RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Kenyans will also soon go to the polls to choose their next president. The last time that happened, in 2007, the balloting ignited deadly ethnic tensions. Weeks of violence left more than 1,100 dead across the country. The ethnic tension was particularly toxic in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa in the heart of Nairobi. It is a tinderbox of rival ethnicities and unemployed young men.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of that violence, a Brooklyn artist and educator named Joel Bergner launched a project that uses graffiti art to encourage unity between rival tribes and political groups. It's called Kibera Walls for Peace. And Bergner worked with authorities at the Rift Valley Railway to invite graffiti artists to spread messages of peace on the local commuter train.
NPR's Gregory Warner stopped by the making of the peace train and spoke to the artist. He sent this audio postcard.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is where the train would start. I mean this is what I was told this is where the train starts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPRAY PAINT CAN)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm painting uh a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. And then the Kenyan flag in psychedelic patterns.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, I'm painting an Obama face.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Obama, like Barack Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, Barack Obama, the president of the U.S. But I'm going to incorporate a little bit of different colors onto him, so that he comes out really different and funky.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPRAY PAINT CAN)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Personally, it's every graffiti artist's dream to paint on a train, as in to have the piece moving all over. Ever since I started spray painting, I've always wanted to paint on a train. But it was impossible because the last time I was here we sneaked in. We walked around, but the guards were walking all over. But now it's like here - here's the train you wanted to paint. So go ahead and paint.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN WHISTLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: The train was a major target of the last post-election violence in 2007 and 2008, especially the part that goes through Kibera. Actually, people came out when they were rioting and tore up the entire track. So the train authority has a lot of interest in keeping peace for this election.
WARNER: So they've brought on graffiti artists, that it's almost like a big sign saying stop, don't hurt us.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Exactly, and then of course it has the bigger message of don't hurt each other. You know, bringing peace to society.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Well, we have a lot of scars in our past, you know, especially like this last election. And there's a lot of hidden grudge, you can't really see it, and we just have to paint the stains over - put it in their faces so they can realize that, you know, it's not always about tribe. It's not always about killing. It's not always about shedding blood.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This train is used by many Kenyans in the morning and in the evenings, when they're leaving for their usual daily hustle. So from the front to the back, as you read it as it goes, it's like a sentence that is written.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: What's written on the whole train? OK, from there to there to there. OK. (Unintelligible) That means leave tribalism, leave discrimination, let's live in peace. Yeah, that's what it means.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: We heard from graffiti artists WiseTwo, Swift9, Uhuru B, Porsh, and American artist, educator Joel Bergner. NPR's Gregory Warner produced that story. And there's a photo slideshow at NPR.org.