\u00a0 By Clifford Akumu Many might wonder why relatively good pairs of shoes hang loosely on overhead cables in various neigbourhoods. Although in settlements such as Kamkunji, these hanging boots are synonymous with drug peddling zones or honouring the lives of lost ones to bullets or mob justice. The phenomenon is not a Kenyan thing. In the US, it is popularly linked to gang territories and drugs. There have been concerted efforts to remove these shoes and the stigma associated with them. In other parts of America, these shoes are a mark of pride. They symbolise the marking a milestone including completing basic military training. Fact-checking site, Snopes, claims soldiers slinging old pair of army boots upon leaving a military post is the origin of sneaker slinging. The phenomenon then spread to other parts of the world, with the significance changing as per circumstance. For example, in Nicaragua, it is an ingenious way of separating electric cables to avoid sparks that might cost a houshold an appliance. The justification is the shoes applies some weight onto the cable, pulling one lower than the other, thus averting unprecedented danger. But this is not the case in Soweto in Kibera. Our arrival is met with kids crisscrossing the tiny and dingy alleys a breakneck speed and frenzied hawkers and vegetable vendors trying to catch the attention of customers, leaving in their wake an awful din. But deep inside the slum, a group of curious onlookers stop to marvel at the collection of shoes hanging loosely on a cables, as if unveiling to them the secrets of the hood. Just then, as if in agreement, a strong wind conspires with the dozens of shoes of all types and sizes to perform an elaborate dance ritual, creating a mesmerising show for the onlookers. It is a sight to marvel at, and one that continues to create interest among locals and tourists. A few metres away in a mabati shade, a group of boys engage in a discussion over the politics of the day. In such a setting, it is easy to ignore the lone figure busy scrubbing a car mat next to them. Concealed crime tales His name is Bildad Odhiambo. Back in 2016, he used to rob people unlucky enough to cross the bridge that separates Soweto and Lan\u2019gata in the wee hours. His shoes - a pair of Timberland hanging on the cable with rugged soles that concealed crime tales- are among the collection overhead. He used to wear them, proudly even, but his life took a different turn. Until a few years ago before a tarmacked road passed through the slum, the area was bushy with scattered mud huts and tin shacks. It was also a crime hotspot. \u201cMy target was mobile phones. I knew by selling them, I would get ready money for drugs and some for wooing young girls,\u201d he says. However, an incident in 2018 made him change his mind. A fellow gang member was burnt to death by mob justice following a robbery incident. Odhiambo is today part of Big Brothers Youth Group, young men who have literally hung their crime boots to chart a new path of transformation. Today, the area is no longer a \u2018no-go zone\u2019, says John Omondi or Johntes, as the residents call him. Teaming with reformed criminals, it has become a popular spot for Soweto residents to take a stroll and even pose for selfies. Omondi, who is also the founder and chairman of the group, leads in championing this change and empowering reformed youth in the vast slum. Together with other co-founders, they have been working to rid the slum of crime for the past six years, one mentorship and counselling session at a time. A wanted man Omondi was thrust to crime world in 2010 while in primary school. His mother, then a house-help, could only raise a meagre amount of money to keep them going. Omondi wanted the good life, so he joined \u2018bad boys club\u2019 to get extra cash for bhang, miraa, alcohol, play station, women and fashion. Few years later, while in form three at Hall Unity Academy in Nairobi, he was fully immersed in crime. \u201cI used to carry a gun inside a sack together with dry firewood. It was camouflage and it worked wonders,\u201d he says. In 2013, he had been involved in a robbery with violence. He lost his closest friend and had to relocate to Gem in Siaya county so that things cool down back in Nairobi. \u201cI had to stay at the village for four months. But when I sneaked back, I was a wanted man. I used to stay indoors only to emerge at night,\u201d said Omondi, a talented footballer. However, the allure of returning to crime was stronger, but he did his best to fight it. \u201cA friend decided to give me a car-washing machine and asked me to be remitting Sh3,000 every day. I did it for some time, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to bring together criminals and drug addicts under one roof, mentor them and tell them to focus on meaningful activities since those ills do not pay,\u201d he explains. To him, this seemed the only way to keep the youth away from crime and prevent more deaths. He hung his crime boots and set up the group. Today, it has grown to about 24 members, with some venturing into boda boda business. One reformed criminal who took up on the offer was Kevin Bernard, 25, now spokesman of the group. He shows us a scar on his head from a panga cut he received in one crime escapade gone-bad. \u201cIn 2009, while in secondary school, I used to wake up at dawn under the guise of going to study, but we would gather at 3:30am with the gang to rob people,\u201d said Bernard, who reformed in 2013 and now works as a guide at a local tour company. For the previous owners of the dangling shoes, an alternative means of livelihood is godsend. \u201cWe charge Sh200-300 per car and Sh100 for motorbikes. The members remit Sh50 to our table banking project,\u201d says Omondi. Proceeds are then channeled to pig farming and construction of rental units within the slum. \u201cWe currently have 30 pigs and we plan to increase them,\u201d Omondi adds. As they map out their new-found lives, the hanging shoes are a constant reminder of the life they left behind.