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Can Silence Bring Social Change?
Benard L. Agona, Field Coordinator, Turning the Tide, Kenya.

Another aspect of violence prevention is to teach people, particularly the youth, how to conduce non-violent direct action campaigns. The Turning the Tide program channels the anger, grievances, and energy from destructive tendencies into constructive resolutions of problems.

Instead of being silent youth have decided to speak with nonviolent actions. Here in Nairobi youth were captured in a road show agitating for their rights.

“Do we just remain silent when things are going wrong?” This is one question that we have always been asked by most groups that we have trained in Turning the Tide (TTT) approaches in dealing with violence.

The TTT program was introduced in Kenya in 2010 as a long term intervention to social injustices in our communities .The program is being implemented by Change Agents for Peace International in collaboration with Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW), a program of Britain Yearly Meeting. This was the beginning of community empowerment.

Barely one and half years on the road, the TTT –Kenya is touching peoples’ lives in those communities where we have introduced it. Indeed it is power for social change. It has even dawned on peoples’ mind that strategic silence is also power for change. The program emphasizes the importance of training and preparation for any successful campaign for social change.

In Kenya the most used methods for demanding justice have been demonstrations which are not well planned, consequently resulting in massive destruction and even death. For example, whenever university students go on strike, they blockade all roads, throw stones at anything passing by, loot from shops, and make unnecessary noise and disturbance. At the end of that, nothing is achieved.

Contrary to that, TTT approaches are peaceful and more effective. Last year when some students in one of the universities in western Kenya wanted to be addressed by the authorities, a two-hour pre-action workshop made a big difference in their campaign. They were taken through the steps of an effective campaign for social change and introduced to the TTT tools, such as the pillars of power and social speedo-meter, which helps groups to analyze their issues and plot the kind of people to work with. After that there was a thorough planning overnight, considering all factors, to ensure that all adhered to nonviolence discipline.

The end result was amazing. It was a peaceful match to the local government offices, and because it was peaceful, they were joined by community members attracting numbers which in itself is a strength to any successful campaign. Eventually they had a sit-in at the office grounds, demanding to be addressed by the local leader who could not ignore the force of the students who were supported by local community members. Armed with facts, the students tabled their issues boldly. The local leaders immediately responded to their demands positively. For the first time, students acted peacefully and were given what they wanted.

Elsewhere in Nairobi, after undergoing a two weeks training in nonviolence approaches for social change, youth from the eight constituencies in Nairobi went back and quickly engaged local youth officers challenging them with facts about the impact of youth unemployment. The result was a one day road show organized by the ministry of youth to promote youth opportunities within the youth affairs ministry. This was to curb the high rate of job insecurity in Nairobi. The trained youth had been opened eyes to see the invisible violence that causes the visible violence. And one such invisible violence was youth un-employment. When they analyzed the issue they discovered that this was being supported by lack of information about available opportunities for youths. They went ahead to plot who to work with on their campaign and identified among others the ministry of youth affairs, who eventually became their key ally contrary to what they thought. The success story is that many youth groups were formed and are now accessing the available opportunities.

It is now clear that if you train people to start thinking and acting in new ways they will achieve what they want no matter how big the issue is. It is possible with nonviolence power!
Turning the Tide is now scaling up having started small in western Kenya, then Nairobi, and now we have launched it in North Rift Valley. It is our desire to move to other regions as we build a nonviolent movement in Kenya for sustainable social change.