What We Do
Kenya

Developing a marginalized youth into a social changemaker

Youths living in marginalized areas unable to receive ample care have become ever more vulnerable in Kenya, with a significant number of them turning into gang members. We engage in actions that will deradicalize, and reintegrate such youths as a social changemaker. Through empowering their potential, a future where a path towards terrorism will not be an option would be realized.

Kenya is known for being one of the world’s largest host countries for refugees, holding more than 480,000 mainly in refugee camps as of 2019. In particular, approximately 260,000 are from Somalia, more than half of the refugee population. Under such a circumstance, the Kenyan government, concerned about the overabundance of refugees, has been linking refugees especially from Somalia to crime and terrorism, seeing them as a security threat. As a consequence, the government has been continuously disregarding human rights by justifying extrajudicial measures such as murder, wrongful arrest, and attempting to shut down refugee camps. This in part has also been due to the rise of Al-Shabaab, a violent extremist group based in Somalia. The international community led by the United States has tolerated the hardline approach of the Kenyan government, under the banner of "war on terrorism".

As a result of the Kenyan army invading Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), terrorist activities by Al-Shabaab have become increasingly conducted in Kenya as retaliation. Consequently, numerous casualties have occurred in the north-eastern regions and coastal areas near the border of Somalia, in addition to Nairobi.

In conducting terrorist activities in Kenya, Al-Shabaab has been recruiting vulnerable youths, including gang members. Such recruiters have especially been reported in the Eastleigh District of Nairobi and the surrounding semi-slum areas, which were raided by the Kenyan government in 2014. Moreover, coupled with the high unemployment rate in the region as a whole, vulnerable youths, including gang members often turn to crimes such as theft and drugs to survive, a problem that further isolates them from society. From this background, they are at huge risk of radicalizing and engaging in terrorism, through being lured into such actions by recruiters.

At the same time, however, they are ‘youths’ that have the potential to be social changemakers. Taking a focus on the potential they hold, we have been accepting them as youths with a promising future and taking various measures to foster their ability to forge their path.

Our Activities in Kenya

1.Deradicalization and reintegration projects towards Somali gangs

Since 2013, we have been conducting deradicalization and reintegration projects, mainly towards Somali gangs in the Eastleigh District of Nairobi. Though such individuals have been shunned as criminals from local communities, many factors lead to their joining of gang groups. In particular, cases of youths joining gang groups to protect themselves from the harsh environment (e.g., discrimination from the Kenyan society, harassment from the police, high unemployment rates, and unstable public security) have not been few. Nonetheless, ample care for them has been nonexistent, making them even more isolated from the local community. Therefore, in addition to awareness-raising programs that help such youths realize their potential and the existence of a society that accepts them, creating a path for them to take action as agents of social change, we also provide skills training and regular counseling based on individual needs over a long period. Through these efforts, we were successful in leading one of the three major gang groups in the region to dissolution in 2018.

2. Income generation support program towards vulnerable youths including gangs

Through the implementation of projects aimed towards Somali gangs, we have come to realize that the existence of youths bearing high risks of radicalization is an issue of the whole surrounding region. To tackle such a problem, we have been conducting an income generation support program in the semi-slum areas of Nairobi that will accept not only Somali youths, but also Kenyan gangs and vulnerable youths in those regions. In addition to the extremely high unemployment rate in the area, due to the spread of the new coronavirus infection, security forces have been taking extrajudicial measures, namely enforcing behavioral restrictions. Such a circumstance has led to increased frustration, especially among the youths. This program aims to support the vulnerable youths, including gangs, to earn their income, acquire the ability to cope with the challenges they face in their lives, and develop resistance to radicalization. In addition to providing practical skill training sessions such as smartphone repairing skills, as well as business skills to monetize that skill, we offer a combination of life skills training such as disillusionment prevention and anger management, with long-term follow-up afterward.

3. Radicalization prevention projects towards youths with high radicalization risks

Following a request from the UN-HABITAT (United Nations Human Settlements Programme), we have collaborated with them in establishing the “One Stop Youth Resource Centre Project” at Mandera, situated on the border of Somalia and Kenya. This institution aims to prevent violent extremism and radicalization of youths. Mandera is a region where the risk of youths radicalizing is extremely high, due to the presence of recruiters of Al-Shabaab roaming in Somalia and its history of marginalization and exclusion by the central government. Cases of such individuals migrating to Somalia and joining the group are not rare occasions. Although Mandera is a hotspot for recruiters of Al-Shabaab, imposing a great threat for young people to be radicalized, it has long been overlooked due to its geographic location and heavy attack from the extremist group. Based on the MoU with the UN-HABITAT, we have been working as their implementing partner of the project, offering ToT(Training of Trainers), specialized workshops, creating modules within the project as well as the development and sharing of a model of ‘Best Practices’.

We want you to let go of those negative biases, and listen to our voice.
This is our only wish against society.

- Balshosho, Ex Somali Gang Member

Your power is needed for stopping terrorism
and terminating conflicts.