Youth dialogue in Kenya on preventing violent extremism

Violent extremism is a growing threat in Kenya. Since July, Finn Church Aid (FCA) and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers with support of  King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) have been supporting youth dialogue forums in the six coastal counties of Kenya. FCA is working with the Kenyan Office of the President, the Kenya Red Cross, and the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance (KMYA) to engage and empower youth to speak out against radical ideologies that could lead to violence.

In mid-August, FCA gathered youth from the six coastal counties of Kenya to share their views directly with national level authorities. Youth representatives were given the chance to contribute their ideas on building stronger and more resilient communities.

Kenya’s youth is struggling with one of the world’s highest unemployment rates. Issues of unemployment are aggravated in the coastal region of the country, which suffers from high levels of extreme poverty, a lack of new job opportunities, and a historical sense of marginalisation. The presence and activity of al-Shabaab in the coastal region has compounded the issues. Tourism is one of the largest industries on the Kenyan coast. Due to the high-level security threat, tourism is in heavy decline, and as a result, over 20,000 jobs in tourism have been cut. Growing frustration with unemployment, low levels of education, heavy drug usage, and feelings of marginalisation, have increased al-Shabaab’s recruitment rates.

Dialogue initiative with the youth

To address the threat of violent extremism in the coastal communities, and recruitment to terrorist groups, the Office of the President is spearheading an initiative to engage the youth in dialogues throughout the coastal counties. The process aims to gain insights into supporting the youth within these communities, and to build dialogue and trust between the youth and national and local authorities.

The coastal counties of Kenya feel high pressure from extremism. Youth organizations try to fight for other views. Photo: Aaron Stanley

The coastal counties of Kenya feel high pressure from extremism. Youth organizations try to fight for other views. Photo: Aaron Stanley

One of the FCA supported youth dialogue forums was held in Malindi town, in Kilifi County. More than 70 young people from the county’s 35 wards participated in the two-day forum. Youth actors articulated the challenges they are facing and brainstormed possible solutions.

Hassan Muse – County Representative for Kilifi County of the Kenya Red Cross – hosted the youth for a two-day forum on how to develop the enabling environments for extremist recruitment.

“Young people have a key role in the development of the communities, and this process is important because it allows the youth to build ownership and take initiative in their futures. We need to support their role in finding solutions and taking action”, Muse said.

Broad representation by the youth

With over 70 young people in total, representing every ward of the county, issues of education, livelihoods and peace were discussed. Specific attention was paid to entrepreneurship and vocational training, to address the issues of unemployment. Other areas debated were how the youth can address the growing issues around drug use, corruption, and access to infrastructure, such as roads and water sources.

Daniel Fondo, 21, from Dobaso and one of the representatives of the disabled community saw this as, “an opportunity to see the areas and problems of youth being addressed. We, the youth, will know what we are supposed to do and work to support the economy and country.”

24-year-old Faith Kemunto, from Marafa said that her hope for the process was that she will not be discriminated against, and added that this process was about everyone wanting to be included.

“I am expecting that the process will come up with shared and realistic expectations, and that what is discussed can be implemented”, said Ramson Kaazungu, 24 years old, from Kayafungo.

29-year-old Lucky Mbaga’s hope for the process was to engage, empower, and have people look at things differently. Lucky gave an example saying that she hopes people will start “looking at women as people who have potential.” She concluded by saying that she hopes that with the change of some perspectives, the community will be better.

Text: Aaron Stanley and Milla Perukangas
Photos: Aaron Stanley

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is a member of ACT Alliance.