Engaging youth to foster cross-border peace along the Kenya-Ethiopia border
Samuel Siyel Lotiko was 7 years old when wrongly administered medication led to his total blindness. This life-altering incident meant he had to start school over again, just to learn braille. Now, 21 years later, Samuel is a fixture in his hometown of Illeret in Kenya’s Marsabit County, working fulltime as a community health assistant at a local hospital, and doubling up as a SEEK youth boundary partner. With how well liked and sociable he is, it is easy to see why the graduate of community development and social work is a trusted youth leader. His interest in peacebuilding came about when he worked at the Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance (PACIDA) – an organization based in Marsabit – where he served as part of the conflict early warning system team. From then on, he attended every training, seminar and workshop he could find to learn more about peace and conflict resolution. Through dialogue events and training workshops offered by SEEK consortium partner Strategies for Northern Development (SND), Samuel made the leap from interest to action.
As an active member of an 11-person youth peace leaders’ group, Samuel explains that their main responsibility is to gather and share information on potential conflicts – such as raids – with security agents, or other relevant administration officers. He says, “We aim, as a group, to ensure peaceful coexistence at grassroot level – right from home and community – all the way to inter-community level. Security agents and local administration have so far been quick to act on our tips, which greatly boosts our confidence in them. However, challenges such as distance and lack of network coverage in some areas sometimes hinder recovery of stolen animals.” Samuel is one among the 200 boundary partners (change agents) that the SEEK project engages to foster peaceful co-existence and communal reconciliation along the Kenya-Ethiopia border through the collection and sharing of early conflict information, convening of peace dialogues and rapid response to conflict situations.
Cultural practices still play a major part in inciting or sustaining inter-community conflict, and for vulnerable youth plagued by unemployment and social exclusion, desperate actions to fit in become the norm. As Samuel shares, a common practice is that, for example, if a Dassenach youth kills a Gabra youth, he is made out to look like some type of hero by his family and the community, and is rewarded with lavish gifts such as cows and goats. “Peace dialogues facilitated by SEEK/SND between Gabra-Dassenach and Gabra-Hamer youth have been very helpful in sensitizing people on the importance of peace. The project has also facilitated cross-border activities, where youth from Ethiopia and Kenya have received training on entrepreneurship. This gives us the knowledge, skills and confidence to not only work together and live peacefully together, but to also create livelihoods.”
“It is high time we stop making an entire tribe out to be the villain, and instead resolve conflict with the individual who instigated it – and in the most amiable way possible.”
Samuel shares that the most significant takeaway from his work as a boundary partner is a change in perspective regarding conflict. “We grew up knowing that all Gabra are bad,” he says, “but that is not the case. The attitude should be that one person, who happens to be Gabra, made a mistake. It is high time we stop making an entire tribe out to be the villain, and instead resolve conflict with the individual who instigated it – and in the most amiable way possible.”
Samuel shares, “Thanks to SEEK, I now have a greater understanding of peace dynamics, and how best I can use my skills to contribute to peace in my community. I am confident enough to intervene in disagreements I come across and help the conflicting parties to resolve their problem amicably.”
When asked how blindness affects him, Samuel admits that living and working with a disability has its challenges, but he is quick to explain that this does not make him any less capable of carrying out his duties. He does, however, conclude with a call for more intentional inclusion of special needs peace champions. “I don’t need sympathy, I only need a chance,” he says. “I urge the local administration and peace actors in Illeret to make more accommodations for special needs individuals. In my case, that means providing materials to read and write in braille. For others, it means assistance in the form of minders or guides.”
For the past three years, Pact’s SEEK project (Selam Ekisil), which is funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, has worked to mitigate potential conflict and foster peaceful coexistence along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. Through SEEK, Pact and its local partners are addressing root causes of violence and helping communities to the lead the way in building lasting conflict management systems and institutions.