As Kenya's presidential vote approaches on Monday — the first since post-election violence swept the country in 2007 — young people in our Yes Youth Can program are standing up for peace.
Five years ago, armed groups of youth stirred up local politicians killed more than 1,500 people across the country. Mercy Corps has been working with the government and thousands of youth groups for the past two years to build a grassroots movement to choose peace.
Yes Youth Can engages Kenyan youth in community outreach and small business creation, empowering them to transform their lives and their country. They are actively involved in finding productive solutions to the issues they face.
Read their stories and hopes for the future of their country:
‘Let's get ready to unite this country’
Victor Akubasu, Yes Youth Can member
We have come a long way here in Kenya since the disputed elections of 2007.
Immediately after we cast our votes back then, violence erupted countrywide. Most of my close friends were paid by politicians to participate in demonstrations which resulted in looting of shops and lighting bonfires on the highways. As a result, some were shot, killed and others arrested and are still in jail. The elections and the aftermath turned young people against each other.
My desire is that we join hands and embrace peace. We are not ready to experience what happened across 2007 and 2008 again. We appreciate the partners who have walked with us in bringing the young people together and helping them take center stage in decision-making roles in our society.
The Mercy Corps Yes Youth Can program has been of great value to young people in our area, building peace, giving them support to start up community projects and raise their standard of living.
As part of our project’s peace initiatives ahead of the elections this month, I have gone around to bunges (youth parliaments) and market places preaching peace. I recently invited all political candidates in my constituency to a peace forum to sign a pledge of peace, and did the same with many community leaders and officials and various government departments. We also held a big peace caravan, preaching peace in key communities, and culminating in a soccer match to encourage peace among the young people there.
My prayer and wish is to see peaceful elections. I call upon my fellow young people and the country at large: let’s join hands and cast our votes for good leadership, let’s all remember this country is important and bigger than any politicians. To our politicians: Let’s support whoever wins and whoever loses should concede defeat honorably.
I am ready to embrace peace, not violence. Let’s get ready to unite this country. God bless Kenya.
‘My loved ones are gone because they exercised their right to vote’
Edith Mercy Wambui Njuguna, Yes Youth Can member
Peace is very important; it’s all we need to coexist. With peace, violence will remain in the past. It will ensure that no child is left motherless and no parent will live to see the burial of their own son or daughter.
The turmoil after the elections here in 2007 affected my life in a very negative way. My uncle was killed by demonstrators. My loved ones are gone and never to be seen again just because they exercised their democratic right to vote. Houses were torched, roads blocked and families evicted from their homes.
I believe the general elections this year will be different. It will be more peaceful as most citizens are more informed and wiser. The Yes Youth Can program has made a great difference to so many young people, and I am involved to make sure young people won’t be used again to throw stones or cause chaos.
As part of the project we held a peace festival and caravan earlier this year, calling on young people to stand up against violence and campaigning for peace. The main event shook the whole nation, with thousands of young men and women supporting peace and denouncing violence. Songs and dance were the order of the day. Talents hidden for a long time were exposed and it was all about the youth owning, leading and managing peace in our nation. I am happy I had the chance to be there and to witness my long-lived dream of the youth of our nation united.
During this election I hope to see young people stand up for their rights and for noble candidates — not just for the wealthy or those who bribe their way to the top. I want to see a Kenya that comes out to vote in huge numbers, and to elect one worthy candidate that we all believe in. I hope to see a Kenya that is united and a Kenya that loves peace.
‘You don't know how precious peace is until it is gone’
Jack Muiruri Kihara, Yes Youth Can member
Peace is very important in our country because without peace there can’t be business as usual. Businesses can’t operate without it, students can’t go on with their studies. Our country would be at a standstill without peace.
I’m a peace ambassador here in Kenya because I value peace. I know we never appreciate the importance of it until it is gone and I felt the pain and anguish of our people after the botched 2007 elections firsthand.
During the 2007 elections in Kenya I witnessed some of the young people in Kahuro, the district where I live, being hired by politicians to participate in the post-election violence and take revenge on another tribe. You don't know how precious peace is until it is gone. Most of the young people were my friends and even now some have never returned. Their parents, friends and relatives were left with a lot of questions on the whereabouts of their sons.
