Provide youths in ASALs with education, skills to end banditry

An armed man herding cattle along the Kenya-Ethiopia border. [Lucas Ngasike, Standard]

The weatherman has predicted a sixth failed rainy season. For the ASAL counties, we might see hunger and banditry increasing.

These issues will not go away easily; a long-term approach involving serious innovation and mindset change to create skills and local economies is needed.

When I started working with communities six years ago, I was shocked by the lack of access to skills development opportunities for women and youths. This is one of the factors that contribute to the persistent banditry. 

All over the world, youths between 12 and 21 years are gaining education and skills, training for life careers. In contrast, youths in the ASALs have limited access to modern skills and trades, and their only option is livestock keeping. However, sole reliance on the livestock economy will increasingly be difficult due to the growing climate crisis and the increase in population.

Our education system must be able to respond to the needs of remote, nomadic communities in the ASALs. From the skyscrapers of Nairobi, it might seem like a non-issue, until it creeps up in the form of acute hunger or widespread banditry. 

It's not that the youths of northern Kenya do not want to join the modern economy. In our consultations with young people in the manyattas, we discovered a huge appetite for learning new, and productive skills.

However, relocating to far away towns where there are training institutes is an insurmountable barrier for these youth. Many of them are illiterate and some do not speak Kiswahili. They have no relatives or funds to be able to board in towns, and they cannot abscond from livestock herding duties. The rigidity of the educational system is another barrier.  Training institutes require minimum certification (at least KCPE).

The organisation which I now lead, NRT Trading, was set up to address some of these complex issues. Our mission to get skills to the villages received a breakthrough when, with some catalytic funding from the Swedish International Development Agency in 2019, two plucky principals of Vocational Training Institutes decided to take the risk with us and agreed to move trainers and equipment to two manyattas. The experiment was a huge success. Sixty morans with no education were learning how to fix motorcycles and repair mobile phones after only three months of training. 

Since then, 'Ujuzi Manyattani' (skills in the villages) has been gaining momentum with full cooperation and support from the State Department of TVET, and the National Industrial Training Authority. With further funding from USAID, DANIDA, TNC, and IUCN, we have graduated 779 women and youths from remote villages in Garissa, Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit, Baringo, Laikipia and West Pokot.

Village-based graduation ceremonies showcase the potential of new technical skills to change mindsets and create vibrant local economies. Graduates who can use their new creative skills for income generation have little inclination for guns and conflict. More such role models are needed to shift mindsets.

Banditry can become a thing of the past if thousands of youths and women are graduated and turned into craftsmen and service providers.

-Mr Vishal is the CEO of NRT Trading