Young Cities 2019 Perspective: Connecting Kenyan Youth to County Officials

Above: Teams develop their campaigns at our Youth Innovation Labs, like this one in Mombasa, with guidance provided by the Young Cities team. 

Author: Jasmeet Sahotay
Coordinator, Young Cities

Whilst the Kenyan counties of Mombasa and Kwale differ in many ways, their youth share the same thirst for creating positive change. Between 2018 and 2019, our Young Cities programme has supported youth across the two counties in their efforts to build peace and inclusion in their communities, in partnership with their local governments. In this article we look back at how youth have taken novel approaches to tackle the most challenging issues, from gang violence to youth unemployment, and in doing so, how they have been building bridges with County government officials.

The Process

It started with a simple invitation – a request for applications from youth interested in attending an innovation lab and solving a key local challenge.  We shortlisted the brightest ideas and invited eight groups from more than 1,100  individual youth applications to attend our Mombasa Lab in October 2018 and Kwale Lab in June 2019.  Starting with one challenge they wished to address, each group worked tirelessly over three days of intensive learning to define their goal and activities, identify their audience, their tone and their message and then pitch them back to a panel of judges to decide which groups could receive up to $2,500 USD to transform their project ideas into reality!  These groups received continuous support, advice and training from the Young Cities team, our partners at Human Rights Agenda (HURIA), and the County Governments of Mombasa and Kwale.

Projects focused on a broad array of issues, ranging from the recruitment of youth into gangs, youth-police relations, digital literacy, civic education, trauma and violence to youth entrepreneurship. The youths matched their intimate knowledge of local issues and creativity to create campaigns that would capture their communities’ interests. From sport to music, film to research – all avenues were considered, as were all stakeholders: with the campaigns forging close ties with a diverse range of other frontline practitioners, including police, teachers, probation officers, creatives, civil society and municipal leaders.

Top: A still from our video campaigns coming out of Mombasa: a mother grieves for her son, as she questions what she could have done to have prevented his death.
Above: Samba Sports facilitated a football tournament in Kwale county, hosting over 100 young boys.

Raising the Profile of Youth Among County Government

In supporting young people to become changemakers, Young Cities also simultaneously connects them with  their respective local government to foster shared understanding and opportunities for dialogue. Working closely with the county governments in both Mombasa and Kwale, the team have provided a feedback loop to government, exchanging on the issues faced by youth, and ultimately enhancing both groups’ capacity to relate to one another’s perspective in solving shared community challenges. Young Cities also helped to roll out a survey on views of local youth on governance processes, which will help to inform engagement programmes.

Together with HURIA, we worked with the Kwale County CVE Forum and County Government to roll out a local youth survey on young people’s understanding of local governance processes and public participation mechanisms. They survey’s findings will form the basis for an awareness-raising and engagement programme across a number of sub-counties to be delivered this month. In Mombasa, in addition to supporting the youth groups consulting on youth-police relations and youth civic education, County stakeholders are also working to include youth voices in their CVE policy document and action plan.  Building on the country’s strong public participation framework in policy development, this will give young people an opportunity to provide their feedback on a key policy document outlining the County’s CVE framework and actions.


Above: A still from our video campaigns coming out of Mombasa: a young girl is led down a path to violence by her friend.

The Campaigns

Gang violence has been a key concern  for young people in multiple sub-counties, and three of the groups in Mombasa looked at the issue from a different lens – designing a series of videos that together told a story which explored  the role of parents, the wider community and other young people in preventing gang recruitment. The video campaigns have recently launched and are currently underway, and will be shared publicly on the Strong Cities Network website soon. As of this moment these video campaigns have over 250,000 views.

Elsewhere in Kwale, Samba Sports hosted two football tournaments with over 200 boys, which provided a framework to engage with them on countering gang violence and drug use through a series of workshops, utilising the bond of sport to discuss trauma alongside inclusion and diversity issues in school.  The team worked closely with  teachers, probation officers, local police, trained counsellors and County officials.  These actors enabled follow up workshops in schools, provided thematic insights and training, and demonstrated to the youth that they are supported in their efforts.

The other two initiatives in Mombasa focused on capturing the views of youth on two enormous issues: youth-police relations and the stigma associated with school drop-outs.  The findings from these youth-led research projects will be provided to the County government, who in turn provided  the groups with access to key local government and police stakeholders to carry out their projects, to receive necessary permits and ensure they can capture the challenges from all perspectives to create a shared understanding of these key issues.

Youth unemployment is a pertinent issue across Kenya, and has been consistently highlighted in both our research as well as through discussions with local stakeholders  as one of the biggest barriers to youth empowerment in the county. The BluePrint Initiative, encouragingly, has focused on youth entrepreneurship, ensuring that youth are both aware and able to connect with employment projects and skill-development initiatives that are running in their communities.

And finally, the ‘Derin Peace Network’ hosted two hyper-localised ward level sessions on public sector devolution: improving the understanding among youth of the concept of ‘devolution’ following the re-organisation of Kenya’s national administration in 2010. The sessions aim to ensure that youth have the knowledge they need to get involved in local participation processes and have their say on key issues affecting their communities. Working closely with Kwale County Government, the youth group was provided with a car from the County to ensure they can engage all communities, even those hardest to reach, underlying just how important flexible partnerships can be in solving the day to day challenges that activists face in their work.

Above: Youth Innovation Lab in Mombasa, 2018

A Long-Term Partnership

Without the support of County governments, the youth groups’ campaigns would not have been possible.  In offering support to their youth, local government can alleviate the barriers to engagement and create legitimacy for young people to act as leaders within their communities. Similarly, with a burgeoning youth population, County officials understand the importance of youth participation in local governance and building trust with them.

In 2020 Young Cities will be continuing its work on the coast of Kenya, with another Youth Innovation Lab in February, which is open to youth from both Kwale and Mombasa.  We will also be opening a new round of funding for our Young Cities activists to continue their initiatives and, become mentors and coaches to the next generation of Young Cities activists.

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