Kui Mungai's I Am Kenyan portrait captured by Miranda Lewis and designed by Joel Veenstra

Kui Mungai’s ‘I Am Kenyan’ portrait

Kui Mungai, who works on Sanergy’s waste management team, helped launched the ‘Am Kenyan’ initiative at Sanergy. Kui shares her own experiences from the last election and the story behind ‘I Am Kenyan‘ with us. Please keep the citizens of Kenya in your thoughts this week. We all wish for a peaceful, fair election.

I was only 13 years old when Kenya erupted in violence in response to the 2007 elections. I was living in Nairobi, and lucky to be in an area that was very safe, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t experience the fear. Our home, where you could usually hear kids playing all day, had fallen completely silent. Distant gunshots would periodically break the silence. We couldn’t leave our home, and you could feel the hostility in the air. My mum would tell me, “Pray my daughter! That’s all you can do.”

No one in my family was hurt, but I heard plenty of stories from friends. One of my friends was at her boarding school in Eldoret that was attacked by masked men carrying pangas in the middle of the night. They dragged all the teachers and students outside and terrorized them. Luckily no one was killed, but when she told me the story I could see the fear in her eyes. The period completely changed my perspective on my country. I had never known that this kind of violence was even remotely possible here.

For many people, the violence changed how they saw their fellow countrymen—people whose families were hurt by one ethnic group began to see everyone from that ethnic group as evil, like their family’s killers. There was so much hatred and fear, but even from the outset there was a ripple of hope. I remember seeing a policeman on TV speaking out to people “It’s taken us 40 years to build this country, why would we want to take it all down in one day?” He made me realize that even amongst all the violence, there were wise people preaching peace.

As preparations for this year’s elections began, many people started thinking about spreading a message like his. It was statements like the policeman’s that inspired people like my friend Sophie to start projects like ‘I Am Kenyan’.

Sophie created the ‘Am Kenyan’ project to try to combat the violence we had seen as young girls. She got people to send in photos of themselves with the slogan, “I am Kenyan.” The main idea was that despite everything, despite our differences, our background, our gender—we are all Kenyan. Her message was clear: Kenyans shouldn’t hurt one another because however different our tribal origins may be, we are overall still Kenyan. Later, she also started doing community service, peace walks, and concerts, in a bid to spread the message to people my age.

When I first heard about the project, my friend Miriam and I decided to get Sanergy involved. Miriam made an announcement at an all-team meeting and asked people to have their portraits taken. Miriam and I took the photographs and our co-worker Joel helped us edit them with the slogan. Joel is Canadian but he grew up in Kenya so he was really excited about the project.

Sanergy team members' portraits, taken by Miranda Lewis and created by Joel Veenstra

Sanergy team members’ ‘I Am Kenyan’ portraits

It was great to get the whole Sanergy team involved. We asked people to take really silly photographs and everyone did something completely different. It was like each person was saying, “I’m me, I’m crazy, and I’m Kenyan.” Just the act of taking the photos brought the office together and it was good for all of us to see a different side of each other. It was also a great feeling getting people from Mukuru involved. Although there was no post-election violence in Mukuru, it is still a highly political place: the road to our office is plastered in political ads. Hiring on ethnic lines is a nationwide issue for Kenya, especially after the elections, but I know that it’s not an issue here at Sanergy.

Outside of Kenya, fear began to rise as we got closer to this year’s elections that we would repeat the violence of last time. Yet with the hard work of people like my friend Sophie, you can tell that Kenyans were aware of the issues and were resistant to make the same mistake as they did the last time. It’s important that people our age get involved in this. Our age group is the largest in Kenya, and we will take over the country one day. It starts small, but even something as small as reminding the world that, “We Are Kenyan” can make a huge difference.

Sanergy team member Oliver in Sanergy's office, gesturing towards his I Am Kenyan portrait

Sanergy team member Oliver gesturing towards his ‘I Am Kenyan’ portrait on display in our office

Thanks to Miranda Lewis and Joel Veenstra for creating Sanergy’s ‘I Am Kenyan’ portraits.

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