Twenty six year old Felix Ochieng used to fear election season in Kenya. When he was 11, his brother Moses was almost killed during the post-election violence that broke out after the contested 2007 Kenyan Elections. After the results of the election were announced, the country was ripped apart along ethnic lines. Moses’ neighbours turned against him - they attacked him and burned his house down. He lost everything.
“I was not at peace because my brother Moses almost lost his life,” Felix said. The 2022 election season was different for Felix, and for many Kenyans, in what is widely recognized as the most peaceful election in Kenya’s history.
Felix was part of that success. Felix and his brother live in Mathare, an informal settlement in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. In 2022, through USAID Kenya’s Electoral Conflicts Mitigation and Civic Education Support (ECCES) program, Felix was trained as a Peace Ambassador by USAID partner Pamoja for Transformation. Felix and other Peace Ambassadors around the country were trained to detect triggers of electoral violence, identify potential hotspots, and respond when a conflict arises. In the lead up to the 2022 Elections, USAID worked with three Kenyan implementing partners on a locally led Election Program to strengthen key electoral and democratic processes, promote social cohesion and support civic and voter education.
“Now, I have a way to help,” says Felix. He shares his story with others in his neighbourhood and works to prevent youth manipulation and violence by spreading anti-violence messages throughout Mathare.
Felix visits youth hangouts and holds peace dialogues and addresses problems as they arise. ”It’s only through engagement with young people like Felix that results are achieved. When you engage them, you know and resolve issues you ignored. You cannot assume that we have peace without engaging,” Mathare Sub-County Assistant County Commissioner Benard Okwiri said. “It’s a process”.
Felix has trained six youth groups—including in social justice centres—and dozens working in the informal sector on conflict mitigation. He estimates that he has reached over 500 young people through his in-person forums. Recently, when political candidates tried to incite violence in Mathare, Felix was able to work with his peers to cool tensions and stop any violence. “For Felix to go out of his way and start engaging other youth, and even convince them to drop violence – it is a big deal,” said Sharon Makena, Program Assistant at Pamoja for Transformation. “We attribute his courage to the USAID training.”
Felix is one of thousands of young people who benefited from USAID’s investment in strengthening peace and conflict mitigation. In close coordination with county level government and civil society, USAID and its local partners work in 37 counties with tailored programming and partners trusted by local communities.
USAID is implementing a five-year Kenya Inclusive Governance Performance and Participation (Kenya-IGAPP) program. Kenya-IGAPP promotes the USAID ‘Kenya-owned, Kenya-led, Kenya-managed’ strategy by working through local implementing partners, with a focus on county-level organizations and communities through engaging and collaborating with county governments and civil societies, beneficiaries, and stakeholders.
In the leadup to the Kenyan Elections in August 2022, USAID made a significant investment in working directly with Kenyan civil society organizations to promote free, fair, and peaceful elections. This was the first time that USAID worked directly with Kenyan implementers on elections-related programming.
Thanks to the efforts of USAID’s local partners, 19 million Kenyans were reached with peace messaging through USAID-supported community and faith-based leaders, dialogue and advocacy forums, and broadcast media. In addition, the Issues Mbele or “Issues First'' campaign, which was jointly implemented by all partners, reached 23 million Kenyans with a multimedia issues-based voter education communications campaign. Through civic and voter education activities and events, USAID’s partners reached 73,000 people in 37 counties. USAID provided technical support to key elections institutions including the IEBC and the Supreme Court.