Sport for development and peace: can football prevent violence in the Kenyan elections?

Sport for development
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Sport for developmentThe relationship between sport and politics is receiving increasing attention from researchers and practitioners in Africa and beyond. Here, Sam Dilliway explores the case for using sport to pursue development and peace in Kenya. Sam is reading the MA African Peace & Conflict Studies at the University of Bradford. His current research focuses on the unique ability of Sports to be used as a tool for Peacebuilding based on research in East Africa this past summer. He is interested in the potential of sport to prevent conflict escalation, and for (re-)building relationships through reconciliation programs such as transformative mediation. His blog is available at

Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) refers to the emerging field that uses sport or play as a vehicle to achieve specific development and peacebuilding goals. It is common for these programs to include educational curricula such as HIV/AIDS awareness, leadership and life skills courses, Conflict Resolution components and even Income Generating Activities. Common themes within SDP programs include enhancing physical health, promoting smart sexual health, fostering self-esteem and leadership, encouraging tertiary education, improving social support and inclusion, challenging gender norms, empowering girls and persons with disabilities, and teaching tolerance.

The UN declared 2005 the International Year for Sport and Physical Education (IYSPE) which highlighted the importance of SDP programs around the world. Sport’s innate ability to attract diverse groups of people through a non-threatening platform that includes basic rules makes it optimal for transcending cultural, economic, racial and religious differences whilst sensitising communities. For this reason SDP has gained more attention within the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework, created in 2000 by the UN Millennium Summit to bring global attention to poverty eradication. During the summer of 2012, I researched the potential of SDP projects as vehicles for building peace on the community level. During my time in Kenya, the media consistently reported on the harrowing violence that emerged near the Tana River, located in northeast Kenya by the Somalia border. For the first few weeks, the violence was described as resource-based; it was simplified as a land and water dispute between Orma cattle herders and Pokomo farmers. But as the death toll exceeded one hundred, and the US condemned the ‘deadly cycle’ of attacks, a different story emerged. It became evident that politicians, gearing up for the 2013 elections, had orchestrated the Tana River violence. By bolstering ethnic divisions and employing scare tactics, the politicians exploited tensions between citizens, confident that the conflict would harden divisions between the two groups to their electoral advantage, securing votes on one hand and deterring a fearful opposition from voting, on the other.  In the wake of these revelations, prominent MP and Assistant Livestock Minister Dhadha Godhana was arrested for inciting violence. The commonly held belief in Kenya is that election violence is directly instigated by wealthy politicians motivated to increase their chances at gaining a political seat and thereby getting their ‘turn to eat’. Their strategy, people argue, is to incite ethnic divisions by playing on political and economic inequalities between different groups and by paying poorly educated, unemployed young people to attack citizens from other ethnic groups. During my fieldwork, I discovered that most people believed that the triggers of  violence in 2007/8 remained. The next election is scheduled for March 2013 and residents are weary that the Tana River situation will again develop on a grander scale. It’s in the context of the looming 2013 election that I question and reflect on the potential of sport as a tool for peace. The target participants in SDP programs are the same as the targets of local politicians like Godhana, the ‘renegade youth’ who are seen as uneducated, unemployed, idle and poor. Each SDP organisation I observed in Kenya responded that they felt helpless to intervene in the violence taking place in their target communities in 2007/8 and had to postpone programs due to security concerns. However, a few interesting small-scale interventions took place such as a football tournament aiming to unite people across ethnic lines, and an ad-hoc trauma recovery program. But, to my knowledge, not one program linked sport, violence prevention and peacebuilding. Last year, the German Development Agency (GIZ) working together with the South African government, created the YDF (Youth Development through Football) program. One element of this programme sought to prevent violence by using football as a means of education. Hoping to adopt the curriculum, four organisations in Kenya sent staff members to GIZ’s training seminar in South Africa. These tactics are now being implemented within SDP’s grassroots framework, but the extent of its impact is unknown. It is my hope that the youth mobilized through these four SDP programs will be discouraged from resorting to violence in the next election and will take a lead for peace in their community. To my disappointment, however, GIZ funding for the YDF violence prevention program seems to have concluded and further funding is unpredictable. As such, at perhaps the height of its demand in Kenya, a holistic program aimed at unstable youth faces imminent discontinuation. Want to read more about the emerging field of Sport for Development and Peace? Why not try the following online:

1. The International Platform for Sport and Development, ‘Sport and Peacebuilding’ 2. UN Office: Sport for Development and Peace, 3. Interview with Professor Tom Woodhouse, Exploring the role of sport in conflict resolution and peacebuilding 4. Alexander Cardenas, Exploring the Use of Sports for Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution, 2012 5. Jonathan Lea-Howarth, Sport and Conflict: Is Football an Appropriate Tool to Utilise in Conflict Resolution, Reconciliation or Reconstruction? 2006 6. Football for Development 7. Youth Development Through Football

One thought on “Sport for development and peace: can football prevent violence in the Kenyan elections?

  1. I am a sports journalist in Liberia, wish with your partnership the Sports for Development and Peace (SDP) can be establish in the country……

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