A youthful journey that continues to bring peace in Mombasa County
There has always been a misconception in the corridors of conversations among the youth that the legal arm of the government (police) is out to get them. This myth has created tension between the two groups (youth and police) making the system come off as an opaque entity that does not accommodate rehabilitation. A false case.
Kenya Red Cross Society with support from the European Union established that the youth can indeed be the forefront in fighting crime and working hand in hand with the police to ensure that the society is a better place to live in. Through the Conflict Prevention Peace and Economic Opportunities for Youth in Kenya (CPEYK) program, KRCS has worked with the community, county government and police representatives in Mombasa county to identify the drivers of conflict among young people and addressed them by coming up with sustainable methodologies to engage the youth.
This has seen the birth of cohesion and reduction of violent extremist activities among the youth. Shooting by the police, incarceration and mob justice was not news to many people in Mombasa county because crime was rife. Salim Said is a 32-year-old rehabilitated (from crime) person who is now part of CPEYK program and shares how he escaped the jaws of death by choosing to change his lifestyle.
“My life in crime started when I dropped out of high school in Form 3 due to financial issues. Since I was idle, I chose to hangout with other young men in the estate and that’s when I learnt to snatch things from people and thereafter ‘upgraded’ to the use of a panga where I did things that I am not proud of. I remember there was a time I was among the Most Wanted criminals here in Mtongwe and a lot of my time was spent in hiding.”
Salim would later (in 2018) join the group of fishermen under the CPEYK program having undergone training and is now part of the young men working towards ensuring peace prevails in Mtongwe. His relationship with the law has changed tremendously because he is among the first to report criminal activities to the area chief and now has positive rapport with the police.
Johnstone Okasida Ipara, the Police Commander of Mombasa County reiterates Salim’s sentiments on former criminals being the first to report criminal cases and echoes that through the CPEYK program transparency between the youth and police has flourished and positive relationships are being built.
“We had to seek sustainable alternatives for our youth as opposed to shooting them or arresting them. It was a risk we were willing to take, and when Red Cross came to us with this idea of empowerment we decided to have a dialogue and agree on a lasting solution to enrich our youth with skills. I can confidently say that so far, we have succeeded, and we are all winners. The young men who were involved in gang crimes can now walk in my office and we can have a chat and sometimes share a meal.”
According to the Police Commander, crime in Mombasa County has significantly reduced by 50%, and this is one of the things that is bringing tourism back to the county. He emphasises that foreigners can walk freely in Old Town Mombasa and Majengo-areas which even the locals were scared to walk in.
Families in the county are reaping the fruits of the program and some have seen their children go back to school or create sustainable business ventures which ensure that they are not idle.
Famously known as Mama Tumanana, Fatma Mohammed, a mother whose child has benefitted from the program praised Kenya Red Cross for coming to their rescue and bringing sanity back to Old Town Mombasa.
“You can now walk freely here. A few years back this place was guarded by criminals who were waiting to pounce on foreigners and were in constant battles with the police and the local people. My child went back to school and is now in Form 4, were it not for this program he would easily have joined the gangs and I am grateful because I know once he is done with school there are employment opportunities for him.”
The program whose target was 794 surpassed to 1027 in the county meaning that the youth are interested in better lifestyle alternatives as opposed to engaging in crime. The journey by Kenya Red Cross Society continues and working with the community to design strategies that are sustainable remains one of the main mandates to resolve conflict, bring peace and empower.