I’m actively engaged in the Yes Youth Can program because it helps young people be a part of peace by realizing their full potential. I have no doubt that the upcoming elections they will be free and fair. I trust there will be peace all over after elections because together we have done so much to build peace, with peace concerts, training and caravans all over the country.
I hope to see a Kenya where people live beyond tribal affiliations and ethnicity. A Kenya where resources are distributed equally. A home where basic necessities like education, health, food and shelter are available to all its citizens.
‘We call the peace pledge Tuko Rada’
David Waniga, Yes Youth Can member
The Mercy Corps Yes Youth Can project has taught me how to advocate for young people like me and the issues that affect us. Peace is the most important thing and I am proud I have decided to put my country first. It is my greatest achievement.
As part of my village bunge (youth parliament) I have helped set up an adult education center with support from Yes Youth Can funds. There we teach other young people computer and technology skills to keep them busy, help them find work and build peace.
As a Kenyan youth, I have decided to do everything I can to maintain peace before, during and after the elections. We call this pledge Tuko Rada. Many other young people are making this pledge to keep peace, love each other as Kenyans and not to fight again. Tuko Rada is a movement now and in years to come we know peace will be a complete reality — we will realize our goals and own this country as true, peaceful patriots.
Watch the video for Tuko Rada's theme song:
‘We agreed to maintain peace and live as brothers’
Jane Maina, Yes Youth Can member
I encourage peace in my community. I have been part of the Mercy Corps Yes Youth Can project in Kenya since 2011, and I implement the lessons I have learned as part of it in every way I can.
We have organized and taken part in lots of events and training sessions to promote peace. Earlier in February I took part in a peace exchange program. I joined hundreds of other young people from the Rift Valley to talk and share thoughts about how important peace is. Everyone was very friendly, I learned a lot, and we all agreed to maintain peace and live as brothers.
My desire is that the elections here in Kenya will be peaceful especially after the many peace forums that we have organized as young people, in partnership with Mercy Corps. Peace will lead to the realization of our country’s vision for the future.
‘Yes Youth Can has changed my life’
Joyce Ngongo Gicharu, Yes Youth Can member
Before the last elections in Kenya I ran a boarding school for more than 80 children. During the break for the elections, violence broke out in the areas around the school and three of my students were killed. When the new term began, parents were too afraid to let their children out and only eight students turned up to study.
Because of this I couldn’t afford to keep the school running. I had to bow to the effects of post-election violence and after finding those eight students other places to study, I closed my school for good.
The Yes Youth Can program has changed my life and that of many young people. It has helped me recover from my past wounds and get back to my normal life, helping others. Through my work as part of the program I have been able to help many groups of young people, teaching and learning alongside them about economic empowerment and social skills. It has equipped me with a good network and a better future.
I hope the elections will be different from 2007, since Yes Youth Can has brought change and awareness to the young people who were mostly used to perpetuate violence in the last elections.
Peace is very important. With peace people will not live in fear and the economy can grow. In future I hope to see a peaceful Kenya and citizens who will be happy to be Kenyans.
‘Peace is hope for a better tomorrow’
S. K. Waithaka, Yes Youth Can member
Peace is important because if there is no peace there no hope for a better tomorrow. A peaceful environment is a catalyst for hope.
Ahead of the upcoming election I am encouraging peace in our constituency here in Kenya by helping to organize ‘peace forums’ (community discussions) in key locations across the district, and doing everything I can to bring young people and communities together.
This work is part of the Yes Youth Can program with Mercy Corps. I am involved in it because it is a youth-owned, youth-led and youth-managed initiative which allows young people to be part of providing solutions to issues affecting our society.
So far the program has helped me network with other young Kenyans, organize peace events, improve my education, find ways to support members of my community raise their living standards and improve their future.
My wish is that the elections will be free and fair, maintaining peace. In the future, I hope to see young people actively participate as decision-makers and help find solutions to issues affecting them.
My hope for Kenya is that it will be a country free from corruption, where young people can access jobs and where young people are involved and engaged in issues of national interest.