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In West Pokot, a different kind of football

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West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin, stakeholders and soccer players from warring communities at Kishaunet show ground in West Pokot County on June 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai | Nation Media Group

Something special is happening in West Pokot County, an area that has become synonymous with banditry and cattle rustling. Youth from Pokot, Turkana, Marakwet and Tugen communities who often engage in cattle rustling, are using football as a vehicle to promote peaceful co-existence.

On Friday, a two-day tournament concluded at Kishaunet grounds in West Pokot County. Youth from Pokot, Turkana, Marakwet and Tugen communities played football, sang, and danced together.

West Pokot County football team were declared champions of Inter-counties International Organization for Immigration (IOM) Peace tournament after beating Turkana County football team 3-1 in the thrilling final match. In the semi-finals, Turkana County beat Elgeyo Marakwet County 4-0 to qualify for the final, while West Pokot beat Baringo County 1-0 in the second semi-final match.

West Pokot County football team took home a glittering trophy, and each player from the four teams that played in the semi-finals pocketed Sh10,000 each. The unique tournament, aimed at cultivating peace among the warring communities, attracted thousands of fans.

For the first time,  youth from the banditry-prone areas, who have been engaging in cattle rustling, came together to engage in sport. For decades the warring communities have been clashing over pasture and water. Disagreements over boundaries have also been common, and members of the communities see each other as enemies.

After Friday’s final, Turkana County football team captain Caleb Muyang emphasized the significance of sports in promoting peace.

“We are now one. It is history because this has never happened before. We have opened a new chapter,” he said.

He expressed his gratitude to the tournament’s organizers for recognizing the role of sports as a tool for fostering peace among communities.

“It is a chance to build life-long friendships and join a shared movement for peace. It’s all about uniting our people to make life better. As youth, we are the voice that shall stop them (bad elements) from doing certain things and to promote peaceful coexistence,” Muyang said.

West Pokot football team’s captain, Joshua Pkemoi, said football tournaments are important in facilitate interactions between people from different communities.

He stressed the importance of sports in uniting communities and promoting peaceful coexistence.

“We have come together to interact, and to discuss through community dialogues and sports,” he said.

Pkemoi also thanked the tournament’s organizers for bringing together youth from conflict-prone areas for a football match, and acknowledged that youth can play a big role in promoting peaceful co-existence and security among their communities.

IOM Kenya’s Chief of Mission, Sharon Dimanche, said that sports events can be a big tool for encouraging peaceful co-existence in regions susceptible to banditry through friendly matches.

She pointed out that the activities of the initiative, carefully planned in consultation with other stakeholders, are geared towards achieving a lasting solution to conflicts among communities.

“The tournament was aimed at bringing together communities from the banditry-prone areas of West Pokot, Baringo, and Turkana and Elgeyo Marakwet counties,” Dimanche said.

She emphasized the critical role sports plays in promoting peace, saying youth who engage in sports not only develop values such as discipline, teamwork, and hard work, but also better contribute to fostering peace within their communities.

West Pokot governor, Simon Kachapin, said: “The power and benefits of sports in uniting people are tremendous.”