We, that is Naomi Mwaura and myself, met for the first time in early November to begin discussing the Nairobi One Billion Rising (OBR) event and brainstorm ideas and possible venues. Our earliest idea was Uhuru (‘Freedom’) Park, famous since Independence, as both relaxation and rallying place for the public. The process to get a permit foiled us at that stage, so we started thinking of an evening event instead. We wanted to have performances of Vagina Monologues, as well as A Memoir, A Monologue, A Rant & A Prayer; it was also suggested to screen the film, “Burden of Peace” (women’s experience of 2008 post-election violence) and we explored the possibility of an art exhibition, a magazine issue devoted to the topic and readings/performance of such works. We put out calls to many individuals and women’s groups for support and ideas, but sadly received very little response or responses that amounted to nothing. But we persevered…
Who did respond were performers (Slum Drummers and DebeDebe Drum Circle), but by Christmas we realized that they expected payment and we were just two individuals without financial resources. In the nick of time, we found out about COVAW (Coalition On Violence Against Women) and approached their Executive Director, Saida Ali. We were able to schedule a meeting for 10 January, in which they agreed to partner with us. Though we were on the brink of signing a contract with Carnivore, a famous Nairobi restaurant, for an evening event, (which would have incurred some financial liability), we quickly opted to focus our energies on COVAW’s idea for Uhuru Park – back to our original vision!
COVAW allocated monies from previous FGM funding from Christian Aid to pay for the permit, fliers and T-shirts, and later for a PA system. Now, with the backing of an organization and a solid venue, we re-approached all those we had previously solicited. The drummers were now asked to perform for free, with an offer of transport costs and lunches. To our great delight, they agreed. Annie also overtured Eric Wainaina, Kenya’s most beloved singer-songwriter and peace activist, on meeting him at the premier of the film, “Something Necessary” (which depicted one woman’s experience of post-election violence). Googling him, she discovered he was this year’s UN Messenger for Non-Violence, so felt his participation at the event was essential. Two emails went unanswered, but a phone call to him at the 11th hour got a positive response.
Staging a One Billion Rising event in Kenya in February this year, had a particular significance, as it coincided with the run-up to March 4 elections, heralding a great deal of anxiety and tension, as well as many peace initiatives in the light of the 2007/8 post-election violence. Naomi and I continued to contact women’s groups, magazines, schools, universities, radio presenters, dancers and artists to get involved. Annie organized a small flash mob of “Break the Chain”, the OBR anthem, at her language centre and invited the Pamoja Dance choreographer, Joseph, to choreograph it, to advertise the main event. That in itself was exciting, and a contingent of international students came along on V-Day in support. Other students made fresh, delicious snacks for the drummers and volunteers. In the last week, happily, choreographer, Billy Sadia offered to teach people “Break the Chain” along with his renowned Wapi Wapi Dancers at Africa Yoga Project.
In the meantime, we found out that Arts Canvas was planning to stage Vagina Monologues for One Billion Rising, which was great news, as we had been unable to raise the stage rental fee for MMRP. It was great to find and support each other (though they were unable to find a venue until 28 February.) Also, by chance we heard about an American woman, Jen Gurecki, (since nominated “Vagina Warrior” of South Lake Tahoe) who was planning a “social media blitz” in Nairobi on the day. We managed to connect with her and Dolphin Anti-Rape Project and invite them to our event.
The Nairobi event took place in Central Park (a section of Uhuru Park) from 12 – 3pm. Eastern Skaters, in shocking pink OBR T-shirts, skated the several kilometers from the COVAW office down to Central Park, handing out fliers. On site were OXFAM Gender Justice Team (handing out copies of the Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights in Kenya), Jacaranda (giving out free posters and African Youth Express magazines), Ruby Cup (promoting their healthy, environmentally-friendly menstrual cups) and TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Culture And Health). Kenyan artist, Yoni Waite, also painted a banner with the words “What Do You Think When You Think Woman?” in English and Swahili, inviting punters and even security police to draw or write their feelings. Singer, Sarah Mitaru was our brilliant MC, with Royal Media DJs. COVAW gave out T-shirts to almost everybody, so the moving crowd was a blur of hot pink! Hundreds danced to the beat of Slum Drummers and DebeDebe Drum Circle and joined flash mobs with Wapi Wapi Dancers to three performances of “Break the Chain”; there were self-defence demonstrations by Dolphin Anti-Rape Project and Karate Grannies from one of the slums, and keynote speeches by Saida Ali and standing Women’s Representative, Esther Passaris. Women and men spoke out or sang out, punctuated by the beat of the drums, on why they were rising. And Eric Wainaina made a guest appearance with a moving rendition of “Daima Kenya” and another song about revolution.
Considering the length of time we had campaigned and the number of people and groups we had approached, we did expect a lot more people. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, high-energy event, both a celebration and a declaration of “No more violence!” by women and men alike. Energy to continue building on.
Kenyan Poets Lounge filmed the whole event and is editing a video. We also created a Facebook Page, One Billion Rising-Kenya and invited Arts Canvas and the Mombasa and Narok groups to post on it. We continue to post inspiring and related issues and intend to keep the momentum going on there, as well as create a forum of women’s groups on the theme to host events and workshops in the future. Please see http://www.facebook.com/OneBillionRisingKenya for our fantastic photos & video & remember to like us! Your comments & contributions are welcome!
Postscript: One issue I feel important to mention, was COVAW’s decision to hand out bottles of water to the crowd. That was hundreds of plastic bottles that went out into the environment. Although a group that recycles such into building bricks for benches, etc had been invited to come and collect them, they were unable to make it. Poor people did show up to collect them, but ultimately, all of us Risers need to find alternatives to plastic bottled water, particularly at large events. It ought to be common knowledge that plastic is causing immense problems on Mother Earth and particularly in the ocean.
This article was first published by World Pulse and can be seen HERE