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Initiative using football to end conflict in Northern Kenya county

Barry Silah @obel_barry

Nelson Mandela once said, “sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”

Nowhere this has been true than in the Northern Kenya county of Marsabit. Previously known for endless conflicts over resources and politics, tranquillity has recently returned to Marsabit and a big part of it is due to sports.

This is where Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI) comes in. Through its HODI FC, founded in 2013, the team of mixed gender has helped heal the rifts in Marsabit to great effect.

For a region not famed for sporting prowess, it is surprising that HODI (Swahili for knock) had the doors opened for the them.

“When we play together, we learn a lot from each other. Initially, there was bad blood between the Borana, Rendille and Gabra communities but football has made us a family. The community now views conflict differently and most importantly, many youth are now changing their mindset,” says 17-year-old HODI FC captain Kabale Halakhe.

The Form Four student at Moi Girls High School in Marsabit is among 180 youngsters who have taken the initiative on board and it does not only help end conflict but also sharpens their football skills.

However, HODI FC, whose motto is “Shoot to score not shoot to kill,”  was not easy to start and executive director Fatuma Abdulkadir had a hard time convincing cynical members of the community.

“We ran into headwinds but the football idea for me flew like magic because nothing brings people together like sports. Football is a globally loved sport and it has worked wonders for us at HODI FC,” said the 40-year-old lawyer who had to overcome cultural and religious barriers to get her initiative rolling.

The second hurdle for Abdulkadir was finances and she had to spend a big chunk of her resources, starting a league that covers the four constituencies; Saku, North Horr, Laisamis and Moyale with matches played during weekends and school holidays.

“If it were not for football, then some of us would probably not be alive. Straight from under-10 to under-17, the game has seen us develop not only our skills but also our confidence,” says 23-year-old coach Hosny Anwar who also plays for HODI FC.

Abdulkadir’s efforts have not gone unnoticed and in June, she accompanied four of her players to Russia for the FIFA World Cup where they watched the matches besides interacting with legends such as former French international Christian Karembeu.

“That trip was an eye opener for them and when they returned, they had a lot to share back home. For me it was about giving them exposure and belief so that they can aim higher,” adds the mother of two who has rubbed shoulders with football’s high and mighty around the globe.

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