Young Kenyans take to social media to promote peace in their country.
Esha Mohammed recognized early on that hate and harassment online can quickly lead to physical violence. At 18, she went to work for the Red Cross in Mombasa. Two years into volunteering for the organization, she saw up close how Kenya's disputed 2017 presidential elections led to bloody clashes in the streets.
Stabbings, gunshots, deaths. She saw that the physical attacks were often preceded by online violence and targeted misinformation on social media. "Hate speech drives people to do unimaginable things,” says Esha. “I saw what violence can do to a society.”
In this regard, adolescents and young adults play a decisive role. The average age in Kenya is 20 years old. "Young people are often the perpetrators. But we are also the primary target of disinformation and violence. So, it has to start with us."
Esha is now 26, and she has teaching degrees in English and Literature. With great courage and optimism, she has since set out to improve the situation in her country. In the "Influencer 4 Peace" project – supported by DW Akademie and its local partner, the Dream Achievers Youth Organization (DAYO) – she is using her extensive reach on social media to counter violence online. And she encourages others to follow her lead.
Ruby Kache (l.) and Hillary Soh Ojiambo during a workshop in Mombasa. They are also part of the "Influencer 4 Peace" program.
On TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Esha explains the destructive power of hate speech. And, also, what each and every one of us can do about it: Be mindful of what you post and share. Only use verified information. Choose your words carefully to not injure others. The most important lesson for her young users is that it is up to them to stand up for a more peaceful coexistence.
Reaching girls and young women is especially important to her. Esha herself remembers well how her father would warn her before she would set out nights working for the Red Cross. "Don’t go, you are a girl, no one is going to protect you," he would say.
Already then, she knew that he was just worried about her.
"But there is a flip side to it,” she says. “If you are not there, you will be overlooked. We need to be present to make our own decisions, or someone will make them for us." Representation is important – also online.
Esha knows that social media is not the root cause for the violence – nor is it the only solution.
"There are many reasons why a number of young people in Kenya are vulnerable to radicalization: a high dropout rate in schools, unemployment, drug abuse, and the lack of future perspectives. And it's not just young people."
Together with other "Influencer 4 Peace" participants, Esha will be meeting local politicians in December to discuss possible solutions.
"We need to have a meaningful conversation around peace. Young people are the future of our country, but it’s important to bring everyone on board," says Esha.
The "Influencer 4 Peace" project is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office. It focuses on fostering peace-building dialogues and empowering young people in the coastal region of Kenya. Twelve young people are trained in the competencies of Media Information Literacy (MIL), leadership and advocacy. Part of the objective is for participants to engage as role models, particularly on social media, and to pass on knowledge to their peers. In direct contact with their communities, they sensitize others to recognize propaganda and disinformation. In this way, they engage in exchange and initiate dialogue so that young people can make informed decisions and become more resilient to radicalization.