Originally published on UN Women Africa
Shamsa Abubakar is a Kenyan peacebuilder and the first chairlady of the newly established National Women’s Peace Committee Network in Kenya, supported by UN Women. She is a passionate community leader in Mombasa, a coastal city in south-eastern Kenya, and has made it her mission to reform delinquent youths and steer them away from violent criminal gangs and extremist groups – the biggest threat to peace.
“I’ve always had it in me to give back to society. There are skills that you can study but other qualities come naturally. In 2019, security agents killed seven youths who were involved in criminal activity, the eldest was 15. As a mother I asked myself – what is happening?! These children should be in school, instead they are being killed. Where have we failed as families?
My neighbourhood is a hotspot for criminal gangs. Parents were at a loss with their children who were addicted to hard drugs, they would not listen to anyone. There is a lot of competition between sitting politicians and those that want to come in. They are from different parties and the youth are used to cause confrontation and provoke violence. If someone sees you wearing a specific t-shirt of a political party – you could get beaten up.
I asked the County Commission for one month to try and change things. I was given two weeks. I worked with the local chiefs and the police and asked for an amnesty of those young people wanted by law enforcement. I planned barazas [public community dialogues] in every known hotspot in Mombasa. At the first meeting I told the crowd that any youth could be brought to me – they would not be prosecuted nor killed. After the meeting, four boys arrived at my door. I became a mother to these boys.
I organised counsellors and when I brought them to the police station, I had them prepare food. I posted pictures and told our district peace committee members to share the images. People thought the boys would not come back from the police station, but when we returned, we continued with counselling for three days. At the next baraza, we formed a kitty to buy clothes and shoes. We showed the community that these individuals needed to be forgiven.
The following day 24 boys arrived at my door….
I am asked how I managed to change these individuals. I became a mother to them, it’s simple. I never judged them, I provided unconditional acceptance. When these children know themselves, the politicians won’t get elected. They don’t want people to go to school, to learn the constitution, to know their rights. They want people to wallow in poverty and remain beggars. We want leaders who bring change.”
In 2021, UN Women with the support of the Government of Finland, established the National Women’s Peace Committee Network in Kenya. In partnership with State Department of Gender and the National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management, the network will be a vital platform linking local level initiatives to the national agenda on Women, Peace, and Security in addition to coordinating early warning interventions ahead of the 2022 elections, a cycle prone to violence in Kenya. This initiative has enhanced the implementation of the Kenya’s National Action Plan (KNAP II) on UNSCR 1325.