5 Lessons from Peacebuilding through Youth Clubs

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Mar 01, 2021
by Samuel Karuita
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5 Lessons from Peacebuilding through Youth Clubs

Salzburg Global Fellow Samuel Karuita reflects on how he helped create a network of peace clubs in Kenya University Students & Police Symposium on Countering Violent Extremism hosted by Dedan Kimathi University Peace Club in November, 2018

Conflict is a common phenomenon in institutions of learning. The sources of schools' conflicts include resources, perceptions, discrimination, stereotypes, power, extremism, and institutional inadequacies. The high level of mistrust and poor communication between students and education administrators is a leading trigger of violent conflicts in Kenya's learning institutions.

There is a lack of dialogue in problem-solving, and the student expresses their grievances through violent riots. This violence is characterized by the wanton destruction of institutional property and terror unreached to innocent host communities' oblivious student grievances. This situation gives rise to an expanded conflict between students, administrators, host communities, and police who unleash violence to break the riots.

I felt challenged and curious about how to transform the relationship between the conflict actors. There was a need for dialogue and an alternative to violent conflict approaches in learning institutions. The opportunity came through the promulgation of Kenya's constitution in 2010, which created space for community policing. The idea to create a peace platform to engage the talents, skills, and views of students in community peacebuilding arose.

In 2012, I co-created Peace Ambassadors Kenya (PAK) as a network that establishes peace clubs in learning institutions to consolidate and institutionalize peace efforts. The Kenya Administration Police Service agreed to offer patronage to the peace clubs network. The peace clubs are registered in their institutions and provide an alternative mechanism of solving conflicts and organize community outreach activities with police officers. This way, all potential actors in the conflict - students, administrators, and police - work together as partners with a vision for a peaceful society hence breaking the perennial mistrust. Today, the initiative is the largest peace clubs network and a model national community policing initiative in Kenya.

Here are the lessons I have learned:

  1. Youths view peace as an abstract concept, hence the need to re-brand it to make it an attractive alternative: "make peace concrete."
  2. Youths are driven by a deep need to connect and belong, and hence any efforts to engage them in peacebuilding should be in formal structures: "organize then engage."
  3. Youths are driven by an individual gain from processes, and hence efforts to engage them in peacebuilding should appeal to: “individual interest and community duty.”
  4. Youths feel victimized and marginalized and are reluctant to engage in any process that they cannot own or influence; “convene and let them define and drive their agenda.”
  5. Dialogue and partnerships between civilians and police/military can transform mistrust into cooperation: “search for an entry points.”

Currently, my biggest challenge is finding a sustainable peace for personal and institutional change. We need to move non-violence from being a strategic choice to a default culture. It is not an extra-curricular activity. How can we create youth peace education programs that meet local realities and builds institutional acceptance?

Samuel Karuita is the director of programs at the Peace Ambassadors Integration Organization, Kenya. He is a peace activist, youth mobilizer, and social innovator. He is a participant of the Asia Peace Innovators Forum and the Global Innovations on Youth Violence, Safety and Justice.

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