- The singing is a rare gesture in a continent facing violent uprisings
- It is not a call to arms, according to organizers
- Kenya’s president has been in power since 2002
- “The national anthem is the main prayer that binds us together,” an organizer says
(CNN) — Kenyans worldwide called for unity Monday by singing the national anthem in unison — a rare gesture in a continent facing violent uprisings for leaders to step down after decades in power.
Citizens in the nation and other parts of the world took a break at 1 p.m. Kenyan time (5 a.m. ET) to collectively sing the hymn.
Drivers pulled over on the side of the roads while crowds gathered at malls and busy intersections to sing the anthem. The singing drifted over the bustling capital of Nairobi, where lunchtime rush hour noise includes honking car horns and loud music blaring from stores.
Organizers said the grassroots effort is aimed at promoting unity in the east African nation, where ethnic violence left more than 1,000 people dead after disputed elections four years ago.
“The whole point is to unite Kenyans in one action and provoke reflection about personal responsibility,” said organizer Al Kags.
“We decided to go with the national anthem because it is the main prayer that binds us together. It’s a clarion call that transcends all boundaries — physical, mental, tribal, you name it.”
Francis Mwiwa, 29, crawled out of bed to join in the singing from the Toronto suburb of Brampton.
“At the very least, I hope singing the national anthem together jolts regular Kenyans into looking at the big picture,” Mwiwa said. “Ethnic and tribal differences are obsolete. Instead of fighting amongst ourselves, we should be busy competing with the rest of the world.”
The movement started on social media, and later expanded offline.
It comes as much of Africa and the Middle East — including Libya and Yemen — are embroiled in violent protests demanding changes in leadership. Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have led to the toppling of long-term leaders after decades in power.
However, the Kenyan effort is not an uprising, organizers said.
“Those nations are going through what we went through in 2002,” Kags said, referring to the election of a new president after strongman Daniel arap Moi stepped down following 24 years in power.
His retirement sent throngs of citizens dancing in the streets of the capital, Nairobi.
“We all have our different situations,” Kags said. “In a way, we are ahead of the game. We don’t have to deal with dictatorship, and I know a few years down the line, they will be done with regimes and calling for unity.”
Organizers say it will be an added bonus if it sends a warning to the government that the youth can organize without their help.
“I hope it also lets them know that we can get together and intellectually influence each other,” said Antony Mwangi, another organizer.
Mwangi said that the movement is “simply a social cause” and not a call to arms.
“Our government may not be perfect, but at the very least, we are a democracy,” he said.
Kenya is East Africa’s largest economy and provides an important buffer of stability against the volatile Somalia and Sudan.
In 2007, the nation’s disputed election sparked ethnic violence. It pitted supporters of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki against those of challenger Raila Odinga, who was later named prime minister in a power-sharing agreement.
Youth in the nation have turned to social media to call for an end to ethnic division, and demand reform and accountability from the government.