Samuel Karuita: Peace now
Samuel Karuita: Peace now
Samuel Karuita explains why he set up Peace Ambassadors Kenya, how the organisation promotes peace, and what he's learnt about peace-building.
I dream of a world at peace with itself, where human rights and dignity are upheld and young people can achieve self-actualisation in a secure and sustainable environment.
This is why I made peace-building and youth empowerment my passion and my career. My inspiration has been to address the vicious circles of violent conflict in my country and continent. As an undergraduate student of Disaster Management at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya, I saw the need to connect theory with practice.
It was perturbing to see constant conflicts in institutions of higher learning. There were high levels of suspicion and mistrust between education institution administrators and the student fraternity. There was lack of dialogue in problem solving and the students expressed their grievances through riots.
This was characterised by wanton destruction of institutional property and terror towards host communities. This gave rise to an even more protracted conflict – between students and host communities and between students and the police – that resulted in violent crackdowns.
What could be done to transform the relationship between students, their institutions’ administrators, host communities and the police?
There was need to instill a culture of dialogue through alternatives to violence. An idea was born to establish peace clubs in institutions of higher learning with an aim of consolidating and institutionalising peace efforts. The idea was to create a platform to engage and expose youth talents, skills and ideas, in peace building.
The Kenya Administration Police Service agreed to offer patronage to the national youth peace initiative and Peace Ambassadors Kenya (PAK) was born.
Today PAK has established peace clubs in 37 universities across Kenya, engaging thousands of youths as volunteer ambassadors for community peace-building. The peace clubs are registered in their institutions and provide an alternative mechanism for solving conflicts as well as offering community outreach activities.
This way all potential actors in the conflict – students, administrators and police – have been brought to work together as partners with a vision for a peaceful society, hence breaking the culture of suspicion.
It was unconceivable after the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya that Kenya’s youth and the police would sit down on one table and discuss peace. There was so much mistrust.
The youth perceived police as a ruthless face who only understood the language of force. The police viewed the youth as potential perpetrators of violence. Through non-violent communication forums between the youth and police officers, and through community projects, we have changed this narrative.
To reach out to more people beyond the institutions of higher learning, PAK has used peace advocacy through:
- social media campaigns
- peace forums
- youth exchange programmes
- and peace walks.
So far PAK has successfully organised eight National Peace Advocacy Walks and generated over 500 public peace forums across Kenya. These are organised primarily by the youth, instilling the values of responsibility, initiative and volunteerism.
As the youth embark on peace outreach journeys across the country they get an opportunity to:
- interact with each other
- share their cultural values, norms and virtues
- and create awareness in local communities.
This has imparted the youth with a deeper understanding of societal challenges and triggered their interest in becoming agents of social change. Exposing youth to diverse cultures has encouraged them to move away from ethno-centric tendencies. The youth have formed deeper and meaningful connections with each other and local participants creating a vast networking platform.
Peace Ambassadors Kenya has generated over 500 peace forums across the country.
Community outreach has enabled the youth to campaign on issues such as gender-based violence, education empowerment, environment management and youth livelihoods. At the same time, the youth have displayed their capacities to their communities, government agencies and other developmental stakeholders.
Youth and peace
In my experience, working on youth transformation in Kenya and the Commonwealth, I have concluded that the factors disconnecting youth from peace-building are as follows:
- Youth view peace as abstract concept and hence there is need to make peace “concrete“ by mainstreaming it in development projects, as well as a need to rebrand it to make it attractive.
- Youth are driven by a deep need to connect and belong, hence any efforts to engage them in peace-building should be in formal structures like groups, clubs and associations – “organise then engage”.
- Most youth are driven by individual gain, hence efforts to engage them in peace-building should appeal both to their personal development and their duty to community.
- Youth feel victimised and marginalised and are reluctant to engage in any process that they have no ability to own or influence. Hence they need a platform to drive their agendas.
The road towards a peaceful Commonwealth requires cohesive socialisation processes, education systems and curriculums that integrate peace and, importantly, a new consciousness for a culture of non-violence.
Until young men and women rise up in sufficient numbers to walk the talk of peace, then they will continue to age in a state of wait-hood. We must have a sense of urgency that we need peace now – not tomorrow nor in future.