By Thomas Bwire
‘Peace Wanted Alive’, ‘Keep Peace Alive’ these are the welcome messages on buildings, streets, and shops for any first time visitor to Kibera. One has to wonder, what are these messages and why are they everywhere?
Well, for Kibera residents, these messages play a key role in peace, hope, and togetherness; a symbol for a diverse community, free from the pockets of ethnic-related violence, especially divisions created by tribal politics. The worst scenario of tribal politics was in 2007 following the announcement of the presidential results that led to post-election violence leading to 1,300 deaths countrywide.
Who is behind these messages to unite Kibera and the nation as a whole? Solomon Muyundo, aka Solo 7 as he is famously known in the hood, is the brains behind the ‘Peace Wanted Alive’ messages. These messages that have evolved into a big brand were first seen in 2007 and have gone on to promote positivity in the hood, a place that has in many years remained a “hotspot of politically driven violence.
Speaking to Habari Kibra, from Bombolulu village in Kibera, with his peace tool of choice, a paintbrush, in hand, Solo 7 says he has been able to write more than 800 messages in 2017 alone!
“My passion and inspiration are geared towards expressing messages of brotherhood and instilling a sense of personal responsibility,” he shares.
“ Imagine reading Peace Wanted Alive, would you really want to engage in any form of violence just for the political class?’ Solo 7 he asks.
The 40-year old, peace activist and visual artist hails from Kakamega county, Western Kenya and started writing peace messages in Kibera following the 2007 post-election violence that rocked the country.
Kibera was one of the hard hit areas with volumes of violence reported, as neighbours turned against neighbour. Cause of this atrocities, the announcement of the presidential results, an outcome that saw former President Mwai Kibaki announced the winner, clinching a second term in office.
This special assignment as Solo 7 calls it only comes during the general elections, a movement he started in 2007 making other appearances in 2013 and 2017.
Solo 7 notes with concern the negative effects of what general elections, especially presidential results bring especially to Kibera residents. Battle lines are drawn as opponents of different political factions turn against each other.
He remembers vividly the happenings of December 29th, 2007, a peak to post-election violence at that time. He used to live in Makina village in Kibera. He was able to witness a call of mass action as hundreds of youths came out to violently demonstrate against the presidential results and carried all sorts of crude weapons.
“I joined the youths in their demos as they ran towards Toi market where they were looting from shops and other businesses around. The most interesting thing that I quickly noticed was that stalls that had opposition leader’s and presidential candidate on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket Raila Odinga posters were left untouched”, he says.
The artist in him wanting out, Solo 7 picked the only available tool, a piece of charcoal. This he used to write the phrase ‘ODM base’ on stalls that still had goods left by their owners. The following day he came back to check and to his surprise, all stalls with the phrase ‘ODM base’ messages were left untouched, thus giving birth to the brand name ‘Peace Wanted Alive.’
A phrase coined from newspaper posters for ‘Wanted Persons’, ‘Peace Wanted Alive’ has done more rounds in Kibera since then. Other messages calling for peace have evolved in the sheng language like ‘Zuia Noma’ ‘Chagua Amani’ ‘Keep Peace Fellow Kenyans’ ‘Let’s not destroy Kenya’ and ‘Let’s build it.’ These messages resonate and are used as a guiding light to the youth who are most vulnerable and are susceptible to believing in tribal politics leading them to participate in violent demonstrations.
Solo 7’s peace brush has left permanent messages on buildings, street walls, and electric posts among other noticeable spots, that one cannot arm themselves for violence in Kibera without these messages in their face as a reminder to peace and harmony.
Solo 7 further reveals that in the world of art one gets inspired by what they see around them, thus transforming what is seen as an actual message artistically.
His work has been of great inspiration that saw him feted by an international Company Coca-Cola. The company that promoted his artwork through outdoor ads during the 2013 general elections mounted in, Nairobi.
Kibera residents appreciate Solo 7’s efforts and his positive role he has played in calming down political temperatures among them with his peace messages.
“I am glad that this work I do wholeheartedly pays off; when I get to see less violence related cases and communities changing their mentality and reason together to avoid any forms of violence, that alone uplifts my spirits,” says Solo 7
His parting shot is especially for the political class that needs learn to be servants of the common man and not work towards selfish gains.
“Accountable leaders will not only help improve our economic status and safeguard our well being. The element of good governance needs to be their top agenda. Political divisions are not building us as a nation. Let all of them remain to be responsible Kenyans and build it together,” he implores.
When he is not using his brush to call for peace, Solo 7 runs an art studio aimed at helping train young upcoming artists from Kibera. The young boys meet every Saturday at his studio that is manned by other members of the Maasai Mbili Artists.
Trivia for this true Kibera icon, he was born on 7th July 1977, he is the 7th child and his shoe size you ask? Number 7, of course.