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Training youths for peace in northern Kenya

Armed conflict occurs between pastoralist communities in northern Kenya (© Siegfried Modola/IRIN)
Armed conflict occurs between pastoralist communities in northern Kenya
© Siegfried Modola/IRIN

Livestock theft, cross border raids and revenge attacks can mar remote villages in northern Kenya following long-standing armed conflict between pastoralist communities over water and pasture resources, land ownership and political supremacy. In Wajir, Garissa, Tana River and Mandera districts, youths have been provided with weapons by their communities to defend their tribes and carry out raids against 'enemy' tribes. This violence, and the loss of livestock, has caused thousands of pastoralists to flee to major towns.

In a bid to stop this cycle of conflict, government-backed peace-making activities were initiated in 2003, bringing seven local tribes together to search for local solutions. By engaging clan elders, women leaders and youth leaders, the tribes were able to address the factors that fuelled the conflict, sign a peace agreement and form a committee to solve disputes and ensure that resources were shared. Hundreds of youths also surrendered their weapons and returned to their communities. Now, if a tribe sources arms from Ethiopia, a penalty of 100 camels can be imposed.

Making a new start

To provide the demobilised youths with the skills necessary to start their own businesses, the Frontier Indigenous Network (FIN), a local community-based organisation, began providing livelihood training in the area. "We decided to engage the youths because cases of insecurity were on the rise after demobilisation," explains Asha Mulki, programme coordinator of FIN. "After training, the groups came up with business ideas and we assisted them in obtaining loans from local banks, which they could repay as they worked." Two hundred youths have been provided with training so far.

Fruit and vegetables from <em>Wathajir</em> are consumed by locals in Garissa town (© Abjata Khalif)
Fruit and vegetables from Wathajir are consumed by locals in Garissa town
© Abjata Khalif

Forty youths formed a group called Wathajir - meaning 'together as one'. After receiving training from FIN on forming a business, and managing capital, and from local agricultural extension officers on farming techniques, they were helped to establish links with national and international markets. Wathajir soon began growing mangoes, apples, watermelons, lemons, kale and spinach along the Tana River. "We got a loan from a local bank to buy seedlings, farm implements and a diesel engine to pump water from the river," says Mohamed Abikar, Wathajir group leader. "We organised ourselves with a great deal of discipline. Everybody does his duties without fail."

Wathajir members have also benefited from a bi-weekly radio programme, put together by the local agricultural office and the Kenya Pastoralist Journalist Network. Broadcast in Somali and Orma, the programme offers farming advice to agro-pastoralist communities in the area, including information on soil fertility, drought-resistant crops, terracing, and establishing fruit nurseries.

Sharing responsibility

All 40 young men share the duties on their 20 acres farm. "We share activities regardless of our positions," Abikar says. The group also meets every Friday to discuss the business and farming challenges, opportunities and contributions to the farm. "We also solve problems like misunderstandings between members, non-performance of duties, and failing to meet targets. We translate these weaknesses into opportunities: such spirit has lifted our work and brought us big profit."

Wathajir group members meet once a week (© Abjata Khalif)
Wathajir group members meet once a week
© Abjata Khalif

"We started our farm in 2003 and we have made significant progress," he adds. "Now vegetables from our farm are consumed by locals in Garissa town." With the help of an agent, Wathajir also sells mangoes to Masafi, a Middle East-based fruit processing company. With high sales and profits from selling their farm produce to local and international markets, the group has been able to form a saving scheme. Here, a portion of their profits are used to provide loans to members who want to start another project or business.

Due to falling water levels in the Tana River, Wathajir is planning to begin an environmental education campaign in the area to raise awareness of the need to protect the river bank in order to maintain water levels.

A model for youth

This farm is a model project for other youths in Kenya, the regional government leader in the province explains. "We want youths to copy such efforts and replicate them in their own areas. We are encouraging youths to start income-generating activities and create self-employment." Other ex-combatants are now mechanics, waste collectors, builders, livestock traders, milk hawkers, and harvesters and traders of gum arabic. Their businesses have contributed to the development of the community and helped the young men to re-integrate into their communities.

Despite a few continuing incidents of conflict over shared resources during prolonged drought, Wajir, Garissa, Mandera and Tana River districts have seen a significant reduction in inter-clan violence since the youths were demobilised and trained. And when conflict arises, the community mediation committees offer a rapid response in addressing these isolated cases.

Written by: Abjata Khalif

Date published: March 2011


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