Joel Cheruiyot Sigei was one of seven winners in the Unsung Peace Hero campaign created in 2008 by Butterfly Works and Media Focus on Africa. With more than 500 nominees, the campaign celebrated everyday people who helped fellow Kenyans during a period of intertribal violence.
Established in December 1963, the Republic of Kenya is home to more than 70 ethnic groups. The largest group is the Kikuyu. Many Kenyans believed the Kikuyu manipulated elections, keeping Kenya under Kikuyu rule.
In the December 2007 presidential election, Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, won by an estimated 230,000 votes. Supporters of his opponent, Raila Odinga, a Luo, rejected the results. Accusations of voter fraud and election rigging fueled ethnic tensions. Some Kenyans organized nonviolent demonstrations throughout the country. Others staged violent protests. In response, Kenyan Police opened fire on protestors, plunging the country into intertribal conflict and chaos. In the course of two months, about 1,500 people died in riots or intertribal violence; another 600,000 fled their homes in fear.
Joel, a 48-year-old Kipsigi, took in four Kisii families who had been threatened by their neighbors. For two weeks, he hid these 18 people in his home to keep them safe. They would have been targeted for violence if they had stayed in their own homes. He sheltered them even though doing so put him at risk. Joel supplied the families with corn and milk from his own cows. Each day, he also took 40 liters (10 gallons) of milk to children in a nearby refugee camp.
By the end of February 2008, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped negotiate a power-sharing agreement between Kibaki and Odinga.
When the violence ended, and it was safe for the Kisii families to travel, Joel arranged for their safe transportation home.
Joel’s selfless acts earned him a nomination and, ultimately, recognition as an unsung peace hero. He organized a similar campaign in his own community to recognize other people who had helped promote peace during the crisis.