In early 1990s, Joshua Owino Mahao relocated from his rural home in Alego to begin a new life in Kisumu.
This was an active political season coupled with the fight to reintroduce multipartism in Kenya.
Young, vibrant and fearless, Owino soon joined the youth wings which led demonstrations in town to push for the political change.
In several occasions, I was arrested, tortured by police, attacked by opponents and lost my source of livelihoodsJoshua Owino
Many of the demonstrations were coupled with violence, confrontations with law enforcers, as well as various factions in the constitutional change.
“I was among those who were pushing for the repealing of Section 2A of the constitution which had banned other political parties. We wanted political freedom,” he says.
Owino, now 45 years old, notes that even though the fight for political freedom had been decades old by the time he joined the bandwagon, he took a pivotal point as a youth leader.
“In several occasions, I was arrested, tortured by police, attacked by opponents and lost my source of livelihoods,” he said.
Thomas Imboka is in his early 50s.
Just like Owino, Imboka joined political activism in his 20s, taking critical roles in the political protests, and soon becoming youth wingers of politicians in Kisumu.
High political stakes
In 1995, Imboka says he was one of the youths who traveled from Kisumu to attend Ford Kenya delegates conference at Thika Stadium.
The meeting was botched following violent confrontations pitting supporters of Raila Odinga and Kijana Wamalwa who were seeking the party leadership after death of founder Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.
“As a young person, we were using any possible means to protect our interest,” he said.
Odhiambo Nyamori has also been a political activist in Kisumu, especially at a time the area experienced high stake political violence in history.
“We have had our youths lose their lives, some disappear, while others maimed because of the continued violence,” he said.
Nyamori who has been in political activism since his days in the university led a number of protests in Kisumu in the 2000s.
We have had our youths lose their lives, some disappear, while others maimed because of the continued violenceOdhiambo Nyamori
The trio are just a handful of youths in Kisumu whose roles in political agitations made marks in the lakeside city.
According to Kisumu Central Deputy County Commissioner Hassan Allason, as opposed to other parts of the country where there are tribal clashes, terrorism and criminal gangs, politics remain the main source of violent extremism in the area.
“Our area is relatively calm. You will hear a lot of violence during political seasons,” said Hassan.
Violent extremism is the beliefs and actions of people who support or use violence to achieve ideological, religious or political goals. This includes terrorism and other forms of politically motivated and communal violence.
We have peace committees in the sub counties, which bring together the security agencies in the national government, county government, community, religious groups, non-government organizations, women and youth groups, representatives from people with disabilities among other local and international entities supporting peace initiativesHassan Allason
Hassan who chairs the area security committee says a lot of efforts have been put in place in the recent past to ensure such violence is tamed.
“We have peace committees in the sub counties, which bring together the security agencies in the national government, county government, community, religious groups, non-government organizations, women and youth groups, representatives from people with disabilities among other local and international entities supporting peace initiatives,” he said.
“We have been organizing trainings, peace seminars, workshops and community engagements,” he said.
He attributed the peace experienced during the 2022 general election to such efforts, which he said have been bearing fruits.
“We have peace ambassadors in the community which help us identify issues of potential violence, and then we proactively engage the community,” he said.
He however notes that continuous engagement, and political goodwill would be ideal to ensure sustained peace in the area.
Hardliners turn champions of peace
Owino and Imboka are some of the reformed hardliners who have utilized such initiatives to tame violent extremism in Kisumu.
The duo have since changed their political engagement styles, choosing to lead the youth towards political tolerance.
Owino is now the Chairman of Kondele Bunge while Imboka chairs Nyalenda Mama Safi Bunge. Bunges are informal forums where community members share issues facing them.
Kondele has for a long time been the heart of political violence in Kisumu, with all political demonstrations beginning there.
But this trend has since been changing, with Owino attributing it to increased campaigns against violent extremism.
Despite the 2022 presidential election results not turning out as we had expected, we continuously asked out people to calm down. Everyone was asking why Kondele was calm, and the international media which had set base there left disappointedJoshua Owino
“As the leader, I give direction, and we have been shifting our command from confrontation to dialogue,” he says.
He notes that such efforts have been achieved through intentional behaviour change, engagement with peace initiatives, and involvement of both local and national authorities.
“Despite the 2022 presidential election results not turning out as we had expected, we continuously asked out people to calm down. Everyone was asking why Kondele was calm, and the international media which had set base there left disappointed,” he said.
In 2017, Nyalenda Slums hit the headlines following reports of violent demonstrations and police brutality against residents.
This is the home to Baby Samantha Pendo who succumbed to police excesses.
“In 2022, we said we would not lose any more life, and we instead took the frontline to preach peace,” said Imboka.
Crisis Communication Chapter
In 2022, Imboka and Owino were part of the community mobilizers who participated in the Crisis Communication Chapter (CCC) project.
This is a project implemented by Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA), a body that brings together journalists based in the counties.
This is just one of the forums where we converge to promote dialogue in the communities. There are other forums where we engage the people in a bid to change the violence narrative which people tend to identify us withJoshua Owino
The project funded by DW Akademie is just one of the community peace initiatives which have been promoting non-violent dispute resolution.
“This is just one of the forums where we converge to promote dialogue in the communities. There are other forums where we engage the people in a bid to change the violence narrative which people tend to identify us with,” added Owino.
Nyamori however reduced his political activities.
He chose to pursue a course in Law, and has since opened his law firm which he uses to litigate human rights issues which he previously pursued through street protests.
He also uses his huge following in social media to promote political tolerance.
According to Nyamori, political violence only benefits a few people, while the masses suffer losses of jobs, livelihoods, lives and property.
Alternative extremism in Kisumu
Apart from political violence, Kisumu has also been experiencing spots of skirmishes along its borders.
The county borders Kericho, Nandi, Vihiga, Siaya, Homa Bay and Nyamira. However, Kericho, Nandi and Vihiga borders have been the most affected.
Kisumu County Director of Communication Aloise Ager admits that these conflicts have required tact to resolve.
He notes that the county government has been implementing an array of strategies for fostering peaceful coexistence.
There have been border skirmishes along the Miwani-Chemelil-Muhoroni borders. Kisumu working with neighbouring leadership, determined that it was important to implement infrastructure along the border for use by both sides of the divideAloise Ager
With internal skirmishes resolved through behaviour change campaigns and police intervention, there has been improved investment to improve infrastructure and economic empowerment of border residents as a way of reducing violent confrontations.
“There have been border skirmishes along the Miwani-Chemelil-Muhoroni borders. Kisumu working with neighbouring leadership, determined that it was important to implement infrastructure along the border for use by both sides of the divide,” said Ager.
He adds: “This gave birth to Oneno Nam Health centre, construction of a border road from Oneno Nam to Chemelil, construction of a market.:”
“In the case of possible conflict between Kisumu and Vihiga at Maseno, the two communities have implemented services like water provision which are serving communities from both sides.”
He says the gazzetment of Maseno as a town has also improved service delivery at the border which are being enjoyed by both communities.
“There were recurring conflicts between Nyakach and Kano people at around Awach. The government then expanded irrigation services around Awach which has kept both sides productively busy and always working together,” said Ager.
“It should be remembered that as the two communities were squabbling over land that was a swamp and only partially used for grazing, an elders’ association bringing together elders from Kisumu and Kericho to preach peace and peaceful coexistence. This group gets support from the County government in implementing its programs.”