloo and Wanjiru’s prayer is for the peace that they are enjoying now to prevail even after the outcome is announced.

As Kenyan politicians go on with their vote hunt and selling their manifestos to the electorate, the two women have dedicated their time to preaching peace and unity.

“It is no secret that some politicians are out to divide Kenyans along ethnic lines. We might not have the resources to reach out to all Kenyans like the politicians but we believe our little efforts will bear some fruit,” said Oloo.

“Peace keeping should be every resident’s duty; we do not have any other place to call home. If we burn Kibera today, we will be out in the streets begging for food,” added Wanjiru.

 

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