NAIROBI— Flowers are often associated with love, especially on Valentine's Day. But in Kenya, flower vendors have joined forces to send a message of peace to Kenyans as the country prepares for next month's elections. According to the head of the Kenya Flower Council, the vendors are supporting a widespread effort to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted after the 2007 elections.
With less than three weeks to go before Kenya’s national elections, flower vendors in the country are using this Valentine's Day not only to sell flowers but to take part in the campaign to bring Kenyans together and urge them to behave peacefully during the election period.
A Nairobi flower vendor, Isaac Githinji, says that like other vendors in the city, he is spreading the message. He says he doesn't want to see his fellow countrymen killing each other, as they did in the violence that followed the 2007 election.
“This Valentine's is special for Kenya," said Githinji. "It's coming at the period when we are preparing for elections, so that we can send the peaceful message, a message of peace to Kenyans. We are connecting [the] Valentine theme with a voting theme.”
Dennis Ngetich and Lewis Kariuki are workmates and best of friends. At this Nairobi flower shop, Kariuki is advising Ngetich what type of flower to buy for his girlfriend.
The only problem for them as Kenyans is that they are from different tribes. Ngetich is a Kalenjin and Kariuki is a Kikuyu. In the tribal violence that swept across Kenya in early 2008, Kariuki's community had to flee from their homes in the Rift Valley and hundreds lost their lives.
Ngetich, an information technology consultant, tells VOA this year’s Valentine message should be to all Kenyans.
“All the other Valentines, the message were the same," said Ngetich. "It was narrowed down to specific people -- you know my mum, my sister, and my wife to be. But this Valentine everything is entangled together -- my family, my friends, and my fellow Kenyan citizens.”
Kariuki, who is also an IT consultant, says he has never discussed issues with his friend Ngetich on the basis of tribe.
“The thing about me and Dennis is that we never come to a point of talking about tribal grounds because we are, as they say, two heads are better than one," said Kariuki. "It never says that two heads of different tribes or two heads of the same tribe are better than one.”
Kenya’s last general elections in 2007 were marred by post-election violence, much of it between ethnic groups, in which more than 1,100 people were killed and more than 600,000 displaced from their homes.
Ngetich says after elections he hopes Kenyans will stop tribal-based politics and dealings.
“Tanzania has 145 tribes, Kenya we are just 42, [and] there has never been violence in Tanzania," said Ngetich. "So I think in Kenya this is the time, it's [the] right time that we are going to do away with the tribal nature of dealing with issues. I think starting from March 4th things will change.”
Flower vendors and many others in Kenya hope Ngetich's prediction comes true, and the country experiences love and peace, especially on election day, March 4.