Practice Spotlight: How Kenyan Civil Society is Adapting to COVID-19

Above: A worker for Human Development Agency (HUDA), Kwale County,  hands out personal protection equipment to motorbike taxi drivers.  

Anisa Harrasy
Manager, Young Cities, Strong Cities Network

The threat of COVID-19 has affected us all in different ways, but particularly civil society. Kenya has had more than 10,000 confirmed cases, but in addition to the cost of lives as a result of the pandemic, there has also been severe knock-on effects for civil society organisations (CSOs). The pandemic has not only disrupted CSOs funding, but has prevented many from accessing the communities they work with.

As part of our work to empower civil society and help build community resilience and cohesion, the Strong Cities Network, together with our sister programmes Young Cities and PROACT, has helped to fund the work of more than 10 CSOs in Kenya. Here, four CSO tell their stories on how COVID-19 has affected their work, how they have been responding, and why close coordination between civil society and local government has been critical to their success.

Isiolo Peace Link, Isiolo County

Abdia Mohammed, Executive Director of Isiolo Peace Link

Isiolo Peace Link was formed in 2006 and has been instrumental in articulating peace and reconciliations issues. It has resolved various pastoral and urban conflicts, as well as offering auxiliary services in giving alerts to various actors in peace-building and conflict prevention, and the government law enforcement agencies in and outside Isiolo County. The group uses traditional conflict resolution mechanisms as well as other conventional structures in arbitrating negotiations to stop conflicts. We spoke with Abdia Mohammed, Executive Director of Isiolo Peace Link, who tells us:

“In Kenya, the economic prospects due to COVID-19 have placed many in jeopardy. The pandemic has seriously affected extended families with sole breadwinners and those taking economic responsibility for the family’s welfare. A good number of these individuals have been left with no pay and their businesses have had to close indefinitely. This, in turn, has increased the dependency ratio of these communities on the few who cannot afford to care for such extended families and relatives. Businesses and small enterprises have also been affected, with a shortage of customers, severe movement restrictions and lockdown curfews by the government. Tourism has been hit especially hard in Isiolo County, with the cancellation of hotel bookings and tour activities that sustain local communities who have come to depend on this income. Those who work in these institutions have been put on mandatory unpaid leave.

COVID-19 has placed a significant strain on our ability to implement our activities and alleviate some of the issues affecting local communities. This comes when the government is urging its citizens to maintain social distancing guidelines and high hygiene levels. Activities requiring larger audiences have been affected in unprecedented ways, which in turn has affected programming and put considerable strain on its the timelines, making it difficult for the projects and community work to run effectively. Many organisations have now diverted funding of community work towards fighting the pandemic, leaving the projects and works in delay and uncertainty.

“We have also organised and facilitated meetings with key security officials in the county to educate them on how police accountability and good relations can be improved during the pandemic through a series of consultations and deliberations.”Abdia Mohammed, Executive Director of Isiolo Peace Link

As an organisation, we have adapted to the use of online conferencing and working in shifts for its members respectively. This has ensured minimal interaction to help reduce the COVID-19 infection rate. We have has rolled out several initiatives and activities to curb the spread of the pandemic in Isiolo County. The organisation has provided protective equipment such as facial masks and gloves to its members and community work members in the fight against the pandemic. We have developed tools in the form of audio and video clips and messages which are disseminated through local social media platforms and local radio stations, including talk shows and interviews. We have distributed several personal protective pieces of equipment (PPE) such as masks, sanitisers and handwash to the respective security agencies and police departments in Isiolo County, as well as improvised water dispensers. We have also organised and facilitated meetings with key security officials in the county to educate them on how police accountability and good relations can be improved during the pandemic through a series of consultations and deliberations.

The county government and IPL on several occasions initiated a partnership and approach to working as a team in combating the pandemic. The County COVID-19 response committee also gave IPL a platform to engage members of the community and youth in the fight against COVID-19 at the local level. In its own capacity, the County government has provided 10,000 facial masks distributed among all the wards in Isiolo, 100 water tanks of 75, 200 and 5,000-litre capacity, 1,400 liquid soaps, 5,000 sanitizers and 20 thermo guns in strategic places for testing temperatures. The County government has also provided food stuffs to vulnerable groups especially street families and persons with disabilities, while public places continue to be fumigated.”

IPL provided PPEs for all departments of Police in Isiolo with support of GCERF

Foodstuffs and PPE distribution among persons with disabilities


Human Development Agenda (HUDA), Kwale County

Jermaine Kashi, Co-founder and Programme Manager at HUDA

HUDA is a youth-led grassroots organisation founded in Kwale County, shortly following a period of radicalisation and violent extremism in the area.  The main objective of the organisation is to prevent, counter and transform radicalisation and violent extremism through the protection and promotion of human rights. Co-founder and Programmes Manager of HUDA, Jermaine Kashi, spoke to us about how they are fighting through this pandemic.

“The COVID-19 lockdown has severely affected local communities in Kwale County. Firstly, the closure of social spaces, including hotels, has collapsed tourism, a major source of income. This has rendered many youth unemployed which is problematic as the majority of individuals in Kwale live off their daily earning. Therefore, the lack of employment has caused severe problems, pushing them to the brink of engaging in criminal activities to earn a living.

