May 27, 2008
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African models, designers promote peace in Kenya

May 27, 2008

By Aweys Yusuf

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Scores of top African designers and models held a show in Nairobi National Park at the weekend to raise money for victims of Kenya's post-election violence and show a different face to their continent.

The "Fashion for Peace" event drew mainly West and East African models onto a catwalk in a marquee under the moonlight on savannah usually known for its lions and rhinos.

"Fashion for Peace will not change the world, although it does aim at changing people's negative perceptions of Kenya and Africa in other countries," organizers said in a statement.

"And it is a call for peace."

Proceeds from the show were to go to some of the roughly 300,000 Kenyans uprooted from their homes in fighting after a disputed December election. More than 1,300 people died.

Kenyan former model and fashion commentator Waridi Schrobsdroff took to the stage in white for peace.

"Kenyans can really make things happen when they put their hands together," she told Reuters before the show started.

After cocktails at sunset on Saturday, the catwalk shows took place during a gala dinner for about 1,000 guests.

For some, the show of opulence grated.

"I don't know how this will connect to someone who lives down in the slums," said young Kenyan musician Benson Mutua, sipping a glass of champagne next to his Danish wife.

"But if the money accumulated from the people who attended the fashion is taken to the people in the slums, and something relating to peace is done, then it's ok."

Most victims of the violence in January and February were poor Kenyans, living in Nairobi slums -- some just a couple of kilometers from the park -- and impoverished rural areas.

Most people at the show were delighted that a positive image of Kenya was being shown again at last.

"It is great that fashion can be held in the name of peace. Fashion is always a good thing that brings people together and this show has really demonstrated that," said model Lisa Pitkin.

"The fact international designers came here is a good sign, definitely a move forward from where we were two months ago."

Most models wore traditional African dress on the catwalk.

The two-hour show was one of a series of high-profile events -- including a photo-shoot by British businessmen in the Masai Mara game park -- intended to restore Kenya's image after one of the most traumatic episodes in its post-independence history.

Kenyans were horrified after the election when images of machete-wielding mobs and gun-toting policemen were beamed around the world, scaring off tourists and worrying investors.

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Catherine Evans)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ )

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