Kenyan artists to the fore for peace

February 2008 -

The number Wakenya Pamoja can be heard every hour on Kenyan radio stations. 'Kenya together' is a message of peace from more than thirty musicians, with a mixture of hip-hop, reggae and other music styles. The musical metaphor calls for unity among the country's 42 tribes. These tribes are embroiled in a serious conflict based on the questionable presidential elections held at the end of 2007.

"Who is going to listen to artists calling for peace?" a student in the country's capital, Nairobi, wonders. "People are so crazed that they will listen to no one." Judy Ogana, director of the Godown art centre in Nairobi, does not agree. "Nothing is worse than being helpless in the middle of a crisis. We must use our resources to continue to demand unity, in the hope that common sense will once again triumph in our country."

A number of peace concerts have already been held, with musicians popular among young listeners in particular using hourly commercials to ask their fans to refrain from any type of violence. Visual artists organise expositions, the revenue from which goes to the Red Cross for assistance to the 250,000 displaced Kenyans. "In addition to organising events in the short term, we consult with artists regarding their long-term strategy. Once this madness finally stops, we must take shows on the road to breed unity", Judy Ogana explains.

Personally, Judy is a member of the Kikuyu, the same population group as President Mwai Kibaki. Her husband is a Luo, like opposition leader Raila Odinga. Their roots have never been a topic of discussion between the spouses. Now they are suddenly an example of Kenya's lost unity. Like many other artists, Judy Ogana has nothing good to say about the government and opposition politicians. "Our political leaders have failed. We have to establish alternative leadership with influential artists who must serve as the voice of reason."