18 July 2014

East Africa: Great East Africa Community Marathon Aims to Counter Terrorism

Nairobi — In April 2013, when Joe Kariuki founded Candy n Candy Records, a music and film production company in Mombasa, the business prospects were promising.

"Within two months of setting up the business we had signed up a number of musicians and we were making lots of money by producing music as well as organising concerts in the region," Kariuki told Sabahi. "We also opened up two clubs at Nyali and Diani beaches."

"But all that had to be shut down mid this year due to increased insecurity," he said. His business shrunk progressively with dwindling audiences and clients, making it difficult to sustain the business.

"We laid off ten permanent staff we had [in Mombasa], closed the business and relocated to Nairobi since June," he said. "But even here, due to the security challenges, the cost of doing business is high and almost becoming unsustainable."

For those reasons, Kariuki said, he decided to be proactive to change the situation by organising a marathon and concert series aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of terrorism and extremism.

The event, dubbed the Great East Africa Community Marathon, will be held August 8th-9th at Hippo Camp in Naivasha.

"This marathon is the first of its kind to be held in Kenya," he said. "It will involve the races, then discussions on how we can deal with the problem of terrorism and later parties where various music celebrities will grace the occasion."

Already, more than 25 musicians and comedians and 300 athletes from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have confirmed their participation in the event, according to Kariuki.

"We have over 2,000 medals for all those who will take part in races and some cash prices for the top five runners," he said.

Among the artists confirmed to perform at the event are: Charles Njagua Kanyi, known as Jaguar; Gloria Muliro; Meja Mwangi; Daudi Mustapha, known as Colonel Mustapha; Avril Nyambura; Paul Nunda, known as Jua Cali; Denis Kaggia, known as DNA; Tanzania's Baby Joseph Madaha; US-based DJ Danny Kay; comedian Eric Omondi; DJ Kaytrixx; and DJ Creme De La Creme.

Countering extremism through music:

Some of the artists will compose songs to counter extremist messages, Kariuki said, and ticket sales from the races and concerts will also be used to set up a fund to help victims of terror attacks.

"We want the songs to change the terrorism narrative among young people," he said.

Daudi Mustapha, of the Deux Vultures rap group, praised the initiative, saying it will add a new impetus in the fight against terrorism.

"War on radicalisation and generally terrorism has been punctuated with use of force, but that only seems to be counterproductive," he told Sabahi. "We think all segments of the community have to be engaged, and one way of doing so is through such initiatives that infuse new methods in the fight on terror."

"Through music, the monotony of lectures will be broken and we hope that we will be able to communicate to young people through our melodies about why they should shun extremism," he said.

Commenting on the general state of insecurity in the country, Kariuki said Kenya's security agencies have failed to successfully carry out their mandates and provide long term solutions to terrorism.

"Those entrusted with guarding the country have failed and now they thrive in the blame game instead of taming insecurity," he said. "This has made the public lose hope in their ability to secure the nation. And even as we hold events such as this to help the public have faith in the system, we urge the police to pull up their socks."

A platform for unity:

Candy n Candy Director Barbara Makanga said the event aims to provide a platform for the public to chart its own strategies to counter terrorism.

"With the marathon we will be able to bring the people together and make them reason as one people so they can have a common approach at confronting terrorism," she said.

Terrorism has divided the nation along ethnic and religious lines making it difficult to tackle, she said. But with this event, organisers hope to foment unity and rally the public against "this common enemy called terrorism", she said.

Micah Momanyi, 50, who owns a clothing store in downtown Nairobi, said the marathon was a timely and noble effort.

"Such events help raise the awareness of the challenge at hand and also helps the people chart a way forward," he told Sabahi.

However, Momanyi cautioned event organisers against inviting politicians. "The event can lose meaning if politicians are left to hijack it, using the marathon to champion their own political agenda."

Promoting religious tolerance:

On the other hand, Mohamed Omar, 32, a taxi driver in Eastleigh, called on the organisers to invite religious leaders from various denominations to participate in the event.

Religious understanding and tolerance must be promoted, he said, and such marathons can provide a venue to champion co-existence.

"There have been stereotypes built in the minds of many people that terrorists are Muslims out to attack Christians," he told Sabahi. "This is a very wrong thinking that should be fought through such forums. Terrorists are criminals who know no faith and when these religious leaders meet and share a podium they will be able to clarify such issues to their faithful."

But Mary Anyango, a 27-year-old newspaper vendor in Nairobi, expressed doubt that the marathon would be able to achieve much progress in the fight against extremism and terrorism.

"You find that majority of those who have been recruited to join terrorists fighters are Kenyans," she told Sabahi. "The driving factor that makes them opt to be part of those groups is desperation in life caused by immense poverty in their families and unemployment."

"Therefore, to me, concerts and marathons will not [help]," she said. What will help, she added, is if the government addresses the "socioeconomic factors that push the youths into terrorism".

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