Solomon Muyundo on a solo journey of preaching peace
Whenever presidential elections results are disputed in Kenya, it is likely that post-election violence will follow. Although the violence is experienced all over the country in patches, it is the urban slums that are mainly affected.
Kibera slum in Kibra Constituency is one such area where residents experience violence almost every electioneering period when things do not turn out the way the expected.
However, even if things are never according to expectations, there are some residents who do not want violence in their neighbourhood. One such resident is Solomon Muyundo commonly known as Solo7.
Solo7 has dedicated his time and energy in ensuring that Kibra remains peaceful using art. His signature paint ‘Peace wanted alive’ is something one can ignore around Kibra. The painting is on walls, roads, stones, anything that can be written on.
Speaking to The Reject in Kibra, Solo7 is excited that finally his neighbours have recognized his work and are working towards peaceful co-existence. Solomon calls himself Solo7 because most events in his life happened around number seven. “I was born on 7th July 1977. I am also the seventh child out of nine siblings. That is why I added number seven to my name,” he says.
Solo7 has lived in Kibra since 2003. However, it’s not until 2007 that he started the peace campaigns. “When it was announced on December 29th, 2007 that former President Mwai Kibaki had won, most Kibra residents were disappointed. They expected Raila Odinga, then area Member of Parliament to be announced the presidential winner.”
What followed was a call for mass action by Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o. Kibera residents followed the instructions to the letter and on the same day they demonstrated along the streets.
What troubled Solo7 most is the fact that thieves took advantage of the volatile and unpredictable situation and looted people’s properties.
“I was among those who were demonstrating but I realized that not everyone was demonstrating because of the presidential results. Most of them were thieves. They attacked the Maasai who were guarding Toi Market and sprayed turpentine that they had been looted from a hardware and set them on fire.”
It did not escape Solo7 that business stalls which had Odinga’s posters were not burnt or looted. That is when an idea crossed his mind. “So I took charcoal and wrote ‘ODM BASE’ on some doors. Just as I expected, these stalls were not touched,” he explains.
On the second day of demonstrations, he witnessed people looting a hardware looking for machetes to attack security guards who were stopping them from stealing. Luckily there was none in the hardware. However, someone was injured in the process and he had to do first aid.
“The violence I witnessed made me think deeper and on the second day I decided to use my paints to write peace messages in the neighbourhood,” he says.
Solo7 took all the remaining paints that they use in their art studio Maasai Mbili which is in Kianda, Bombolulu to use in inscribing peace messages.
By that time, police were everywhere and someone even came out with a gun and displayed it in public. The man, he says, is now no more because people became uncomfortable and reported him to the police.
‘Zuia noma (Stop trouble)’, ‘Chagua Amani (Keep peace)’, ‘Peace wanted alive’ and ‘Keep peace alive’ are some of the messages he has been painting ever since.
During the demonstrations, Solo7 realized that the international media focused on him instead of the demonstrators. This demoralized the demonstrators and most of them dropped the stones they were carrying and helped him to identify places where he could paint.
Solo7 also did his painting when Kenya and Uganda had conflict over ownership of Migingo Island. Kibera residents uprooted the railway line that passes through the area to attract the media who would highlight the issue to attract President Yoweri Museveni’s attention.
Again he painted peace messages that he believes contributed to cooling down the tension. When Kenyans went to the referendum to vote for the new constitution, he painted more peace messages.
“This time, my message was about voting wisely,” he explains.
Solo7 has been doing peace work on his own without any financial support until this year.
According to Solo7 people have learnt that violence has no gain. Instead it leads to loss of property and life.
In order to continue his work, he requested politicians to buy him paints instead of giving him handouts during campaigns. Some individuals and hardware owners also donated paint which facilitated his work.
“If you walk around Kibra Constituency right now you will notice my paints almost everywhere and I’m happy that the stalls that were painted were never looted or burnt,” he says with a smile.
Solo7 has also noticed that children copy what he writes. He has noticed some writings using chalk or charcoal with his message but different handwriting.
He notes: “I even noticed that some have wrong spellings but I have no problem with that. In fact, I am impressed that children are copying me and the message is spreading further.”
Although he has not benefited financially from his work, he is happy that he has contributed to peace in his community. He has also earned respect from his neighbours as well as local and international media.
“Every time people see me talking to the media, they think I’m making money but that is not the case. I am glad that people recognize my work and I achieve my intended result which is peace in my community,” he says.