Violence around the time of elections is common in Kenya. Ethnic divisions flare up as politicians exploit rivalries for increased votes and influence. This often results in destruction and death, largely affecting young people who are labelled as perpetrators, not victims.
In the 2017 elections, Kenya’s young people (defined in the constitution as individuals aged 18 – 35) continued to take steps to reclaim their voices. With the support of Saferworld, in partnership with Life & Peace Institute and Humanity & Inclusion, 54 youth leaders were trained on how to channel peace messaging in their work to influence other young people and their communities. In our short film below we hear from these leaders working to change their community through music and theatre.
Pius ‘Ashimz’ Ashimala, 24, is a poet, instrumentalist and youth leader for Street Theatre Family youth group in Kibera, Nairobi. Kibera has long suffered from election violence and was identified as a potential hotspot for political violence in the 2017 Kenyan elections.
“The election context is tricky in Kibera, we see tribal lines first before we think of what a politician can provide for us. If he or she is from my tribe, then I’ll vote for them. Most people here are tribal in that way.
Street Theatre Family youth group formed in 2014 with nine or ten members. In 2017, we joined this peacebuilding project. Through the project we’ve been given mentoring and knowledge on how to engage communities, as well as nurturing our talents and learning how to evaluate our work for future success. Before, we were doing two events each month – during and after the election we are doing five!
Since joining the initiative, we have seen so many changes in the group. Mainly, we have increased in size – we now have 85 registered members. Most of our members have new learnt skills, they now have the knowledge of how to work as part of - and with - other organisations, how to write contracts and proposals, and how to approach someone when discussing critical issues such as peace.
For the community - I think it has made a very big difference. Nowadays, if we don’t do events, if we skip two weekends without events, people are calling me like ‘why are you not doing events nowadays, what’s wrong?’ The community appreciate what we do and the art.
We do so many type of events too, but the main one is called an ambush street show, where we go to a place, identify the key issues – for example ethnic rivalry or violence in the home – and we start performing: music, skits, comedy, traditional dance, hip-hop. In Kibera, we've also visited orphanages and conducted community clean-ups.
Within the group, my role is chairman. I am their mentor and I’m the one who tries to see the betterment of everyone in the group. I meet with them once a week and we share experiences and ideas and skills.
My personal hope for the future is that I’ll be a role model to many people through the pieces that I write, and the performances I do in spoken word.”
It’s Monday afternoon at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, and students from across the city’s universities are coming together to tackle issues of violence affecting their lives. Read their story here.