From where I stand: "I see kids in my community and I feel like I’ve been silent for too long."
Mealii Swazuri is 25 and lives in Kwale County. She is active in her community and has been leading discussions on youth affairs and grass roots conflict prevention initiatives. Since 2020, she has been a member of the Kwale Youth Assembly who have recently been travelling across the county to collect information from young people about what they want to see from their decision makers.
This area suffers from widespread unemployment. We have many dropouts from education, often through lack of interest, and lack of parental support to continue with studies. It has become almost a sub-culture.
Gang crime is a particular source of conflict in Kwale. There are two gangs who are fighting each other. In a neighbouring ward, there has been a large number of killings, they’re often not sober. Most of them are from 12-16 years, they’re so young. The entry-point is the parents – but some of them have given up. Our own village chairman has a son who has turned to crime.
As a young woman it is hard to have your ideas accepted. Our local elders don’t listen to you – they say you’ve not seen anything, you have no life experience. I wanted to join the Nyamba Kumi initiative, a local neighbourhood monitoring scheme. It’s a way of delegating a collection of households, perhaps 6-10, to individuals to deal with any conflict issues. In this area the duty is carried out mainly by old men, so I wanted to offer my help, but they refused.
What they don’t realise is that the youth that are causing much of this conflict, so someone speaking to them that they can relate to, could help. Its hard to get youth involved. They know that conflicts exist, but we need to make them see that frameworks like the Kenya National Action Plan have been created to deal with them.
The narrative is changing slightly though. Ahead of the elections we’ve been going across the county to engage young people and find out their needs. We’ve drafted a youth manifesto and we’ve delivered it to the county’s politicians. I think people are beginning to see young people do care, and we have expectations of what we want in our communities and from our government.
Mealii was one of 510 women and youth that received training on conflict resolution in 2021 as part of a project by UN Women Kenya to domesticate UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security, supported by the Government of Finland. Mealii and her peers have gone on to establish the Kwale Peace Network to monitor and mitigate community conflict.