It is December 2022 and the country including Bungoma County is enjoying the peace that prevails. Ensuring peace in the county was a task accomplished through the partnership and collaboration of different stakeholders in the country. Bungoma County, like the other counties within the country, experiences political conflicts in almost every electioneering year, not only among individuals but also among groups led by Youth and more so Boda Boda operators. Chaos arises in the party primaries, during campaigns and even after the voting exercise. Panic and confusion take a toll with electorates being uncertain of their safety and future. More often than usual, the violence witnessed paralyzes essential functions like learning, health, and business among others.
It is with this that the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya through its Bungoma Youth Interfaith Network deemed it necessary to engage in advance in different activities in calling for peace in the county. The youth supported by various partners through IRCK rolled out youth-led initiatives that have seen peace reign in Bungoma before, during and after the electioneering period in the 2022 General Elections.
The interfaith youth identified from the Religious Coordinating Bodies of the main faith communities in Bungoma sensitized residents on the importance of upholding peace and the need to live harmoniously through religious forums and platforms, Boda Boda weekly meetings, Social media, and also through organized youth games like football matches. They encouraged them to be tolerant of each other and the benefits of them living as one. As young Peace Ambassadors, the group through their sub-county representatives across Bungoma managed to visit the chiefs and religious leaders in their locations and tasked them to provide platforms for championing peace. The chiefs allowed them to address their barazas while religious leaders helped them to present messages to their followers.
A few days before the 2022 General Elections in August this year, the group organized a peace walk chanting peaceful slogans, ‘Amani ni Muhimu, Chaos ni Old school’; this sent a message to many people including various aspirants, an initiative that challenged many to desist from Post-election violence. Through the leadership of Boda Boda operators, the youth interfaith network organized for ‘Boda Boda Youth Inception Meeting’ and the ‘Boda Boda Stage Talks’ and shared knowledge and skills with them on how to reject radicalization narratives, to promote counter-narratives based on human rights, tolerance, the importance of peace and democracy. Close to 4,000 Boda Boda operators were reached through these sessions.
To ensure all these activities were successful, the team under the guidance of Chairperson Bungoma Interfaith, Bishop Calistus Barasa considered a number of youth mobilization and reintegration factors such as who they are, what they do for a living, how are they recruited by politicians, what specific roles they undertook, what they experienced physically, socio-economically and psychologically, during the post-election conflict, and what ‘home’ context they will be reintegrating into.
During an end-year reflection on interfaith youth engagements the Bungoma Youth Interfaith, highlighted a number of challenges that hinders Bungoma youth from peace-building involvement. In the meeting, sub-county representatives identified some of these challenges, which include; unemployment, Inferiority feeling, excessive alcohol consumer youths’ lack of peace-building mechanisms, inadequate youth communication platforms and inadequate awareness creation.
Walking into the future, Bungoma Interfaith Youth Network is a very optimistic team. Plans are underway for them to have a physical office to enable them to hold monthly meetings. The team also hopes to partner with the County Government to build a youth Friendly centre that will be open to young people to meet and share ideas on how best they can develop each other. The center will also house fields for indoor games to help those with sports talents to train.
According to their team leader Sawda Malik, they look forward to training opportunities in peacebuilding. She says with their youthful energy and capabilities, and ability to adapt to new technological trends, they could act as mediators, community mobilizers, humanitarian workers, and peace brokers if well-trained.
The interfaith youth visited Siritanyi Children’s Home in Kanduyi, Bungoma County, donated assorted goods, and interacted with the children.