Trust chair, Tim Hartley, led a British Council team of volunteers from Cardiff to Kenya on a project which uses football to try to stop inter communal violence.
Never mind our rivalry with Swansea. At election time in Kenya supporting the wrong football team can cost you your life.
Stabua Yusuf lives in Nairobi’s most notorious slum district and coaches Anyany Sisters women’s football team. Many of the girls who play for Anyany are victims of rape, politically motivated and carried out during the violence that claimed hundreds of lives following Kenya’s presidential election in 2007.
Stabua started the team to try to help the girls regain some self respect. “We don’t even have a full kit,” she says, “but theys love playing and it really has made a difference to them.”
Stabua’s was just one of many stories I heard during a week working with community leaders from across Kenya. The Welsh team wanted to help build community cohesion before next year’s presidential election. Like everyone else in Kenya, Stabua is the victim of her own country’s recent history.
In 2007 Mwai Kibaki won the presidential election. His opponent said the election was rigged and all hell broke loose. Police shot demonstrators and ethnic violence escalated, ending with the killing of 30 unarmed civilians in a church. With the country on the verge of civil war the two candidates formed a coalition government to maintain peace.
As part of the reconciliation effort the British Council has been working with so called ‘Active Citizens’ in Kenya to help build social cohesion. The Kenyans visited Wales in 2009 and saw Cardiff City’s Football in the Community team developing players and coaches. The Welsh volunteers were then invited back to Kenya for a week of practical coaching sessions and discussions on how we can use football to bridge divisions. Every one there had a story to tell.
“Call me Scaar,” sayid Oscar Omondi Onyango, “it’s what they call me back home in Nyanza Province.” Scaar has witnessed for years how families in Nyanza have suffered from cattle rustling. Tit for tat raids have left many dead and the homes of suspects have been torched.
It had to stop. So Scaar organised a community football festival to ‘sensitise’ young men as he puts it and listened attentively to Miz Rahman from the Welsh Football Trust talk about the South Wales multicultural league. Miz arranged for Pakistani, Somali and other teams to play in a league of their own. It proved a big success and rather than ghettoising these players, Cardiff’s Yemeni and Swansea’s Bangladeshi teams both now play in the regular Sunday leagues.
In Diani, south of Mombassa, we met Bakari who had visited Cardiff in 2009. He’d also organised a football tournament ahead of last year’s referendum in Kenya. Kenya’s coastal strip is a cosmopolitan area and there are many conflicting traditions vying for power. Speeches between the games at the tournament urged youths not to fight. It may have been coincidence, but the referendum passed without any serious incident.
So will the work of the Welsh and Kenyan volunteers influence anything on the ground? Who knows? But if the president were chosen on the basis of commitment and goodwill, then Stabua, Scaar or any one of the Active Citizens I met in Kenya would get my vote.