Kenya, a nation graced with abundant beauty and diversity, has had its fair share of challenges when it comes to peace and security. From political turbulence to ethnic tensions and violent extremism, the struggle for harmony has tested the resilience of its people. One might wonder, in the midst of these trials, what role the youth, comprising a significant 35 percent of the population, play in shaping the narrative of peace. Contrary to the prevailing stereotypes that label them as mere victims or instigators of violence, the young generation is emerging as a beacon of hope, driving positive change through dialogue, mediation, education, and activism.

In counties across Kenya, young individuals have taken up the mantle of peacebuilders, weaving together a tapestry of initiatives that defy the status quo. Guided by organizations like Youth4Peace, a network of young peacebuilders honed through training by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), these proactive minds embrace participatory action research (PAR) as their compass. Through this collaborative method, they dissect the issues plaguing their communities, identify the root causes, and bring their findings to life through concrete actions. Countering violent extremism, fostering interfaith dialogue, addressing gender-based violence, promoting civic education, and nurturing social cohesion have become the hallmarks of their endeavors.

We refuse to be defined by the challenges that surround us. Instead, we choose to define ourselves by the change we bring.”

Munira Hamisi

Mombasa County becomes a prime example of youthful commitment with Lonamac, standing for Love One Another Movement Against Crime, spearheaded by Munira Hamisi. This visionary young woman recognized that building peace is a multifaceted endeavor, touching not only on conflict resolution but also on securing livelihoods and empowering the youth. Lonamac‘s influence extends across four subcounties, where the organization orchestrates a symphony of activities: sports tournaments that channel energy constructively, mentorship programs that nurture potential, community dialogues that bridge divides, peace rallies that resonate unity, and vocational training that opens doors to prosperity.

Venturing along the coastal breeze to Mombasa, Kwale, and Kilifi counties, the spotlight falls upon Manyatta Youth Entertainment. This not-for-profit, youth-led initiative was kindled by Nicholas Songora, whose own survival of the 2007 post-election violence ignited a fervent desire for change. Through artistic expression – music albums, radio shows, documentaries, drama skits, and street performances – Manyatta Youth Entertainment serves as a conduit for the transmission of peace education and advocacy. Their creative endeavors paint a vivid canvas of messages that celebrate diversity, uphold human rights, and champion unity.

While these examples resonate as powerful echoes of young determination, they are but a glimpse of a burgeoning movement. The Youth Future Lab (YFLab) stands as an ardent advocate for placing the youth at the forefront of this transformative initiative. This rallying point encourages the young minds of Kenya to grasp the reins of leadership, to ignite the spark of change, and to disprove the misconceptions that threaten to overshadow their potential.

Statistics substantiate this tide of transformation. In a recent survey conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), it was revealed that over 60 percent of young Kenyans are actively engaging in peace-promoting activities within their communities. Their involvement encompasses initiatives spanning from conflict mediation and reconciliation workshops to awareness campaigns that educate against radicalization. These statistics stand as a testament to the powerful ripple effect initiated by the youth – a ripple that extends beyond communities, traversing counties and regions.

We are the architects of our shared destiny. Through open dialogue and grassroots engagement, we are fostering a culture where differences are celebrated, not feared.

Obuya Vincent

However, beneath these remarkable feats lies a profound realization: the youth are not merely sculpting the future of Kenya; they are crafting its present. In the words of Munira Hamisi, founder of Lonamac, “We refuse to be defined by the challenges that surround us. Instead, we choose to define ourselves by the change we bring.” Her sentiments echo across the landscape, reflecting the determination of a generation that refuses to be relegated to the shadows.

As we delve deeper into this transformative movement, the vibrant county of Kisumu emerges, emblematic of the youth-led uprising for peace. With an intricate tapestry of tribes, Kisumu County’s rich cultural diversity sometimes gave rise to inter-ethnic frictions. Yet, through the unwavering commitment of young visionaries like Obuya Vincent, a local peace ambassador, those divisions are being mended.

Vincent, speaking from the heart of Kisumu, shares, “We are the architects of our shared destiny. Through open dialogue and grassroots engagement, we are fostering a culture where differences are celebrated, not feared.” Indeed, Vincent’s efforts, fueled by the principles of dialogue and understanding, have borne fruit. A remarkable 25 percent decrease in inter-ethnic clashes has been recorded within the past year in Kisumu County, a testament to the power of youth-driven conflict resolution.

In conclusion, Kenya’s young generation has embraced their role as catalysts of change, forging a path towards peace that defies the confines of age. The tapestry of initiatives, like Lonamac, Manyatta Youth Entertainment, and Youth4Peace, serves as a testament to their unwavering determination and their unyielding commitment to fostering a harmonious society. As the sun sets over the Kenyan horizon, the legacy of these youth peacebuilders illuminates the path towards a brighter, united future. Indeed, they are not only the future of Kenya; they are the architects of its present, and through their efforts, a more peaceful and tolerant nation is within reach.

Willy Kamau