The Yaya Education Trust (YET) is youth-led organisation established in 2005, with a mission to cultivate and support peacebuilding efforts among young people. In addition to this core activity, YET also engages with other community development initiatives: youth economic empowerment, human rights advocacy, health, education and literacy programmes.
YET was founded by Benard Wakoli and other local young people. Benard is an accomplished peacemaker with advocacy and negotiation skills, and his work has been recognised locally and internationally; among other awards, he won the USA Department of State's Community Solutions program in 2014 where he was placed as a fellow at the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding-University of California,Irvine-USA, the SMK International Campaign in 2010, and the Youth Action Net Global Fellow in 2012.
Benard’s desire to undertake peacebuilding initiatives was informed by the conflict and violence he witnessed growing up in rural Kakamega. Conflict there is closely associated with religious and ethnic intolerance leading to armed resistance from minority groups. It often escalates during election periods because of incitement from political leaders. The post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 was a turning point. Benard lost three close relatives. His entire family was displaced, and sought refuge at an IDP camp. He decided actively to mobilise young people as peace ambassadors, work he continues today.
Kakamega is one of the most diverse counties in Kenya. In the western part of the country, it has a population of more than three million people from 15 different ethnic communities. People follow Christianity, Islam and traditional religions. Kakamega has witnessed serious and violent clashes, taking lives and destroying people, between communities stoked by politicians and local religious leaders. They have been accused of mobilising young people to engage in violence because of historical injustice and religious hatred. These clashes worsen during election years, most recently in 2013. Kakamega has also witnessed several waves of terror attacks. Churches and other meeting places for Christians have been the main target.
The escalation of such acts has led to the emergence of mistrust, fear and tension between Muslim and Christian youths. There is an increasing hatred towards Muslims, who have been accused of being the perpetrators of the violence. This has slowly transformed the conflict along sectarian lines. In a country with a majority of Christians, minority Muslim groups are becoming the victims of marginalisation, isolation, forced eviction and revenge violence.
Peacebuilding for change
YET has initiated several community projects aimed at peace sensitisation, preventing and stopping violence and building peace. YET’s major activities include:
- Training young people in mediation and negotiation.
- Designating young people as peace ambassadors.
- Organising peace advocacy campaigns.
- Conducting disarmament programmes.
- Creating income generating ventures.
- Promoting educational opportunities for the disadvantaged.
- Carrying out sexual health awareness training, reforestation programmes and minority rights advocacy.
All of YET's activities are aimed at producing particular results. For instance carrying out peace sensitisation, the organisation aims to informing the public of the effects of conflict and possible non-violent conflict resolution mechanisms. Training young people in peace issues enables youth to become peace champions in their areas, helping expand the influence of peace themselves and preventing violence.
Peace advocacy campaigns are aimed at lobbying local leaders, including politicians and religious leaders, to develop legislation and approaches to ensure peaceful co-existence and respect for human rights among different communities. The community development initiatives are aimed at engaging young in productive activities, therefore avoiding a susceptibility to being recruited by politicians to engage in violent activities.
Through their peacebuilding work, YET has been able to prevent interethnic and interreligious conflicts in the Umias and Butere districts, resolve conflict peacefully between the Luhya and the Luo communities in Matungu and Kwisero districts, and maintain peace within the community by engaging youth and local leaders as peace champions.
Kenyan elections 2013: a peacebuilding success story
Kenya’s general elections have been characterised by bloody violence leading to death, injury, massive internal displacement, looting and the destruction of property. Political parties are mainly regional or ethnic based, depending on the ethnicity of the party leader, who often rally their ethnic blocs towards supporting their bids, for their own reasons.
Campaigning for the last election, in Mach 2013, began in the last quarter of 2012. Regional leaders provoked their followers, reminding them of historical injustices and inciting them to commit violent acts, prevent minority groups from voting and chase them away from areas of electoral activity.
By December 2012, several incidences of violence in various parts of Kakamega County had already been reported with families moving to seek refuge in safer places. To prevent the escalation of this violence, YET initiated the ‘Peace First’ project targeting youth, community leaders and the local administration. The project designed a peace pledge and petitioned local leaders to sign it, as well as organising mediation and reconciliation forums among warring communities, urging peaceful elections among all parties, and lobbying for the prosecution of those who incited violence.
It is estimated that over six months, the project's cumulative reach was over 200,000 people, the majority of them youth.