Youth as a bridge – peacebuilding in north-western Kenya

The emergence of locally-initiated and supported peacebuilding initiatives by young people – acting as change agents, mentors and leaders – is fostering a new paradigm in governance, development and peacebuilding amongst pastoralist communities in north-western Kenya.

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Conflict Background

GCCT

By Willis Okumu

North-western Kenya has been a theatre of violent conflict, pitting the Pokot, Samburu and Turkana communities against one other in a fierce and deadly competition catalysed by diminishing pastoral and water resources, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, political incitements, disputes over land and ethnic boundaries, the absence of adequate state security and the commercialization of cattle raiding. This has led to a state of helplessness for many pastoralist households who have been violently deprived of their source of livelihood (cattle). Many have lost their lives and many more are living in destitution across trading centres such as Baragoi in Samburu, Chemolingot in Pokot and Kapedo in Turkana. The frontline participation of thousands of youth from these communities in violent conflict has been blamed on a lack of education, unemployment and the need for cultural conformity by a warrior, which guarantees upward social mobility in many of these pastoralist communities.

The emergence of peacebuilding initiatives by young and educated members of the Pokot, Samburu and Turkana communities through different “peace caravans” in Turkwel, Laikipia, Suguta, Samburu North and Baragoi can therefore be seen in light of the rise of a “mediated state”. These “peace caravans” are locally-initiated and supported groups of young men and women from pastoralist communities who see themselves as change agents, mentors and leaders of a new paradigm in governance, development and peace-building amongst pastoralist communities.

The evident acceptance and support given to these youth-led peace caravans by the Kenyan state also marks a realization by governments on the need to involve young people in “mediating” the state in peripheral borderlands inhabited by pastoralist communities that have previously been neglected by both colonial and successive independent Kenya governments. This experience demonstrates that governance, development and peacebuilding must be approached through youth-led, trans-local peacebuilding initiatives, such as the “peace caravans” among the Pokot, Turkana and Samburu communities.

The approach of these peace caravans involves travelling as a single group to areas of high tension within the three communities, with the aim of presenting a united front to their warring kinsmen and women, whilst creating a platform for inter-community dialogue on issues driving conflict and how they can be amicably resolved. In an interview with IRIN News in 2010, James Teko Lopoyetum, a Pokot member of the Laikipia Peace Caravan, gave insights into the broad-based approach through which the Laikipia Peace Caravan envisions peacebuilding among these communities:

“Several attempts have been made in the past to end rivalry between us but failed… they all involved the use of force. Our approach is different, our people listen to us and I am confident they will accept our messages. Northern Kenya has always been like a war zone. The situation has worsened in recent years. It is shameful that we always meet to plan funerals and raise money for the injured while professionals from other parts of Kenya meet to discuss development issues.” – IRIN News 24th September, 2010.

Achievements

The youth-led peace caravans approach to inter-community peacebuilding has been through facilitating dialogue among the Turkana, Pokot and Samburu communities. In my interviews and focused group discussions with community members and the peace caravans’ members, a recurring sentiment was that the role of these caravans is to act as an avenue for community members to discuss their issues openly and seek amicable solutions. To this effect, therefore, several meetings involving warriors were organized – particularly in common grazing areas such as Kanampiu in Laikipia North, Ntipakun and Lomirok in Samburu North and Amaya in East Pokot. The role of the Laikipia Peace Caravan in facilitating the formation of grazing and peace committees in areas where communities share common pasture must also be pointed out. In its tour of Samburu North district in August 2011, the the Samburu North Peace Caravan helped in the formation of peace and grazing committees in Suyan, Kawap, Nachola and Marti.

One of the major achievements of the Laikipia Peace Caravan is the cessation of hostilities; achieved by convincing morans to abandon cattle rustling. In a landmark event at Amaya market in December 2010, the Laikipia Peace Caravan brought members of the Turkana, Samburu and Pokot communities to celebrate one year of peace in the region.

According to Laikipia Peace Caravan chairman, Richard Leshiyampe, they identified:

a few morans and educated them on the need to end cattle rustling and live peacefully. In one year cases of rustling and the resultant deaths have dropped significantly. In the last year, less than 10 people have died in cattle raids and this is tremendous because in the last few years hundreds were killed each year” – Daily Nation, December 23rd 2010.

Pastoralist youth from Pokot, Samburu and Turkana have taken it upon themselves to act as a bridge to inter-community peacebuilding, creating a healing process that has for decades evaded the government of Kenya and other non-state actors. In so doing, these youth have effectively built-up dialogue channels within these communities in a manner that does not threaten the authority of the state; hence the notion of the rise of a “mediated state”.

Willis Okumu, a Kenyan citizen, holds an MA in Anthropology from the Cologne African Studies Centre, University of Cologne. His MA thesis is entitled, “Trans-local Peacebuilding among Pastoralists Communities in Kenya-the Case of Laikipia Peace Caravan”.

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