Kenya’s North Rift Valley is being torn apart by growing armed violence between different ethnic groups, often centred around cattle rustling. In the past 18 months alone, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands displaced. Now a group of star Kenyan athletes – some of the World’s biggest names in distance running – are set to lead a ‘Champions Walk for Peace’ (www.walkforpeace.co.ke), carrying a torch for humanity over 522 miles (836KM) in 22 days through the heart of the Rift Valley from Lodwar, Turkana to the shores of Lake Bogoria, starting 15 July and finishing 6 August 2015.
The champions include Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich, Paul Tergat, Tegla Loroupe, Ezekiel Kemboi, John Kelai, Irine Jerotich, Andrew Lesuda, Alex Kipchirchir, Stephen Kiprotich and Douglas Wakiihuri.
“Supported by the Aegis Trust, which has shown how peace can be built in Rwanda, we are going to inspire and engage the young people from the divided communities and help to break the cycles of violence,” says organiser and Commonwealth Gold Medallist John Kelai in a short video promoting the initiative (http://youtu.be/TQkF-kexWeQ).
For John, from Turkana County, it’s personal. Three of his uncles were shot dead by Pokot cattle rustlers. Now former Pokot cattle rustler Julius Arile is one of the athletes who will also part take in the entire walk. “Running has given us a platform to create change,” says Arile. “Completing the Walk for Peace is just the start of the challenge – and we are inviting you to come with us.”
Using the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo (http://igg.me/at/walk4peace), the champions are aiming to raise at least $250,000 in sponsorship from fans and the public – in Kenya and internationally – to kickstart a peace-building programme that will engage at least 10,000 young people at risk of being drawn into the ethnic violence, saving lives and preventing suffering in the Rift Valley.
Offering some great incentives for sponsors, the champions are also encouraging people everywhere to get out and do their own sponsored walk or run for the cause using platforms like JustGiving (see https://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/aegistrust/walkforpeace). Meanwhile, special events in key locations they pass through – and community engagement along their route – will be laying the groundwork for the subsequent peacebuilding programme to hit the ground running.
Led by the Kenyan athletes and coordinated by the Aegis Trust in collaboration with RECSA (the Regional Centre on Small Arms) and the United Religions Initiative along with local government and civic leaders both in Nairobi and in the Rift Valley, the ‘Champions Walk for Peace’ will route through seven counties: Turkana, West Pokot, Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo and Samburu. Sponsors and fans will be able to keep track of the athletes’ progress via Twitter (www.twitter.com/walk4peaceke), Facebook (www.facebook.com/championswalkforpeace) and the official website (www.walkforpeace.co.ke).
“This walk is to break the hatred and revenge, so that the warring communities in the seven counties will live in peace, share resources and be one voice,” says Professor Lokapel Elim, the chairman of the Steering Committee who also hails from Turkana County. As Principal of Mount Kenya University’s Kigali Campus, he witnessed the effectiveness of Aegis’ work with young people in Rwanda and now wants to see that replicated at home. “The experience of forgiveness, the experience of speaking out against hatred, the impact that Aegis has, actually will change the thinking of our people,” he says.