Youths challenged to foster peace ahead of elections 

Kibra youth heading to a political rally In Kibra constituency.Picture:Thomas Bwire
Kibra youth heading to a political rally In Kibra constituency.Picture:Thomas Bwire

As Kenyans look forward to the General Elections in August 2017, there are already worries that violence could erupt.

However, what is of concern is the number of youth who are recruited to fight political battles, as well as disturb peace and security.

With this narrative at hand, Uwiano Peace Platform is currently running a programme that aims at contributing to sustainable peace and democracy through enhancement of leadership skills.

Development of this leadership programme came as a result of the 2007-2008 post-election violence that saw many young people killed or wounded.

As the country began to emerge from the crisis and implement the National Dialogue on Peace and Reconciliation, concern prevailed on the country’s fragility. Of particular concern was the need for greater collaboration among leaders to deal with the underlying issues to move the country forward on a positive path for peace and development.

During the one day sensitization forum held on December 7th, 2016, more than 50 youths gathered at a local hotel in Nairobi. They included aspiring young political leaders from Kibra, Lang’ata, Embakasi, Westlands and Dagoretti constituencies to deliberate on preparations for the upcoming elections and the role that the youth can play in promoting peaceful elections before, during and after the polls.

The meeting enabled youth leaders to stimulate discussions with an analysis of how to achieve effective and holistic strategies for managing and resolving differences as well as building inclusive processes that advance governance in the country.

One of the key areas they touched on was how to engage the youth, both the employed and the un-employed, to be able to make informed choices. This would be in looking at political parties’ structures, policies and regulations as well as participation in a credible election exercise.

According to the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) paper on Kenya’s Youth Employment Challenge released in January 2013: “Transition from school to a job is not automatic; people struggle to get a job. Despite the rising number of young people finding informal jobs, the proportion of young people searching for a job also rises rapidly.

“The proportion of unemployed people rises steadily from three to 23 percent between 15 and 20 years of age. After that, the proportion of unemployed people decreases continuously to about 10 percent at the age of 35.”

Antonia Njeri from the National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict Management noted   youth engagement platforms were important because they can create some level of awareness to help demystify ethnic and political groupings in the country.

“It’s important for the youth to be engaged and sensitized as they are key agents of change in any given community,” said Njeri. She noted: “They are the ones who cause chaos, throwing stones. If we tap into them we are safe.”

Joy Mwangi a 25-year-old youth from Embakasi Central has been working with the youth in her community since 2009. She noted that the young people need a shoulder to lean on. “As a community, we have decided to stand up and fight for the youth who are being misled every day,” said Mwangi. “The youth just need to be told how to use their talent and not follow the political class blindly.”

Also in attendance was the popular Hip Hop artist from Kibra Octopizzo (Henry Ohanga) who noted the need for the youth to be engaged in more creative stuff so that by the end of the day they can turn out to be productive both to themselves and to the society. “What majority of young people lack are opportunities that can engage them in a meaningful way. I am a good example as I use music to express my anger and not going the streets of Kibra to throw stones, whenever I feel oppressed say by the political class,” notes Octopizzo.

He challenged the youth to change their attitude about life. Giving an example of the 2007-2008 post-election violence that has created room for peace talks, Octopizzo noted: “As a society we still have missing gaps of reconciling among ourselves.”

He emphasized the need to reconcile, even if only three people will come out and openly ask for forgiveness, which will surely help Kenya recover and take us back to a neutral track ahead as a united country.

Uwiano board member, Gertrude Openda said it’s high time Kenyans should learn lessons of accountability and the need to move away from boardroom forums, head straight to the people at the grassroots level and have them engaged.

She gave an example of  Liberia where women played a critical role to bring peace. During the war in Liberia, women’s organizations worked tirelessly to bring warring parties to the negotiating table so that the country could achieve peace. The country now enjoys its peace and elected Africa’s first female president.

While challenging women in Kenya, Openda emphasized women’s role in democracy. “Women can be lethal if we don’t tap into them, as politicians will sway them each time.” She added: “Women are also powerful as they end up forcing young men to go out fight for their rights during electoral process that the community may feel aggravated by the system.”

At the end of the day, the participants all agreed on some consensus to be undertaken henceforth. Some of the planned activities will include peace walks, visiting established institutions such as mosques and churches to speak about peace, community mapping, promoting peace through sports, talent shows, use of local community radios, engaging people living with disabilities and also targeting parents and children to have them well informed of areas that will create room for safer spaces.

The activities will be conducted through partners working alongside Uwiano, PeaceNet Kenya, International Republican Institute and Kibera Youth Network under the leadership of Dan Orogo who is the conveyor of the Nairobi Youth County for Peace Initiative.

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