We produced Peace in Our Pockets to be used as a catalyst for change and a tool for peacebuilding. By capturing the passion and commitment of local activists working at a critical moment in Kenyan history, the film shares invaluable lessons about the very meaning of peace and democracy. How can cutting-edge SMS technology transform civic participation? What role does people-to-people organizing and social engagement play in the peacebuilding process? How can people improve their communities using the tools they have at hand, such as the mobile phone?
A Response to Post-Election Violence
In 2007, the disputed presidential election in Kenya resulted in widespread protests and inter-ethnic conflict throughout the country. More than 1,000 Kenyans lost their lives and over half a million were internally displaced. At the time, many politicians used cell phone messaging to incite violence, disseminate hate speech, and provoke ethnic conflicts. Text messages were used to spread rumors and fear and to organize weapons distribution and attacks. While violent actors were extremely effective at using these widely-proliferated technologies, proponents of peace were neither prepared nor able to leverage these same tools to achieve their own goals.
Rachel Brown and Kenyan activists founded Sisi ni Amani in 2009 to harness the power of cell phone technology for peace rather than conflict. Sisi ni Amani (“We Are Peace” in Swahili), a Kenyan NGO, recruited young Kenyan community organizers to lead their peacebuilding efforts. They used mobile phones, SMS, and a groundbreaking Debate Program to promote peace, reduce ethnic tensions, and empower under-served communities to voice their needs and to hold their elected leaders accountable. Leading up to the 2013 elections, Sisi ni Amani and its extensive network of partners worked across Kenya to ensure that peace activists had the tools in hand to intercept provocative messages and hate speech and to share information and messages that promote peace and the common good.
The 2013 Kenyan Elections
The damage and distrust created by the 2007-2008 post-election violence has yet to be healed in many parts of Kenya. Kenyans and international organizations partnering with Sisi ni Amani activists committed to addressing the root causes of violence and ethnic tensions and doing the work necessary to preempt potential violence ignited by politically-charged hate speech. In many ways, this peace work identifies the root causes of tension and violence potential, engaging Kenyans in political dialogue and identifying and proposing solutions to pressing social issues.
Kenya’s 2013 elections were the largest to be held in sub-Saharan Africa and the first election since the ratification of a new Kenyan Constitution in 2010. This constitution changed the structure of the country’s government and reconfigured internal boundaries. It has been a cause for tension over territorial boundaries and the division of associated political power. Many civic groups, including Sisi ni Amani, focused on educating Kenyans about the new constitution and its impacts on their participation in electoral politics.
Prior to the 2013, political leaders from various parties escalated rhetoric and tensions surrounding the elections. Ongoing disputes over land rights in rural areas of Kenya led to violent clashes that many observers feared were foreshadowing more violence to come with the elections.
We began filming Peace in Our Pockets in 2012 to document one of many Kenyan groups keeping the peace during this historic time. Today, Sisi ni Amani transitioned some of its work to other organizations; and many of the activists featured in the film continue to build peace working with other Kenyan NGO. We invite you to help share this story by Hosting and/or Sponsoring screenings and spreading the word via social media.