A Community-led Approach to Addressing the Roots of Violence in Nairobi


Violence and conflict have always threatened communities, but in a world defined by globalization, urbanization, mass media, and other trends fueling the rapid movement of people and information across the world, community conflict has the potential to escalate into global crises. Poorer areas often experience disproportionate violence fueled by political, religious and ethnic tensions. The toll on communities, nations and economies is enormous, and long-standing tensions perpetuate themselves as communities deteriorate and the most marginalized in society experience further isolation.

Kenya is East Africa’s trade hub and when its economy is destabilized, the effects are felt far beyond its borders. During the post-election violence of 2007-08, the economy dipped from a growth rate of 7 percent—one of the Kenya’s historically highest—to below 2 percent in just one quarter. Violence resulted in a loss of jobs, added pressure on health providers, and diverted national resources to humanitarian and emergency response. Additionally, with the increase in ideological violence, travel advisories from major tourist partners in recent years have led to heavy losses especially from the tourism sector, which is a major source of revenue for the country and employment to many Kenyans.

The informal settlements of Nairobi are exceptionally vulnerable to political and ethnic manipulation. Ethnic and religious differences are exacerbated by lack of access to basic services, cramped living conditions, unemployment and crime. The 2007 elections pushed tensions over the brink and into violence, shattering the country’s peace, further intensifying ethnic conflict. Local demagogues regularly manipulate residents of the settlements, especially youth during election season, attempting to influence the outcome of the elections by urging young people to commit acts of violence, sell their votes or register in the wrong district.

In an effort to prevent future violence, USAID partnered with Global Communities to create the Kenya Tuna Uwezo (KTU, meaning “We have the power” in Kiswahili) program to reduce violent conflict in Nairobi. From 2012–2016, with total funding of $4.9 million, Global Communities implemented KTU in partnership with PeaceNet, Kituo Cha Sheria, and other Kenyan partner organizations, engaging stakeholders at the community level to ensure acceptance of peace-building initiatives and provide alternatives to conflict and violent extremism. KTU, working in the informal settlements of Dandora, Kangemi, Kiambiu, Kiberia, Korogocho, Majengo, Makuru, Mathare, and in Eastleigh, directly reached about 760,000 people at a cost of approximately $7 per person. This paper will examine the approach and impact of KTU over the preceding four years, and how that specific approach has yielded significant impacts at a very low cost.