Above: 32 youth activists and local government officials from Mombasa County, Kenya, and Kristiansand, Norway attended the Youth Intercity Virtual Exchange.
6 July 2022
On 15 June 2022, Young Cities led a one-day Youth Intercity Virtual Exchange that brought together 32 youth activists and local government officials from Mombasa County, Kenya, and Kristiansand, Norway. The event was organised in partnership with the Mombasa County Government and the City of Kristiansand.
Sixteen Young Cities Ambassadors from Mombasa joined 16 high school activists from Kristiansand for this dynamic exchange. They presented their creative, youth-led peacebuilding initiatives to address hate crime and hate speech in their communities, shared the experiences and best practices they had learned in the process, and delivered recommendations for better youth-city collaboration to city officials present, including the Deputy Mayor of Kristiansand, Eric Rostoft; Mombasa County Chief Officer for Youth, Gender, Sports and Culture, Dr June Mwajuma; and Mombasa County Resilience Officer, Keziah Neema.
During the event, city representatives emphasised the need for better collaboration between youth and municipalities, describing young people as key stakeholders and leaders in social cohesion efforts. The government presented on local interventions and opportunities to engage and collaborate with youth in tackling issues affecting both cities. Representatives from Mombasa also highlighted the ways in which the devolution process has paved the way for Mombasa County to develop community engagement sessions and policies that centre around young people. The Deputy Mayor of Kristiansand noted his city’s involvement of youth in civic processes, such as ‘Democracy Week’, and emphasised the importance of engaging young people in municipality-led programmes and policies.
The event also included breakout sessions, which provided participating youth with an opportunity to have deeper discussions about their experiences and perspectives on youth civic participation, and on efforts to build community cohesion and counter hate speech. These conversations enabled a transnational understanding of the similarities in challenges facing young activists, despite their different country contexts. They also found common ground in the creative approaches they were taking to tackle these challenges.
This remarkable event builds on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the two local authorities in 2018, with the support of the Strong Cities Network. The MOU identified a youth exchange programme as a means through which to learn, share experiences and build synergies for sustainable future collaboration.
Below are key takeaways from the discussions, which were conducted with exchange participants. The views expressed in this document are based on discussions from the exchange only, and do not necessarily represent SCN, the Mombasa County Government, the City of Kristiansand, or SCN Members.
1. Cross-learning events such as these are beneficial in forging stronger relationships between young activists who are motivated in tackling issues of hate and polarisation across cities.
As the youth interacted, they were able to build relationships with each other through sharing key contacts and knowledge on how they have approached their peacebuilding work. The sessions provided an opportunity for reflection on the challenges they have faced, and the lessons learned on each side that both groups can use to enhance their initiatives to provide solutions for their communities.
“We have a lot in common because we have the same youth issues. The youth should participate more in issues of governance, as they are a valuable part of policymaking processes.” - Young Cities Ambassador, Mombasa
2. The Interactive sessions provided an opportunity for greater cross-cultural understanding between city and youth participants.
Youth were able to learn about the diverse cultures across the two cities, expounding their knowledge and perspectives by sharing the similarities and challenges they have encountered in the field. The Deputy Mayor of Kristiansand, Mr. Erik Rostoft emphasised the need for such exchanges to connect nations and cultures:
“Thank you to Strong Cities for organising this event that connects us across regions. It is a reminder that all cities and countries consist of individuals, and not state entities. And individuals can make a difference, particularly around the issues of aggression and violence that we’re seeing today.”
3. The event provided a platform for city officials to share the opportunities they have created for youth engagement, while gaining insight on how these efforts can be improved.
There is often a gap in trust and communication between city leaders and young activists in many contexts. The Exchange bridged these actors and created an open and constructive space for candid, transnational discussions that focused on improving different avenues for engagement around issues of hate and polarisation. The representative from Mombasa, Keziah Neema, shared that the County engages young people through policies that closely involve youth organisations in civic processes and through prioritising youth employment and training to counter cycles of radicalisation. Johanne Nielsen shared that the city of Kristiansand has put in place strategies that ensure their approaches to tackle social challenges are inclusive for all. Through the youth presentations, the cities learned about various creative approaches to engage young people in an all-inclusive effort to build community cohesion.