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International Youth Day: putting youth herders at the heart of dialogue in Kenya

12 August 2023 International Youth Day: putting youth herders at the heart of dialogue in Kenya

Young people have enormous potential to build peace in places affected by conflict. Yet they are often denied the opportunity to do so. Saferworld supports young people’s efforts to promote understanding, tolerance and peace and to help keep their communities safe. We work with partners and communities – including youth – to address the ways that climate change and environmental degradation are exacerbating insecurity, poverty and marginalisation in different regions across the world.

In Kenya, we work with partners – the Catholic Justice and Peace Department, the Elgeyo Marakwet County Department for Peace, Turkana Pastoralist Development Organization (TUPADO) and Pokot Youth Bunge County Forum – to increase people’s ability to adapt to climate change-related shocks and address intercommunal conflicts in three counties in Kenya’s dry lands (also known as arid and semi-arid lands). In these areas, fragile ecosystems, unpredictable climates and competition over resources lead to conflicts, especially during the dry season.

Recently we began working with a network of young herders in Turkana, West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties. We bring them together with peace committees (community peacebuilding structures that use traditional and modern methods to resolve conflicts) to find ways of reducing tensions that arise over stolen livestock and to recover the stolen animals. As cattle are a valuable resource, the youth herders hold a significant amount of power in pastoralist areas and working with them is crucial to bringing peace to the communities.

At a meeting in April this year, the herders – 50 young adults and five men – expressed their desire for peace and committed to several agreements, including the revival of communal grazing agreements to graze cattle only in their areas and to not cross borders unless they have agreed proper reciprocal grazing patterns. They also appointed a team of three people to spearhead further conversations with peers in the neighbouring county of Baringo, to address similar conflicts that are occurring there. Lastly, they pledged to form an arbitration committee to aid in the recovery of stolen livestock.

“One of the biggest drawbacks to our peace efforts is a lack of recovery or sometimes the slow pace of recovery of stolen livestock, which ignites the communities’ desire for revenge. This arbitration committee is important for us, it is like our small jury of trusted representatives from the community, which we run to stop conflict from escalating”, explained Kipkoskei Silas, a youth representative of the arbitration committee, during a dialogue meeting in Kerio Valley, Elgeyo Marakwet County.

“Most of the previous structures like peace committees did not consider the voices of the herders in their formation. This deliberately locked us out, most of their decisions were not reflective of our grievances; we are happy that with this project we are at the centre of discussions on resource use and access decisions alongside the elders.” Rutto Spencer, a herder from Murkutwa in Sambirir Ward.

The partnership is also helping young people who were previously known to steal cattle to enrol in education, where they can acquire skills to help them pursue other livelihood options, in a bid to prevent more incidents in the future.   

As it really does take a village to break the cycle of violence, we are looking forward to continuing to work with the youth herders – as well as elders, peace committees, local administration structures, women and youth networks – to strengthen community engagement on resource sharing, reconciliation and policy dialogues, across Turkana, West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.

Read more about our work with young people here.

Find out more about our work in Kenya here.

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