NAIROBI, June 30 – A dozen top Kenyan athletes, including former World Marathon champions Paul Tergat and Tegla Loroupe, are to lead a 22-day “Walk for Peace” against ethnic violence, athletes said Tuesday.
Cattle rustling and revenge killings between rival communities are common in Kenya’s remote and impoverished northern regions, an area awash with automatic weapons.
The 836 kilometre (520 mile) walk is being organised by former Commonwealth marathon champion John Kelai who is marching in memory of three of his uncles killed in cattle raids when he was a teenager.
“We are going to inspire and engage the young people from the divided communities and help to break the cycle of violence,” Kelai, the 2010 Commonwealth marathon gold medallist, said in a statement.
Other athletes expected to take part include former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang, and Uganda’s reigning Olympic and world marathon champion, Stephen Kiprotich.
Kiprotich comes from Uganda’s border areas with Kenya, which suffers from cattle rustling and violence.
The marathon march begins in Kenya’s northern town of Lodwar in the volatile Turkana region on July 15, heading south for some 40 kilometres every day through the vast Rift Valley to Lake Bogoria on August 6.
“Running has brought me a lot of championships, fame, accolades, but what it has not brought me is peace,” Kelai said in a video message.
“When I was 13 years of age I lost my three uncles, they were killed by cattle rustlers.”
Last year at least 310 people were killed and more than 220,000 fled their homes as a result of inter-communal conflicts attributed to competition over land and water resources, cattle rustling, and struggles over political representation, according to the United Nations.
The athletes, who are encouraging people to join them in their walk, hope to raise over $250,000 (223,000 euros) to fund a peace-building programme, said the Aegis Trust, which works to rebuild communities riven by conflict, notably in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.
Aegis Trust, which is helping organise the walk, said the programme “will engage at least 10,000 young people at risk of being drawn into the ethnic violence, saving lives.”
In May, some 75 people were killed in just four days of cattle raids and revenge attacks.
Fellow athletes said they would join the walk.
“Kelai has always been at the forefront of our efforts to try to achieve peace,” said Tegla Loroupe, the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon, who will also take part.