It is just a normal day in Mathare for Miller Gibbons Odhiambo.
As usual, there is noise from the Public Service Vehicles, children playing, ecstatic stories from jobless youths who have already formed groups as early as 7 am or some women quarreling over water or something else.
There are no secrets in Mathare, a populous and congested estate.
But on this date, things are a little bit different. Gibbons, 24, is hearing some boisterous voices, he can hear people running while shouting political chants; it is a grey morning. It is August 13, a day after President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner of August 8 presidential election that was thereafter annulled by the Supreme Court, and Mathare is burning.
The youths, joined by other residents of the populous Nairobi constituency, a stronghold of Kenya’s longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga, were not happy with the outcome.
A while later, he hears sounds of a gunshot, minutes later, more are fired.
Women and children are screaming as they flee for safety, while some youths are hurling stones at the police, some are missing the target and falling on the wrong party. After a while, it is all calm but tension has hit the brim. Some market stalls have been torched, tyres burning on the road but what catches Gibon’s attention is a crowd that has surrounded one place.
“He is dead… Oiyee mamayoo (a mournful cry)…” he can hear women weeping.
He rushes there to find his 17-year-old friend, dead.
“His head was all blown up…” Gibbons says, with a painful tone that is laced with anger. A bright future was brought to a halt because of politics. I saw him when he was young but I never thought our friendship would end this way.” A few meters from his lifeless body, there is a dagger.
“He was allegedly charging at a police officer when he was shot dead,” he says.
Three months later, Gibbons is not at peace and he believes he can do something to change the trend, to help his friends come out of what he terms as a “life bondage.”The bondage of unemployment, bad politics, lack of exposure and so on. And he hopes to do that through photography advocacy.
Already, his ‘Kenya Ni Moja’ (one Kenya) initiative has featured tens of youths, whom he hosted for a photo shoot, whose theme was spreading patriotism, unity, love… all the virtues good citizens in a great country should have.
“And a place where youths will shun violence, where they will question some political declarations… I intend to do this through photography, not for money but for my country,” he says.
When Capital FM News catches up with him in Mathare, the 24-year- old is more determined to take his peace initiative to all politically troubled places in the country despite financial hurdles. “You see, youths here don’t have much to do. After elections, I realized politicians are just using the youths for their own gains. I decided to start this initiative to try to make things right,” he asserts.
He is tired of seeing his colleagues being politically ‘spent’ or being shot. “Around here, so many youths have died because of political violence…” he said. If it is not in the hands of police, then they are fighting a different group whose political affiliation is different.
Abandoned by Relatives
It has not been smooth sailing for Gibbons.
Some of his relatives, he says, are against this initiative since they hold certain political beliefs. “I have been condemned by my own relatives. There are some who do not even want to ever see me at their places of residence,” a visibly disturbed Gibons said on Thursday.
But there is power in photography.
“Some of them (relatives) when they saw the ‘Kenya Ni Moja’ photos, have welcomed the initiative. One of my uncles who initially opposed my plans to preach peace was equally impressed,” he said. It starts drizzling and the interview has to conclude with his final words. “We may have differences, but violence and hatred cannot be the answer, peace should be the answer,” he finishes off, with the hope that this initiative will grow wings, and reach more people.
With a click of his camera, Gibbons is trying to foster unity among communities in Mathare, who often turn against each other because of politics.
Gibsons uses a camera he bought from the savings he made as a mason, a job he quit after developing heart trouble.
“I did not manage to go to college because of financial challenges,” he said while explaining that he has learned from the class of experience on how to take quality pictures. He has showcased some of his work on @KenyaNiMoja (Instagram) while a website will be ready in a few days’ time.
This article was written by Joseph Muraya, and first posted on Capital News.