A key area of concern during the pandemic was youth idleness, as learning institutions and religious centres have closed to contain the virus, youth have drifted and exposed themselves to antisocial vices, specifically gang activities. These institutions have been key in offering solace and holding the social fabric among communities, but most importantly the youth.

Above: HUDA staff provide community support during lockdown, including offering face masks and PPE essentials to boda-boda riders. 

Our ability to deliver social support and do community work is largely dependent on meeting community members, and as a result, the COVID-19 lockdowns have impeded our ability to do this work.  We have provided basic community support by offering facemasks and PPE essentials to Boda Boda riders (Motorbike taxi drivers) and sensitise them on their role in flattening the COVID-19 curve since they are providing essential services.

“A key area of concern during the pandemic was youth idleness, as learning institutions and religious centres have closed to contain the virus, youth have drifted and exposed themselves to antisocial vices, specifically gang activities”Jermaine Kashi, Co-founder and Programme Manager at HUDA

In addition to moving our engagements to social media platforms (Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram) and radio talk shows to minimise physical engagements yet still ensure community cohesion and safety. Studies have shown that during the lockdown individuals online media consumption has increased therefore we used several different mediums to spread key narratives such as hygiene regulations to avoid the virus, how to consume the media critically and digital literacy. Through this lockdown, there has been police brutality in Kwale, specifically aimed at those who break curfew regulations, therefore although difficult through our outreach we aim at building bridges between specifically youth and police forces.”


Kikozi, Lamu County

Tima Abdullah, Project Manager, Kikozi

The Kikozi Programme Group (KPG) is a community-based organisation in Lamu dedicated to making an impact on the growing problem of education in Lamu County by promoting the level of education and improving livelihood standards. Currently, KPG is working towards empowering the community through civic education and alternative livelihoods in Lamu County. They have implemented over 10 projects in the whole of Lamu County of which they have helped in improving the socioeconomic stander of the Lamu Community and helped in promoting cultural diversities and strengthening peaceful co-existence in Lamu Archipelago. Tima Abdullah, a Project Manager in Kikozi, explains the following:

“As a community, we are used to in-person interaction in everything we do, from our personal life to our work.  Due to social distancing, we haven’t been able to do this, increasing poverty in Lamu County, as individuals depend on their daily income for survival. Businesses, in particular, have been affected, as most people depend on tourism and fishing in the county. No weddings and any other events in which people participate have been permitted – even the burials, which are one of the biggest ways we support each other. This has left most people frustrated.

“To get around this, we use technology to reach our audience and are conducting activity on online platforms such as Facebook”Tima Abdullah, Project Manager, Kikozi

COVID-19 has limited our interaction with the community and hence made our work difficult, especially our ability to do sensitisation and awareness work, to have one-on-one interaction, and to build good relations with and understand these communities. To get around this, we use technology to reach our audience and are conducting activity on online platforms such as Facebook. However, this has limited us to households with internet access and mobile phones and has prevented us from reaching some of the larger communities, especially in the interior part of Lamu County who do not use any social media platform or have internet.

This has helped but still has some disadvantages because we are only being able to reach those who have access to the internet and mobile phones. Otherwise, we have directed all our energies and focus towards COVID-19 response actions, and have been working with other organisations on creating awareness on COVID-19, as well as providing masks and handwash to the community. We conduct awareness sessions through social media platforms but also through radio which is commonly used by the elderly in Lamu.”


Nomadic Development Group, Mandera County

Adan Ali Happi, Founder of Nomadic Development Group

Nomadic Development Group works in partnership with state and non-state actors to help communities mitigate and manage shocks that threaten their safety and livelihood. Among their aims, they help youth to use social media platforms and the internet safely and responsibly and provide awareness-raising to dissuade youth from harmful activities to themselves and the community. They also aim for increased involvement of women in decision-making on social development planning processes and community governance. Adan Ali Happi, founder of Nomadic Development group, explained that:

The government’s measures on stay-safe guidelines has restricted community meetings and minimised local support initiatives. The lockdown has affected market supply and demand chains that otherwise provided capacities for internal social supports, and created tough conditions for many families.

Among our activities, we have been doing civic awareness drives on the virus to educate communities, while organising youth volunteers to carry out awareness campaigns. Adan Ali Happi, Founder of Nomadic Development Group

In response, we have directed all energies and focus towards COVID-19 response. Among our activities, we have been doing civic awareness drives on the virus to educate communities, while organising youth volunteers to carry out awareness campaigns. We have also conducted dialogue sessions with communities to encourage the use of PPE and observe social distancing, and are continuing to support government agencies in initiatives such as the National Hygiene Programme (NHP).

The local government has provided facemasks and hand sanitisers at markets in additions to provision of food stocks to vulnerable families, and have also provided food rations/food coupons for most vulnerable members of the community.”


Thanks to all the CSOs who contributed to this article. If you work for a CSO and would like to offer your own views on how COVID-19 has affected you and your work, or how local government has helped, we’d like to hear from you. Please contact [email protected]

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