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Kenya has made significant progress on constitutional, legal and institutional reform since the 2013 national elections. However, the current devolution process and rising insecurity linked to devastating attacks from al Shabaab continue to test peace and stability among a population that remains deeply divided.

Saferworld has been working in Kenya since 2000 to improve the way that security and justice services are provided and assessed, tighten control over small arms, improve community security and promote conflict-sensitive development. Saferworld engages with a range of state and non-state actors to achieve these goals, including with the National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management (NSC), the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the National Police Service (NPS), civil society and communities.

Promoting conflict-sensitive devolution

In Isiolo, Kisumu and Marsabit Counties, which have a history of both resource-based and politically instigated conflicts, Saferworld is working to influence and support both national level devolution institutions and county governments to adopt conflict-sensitive approaches to implementing devolved governance. Conflict analysis in the three counties identified key areas for action, including the need to establish mechanisms that ensure equal and increased participation of different community groups within the counties in decision-making and implementation processes.

Saferworld is equipping communities with information on devolution, particularly on their role – provided by the constitution – in holding county institutions to account and operating as checks on the abuse of power. We are enabling communities to organise themselves in ways that will ensure that they are a credible force and are able to engage with county institutions with a collective voice. The lessons learnt from the three counties are being used to influence national-level structures to emphasise and support the integration of conflict sensitivity in the implementation of devolution.

Watch a video about the peace process in Marsabit.

Tackling arms proliferation

Saferworld works to reduce the misuse of small arms and light weapons (SALW) through community-driven security interventions to increase trust between security providers and communities. Operating in West Pokot and Isiolo counties with three partners – SIKOM, Isiolo Peace Link and the Kenya National Focal Point on SALW – we are bringing communities and security providers together to identify and address problems facing their communities. This puts affected communities at the heart of the prioritisation, planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of programming, making them feel safer and therefore decreasing their need to arm themselves.

We use evidence from communities in these counties to feed into national and international processes aimed at targeting the misuse of SALW, connecting community-driven approaches to security to global policy including the UN Programme of Action in New York.

Watch a video about the project here.

Supporting responsive policing

Building on previous successes working on police reform in Kenya, Saferworld and partners are working to promote the development of an accountable, responsive police service which operates within a legal, institutional and administrative framework that guarantees a role for civil society to promote democratic policing in partnership with communities. We have worked with communities and police in 13 locations to enhance trust between the two, and have seen tangible improvements within those communities. At the local and national level we support the police in their reform efforts by directly engaging with them, and we work with Usalama Forum, an umbrella network of civil society organisations, to promote public accountability over the security services and end impunity for abuses.

Saferworld and Usalama have supported the National Police Service to review their Service Standing Orders and accompanying regulations, including key guidelines on accountability and professionalism among police officers. This includes the use of force and firearms, community policing, and regulations for the establishment of County Policing Authorities. We have also worked to support the establishment of the Internal Affairs Unit, promoting a culture of accountability within the police, and to support the decentralisation of accountability into the counties.

Research on the inclusion of security provisions in political settlements

Saferworld is engaged in two major research projects in Kenya.  We are undertaking research that focuses on the incorporation of formal and informal security reform in political settlements. This seeks to establish how the implementation of the National Accord and Reconciliation Agreement, which brought an end to the 2007–08 post-election violence in Kenya, and Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 are contributing to the long-term mitigation of conflict and insecurity; and the impact of security reforms in ensuring durable political settlements in Kenya and South Sudan.

In partnership with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies (CHRIPS), the second project examines how and why local peacebuilding efforts are succeeding in minimising violence in traditionally under-developed, rural areas where there are major investments. The research explores the consequences of new large-scale investments on local institutions, relations, conflict dynamics and violence in Kenya and Sierra Leone, and seeks to understand measures that can be undertaken at both policy and practical levels to promote conflict-sensitive approaches to such investments.

Previous work

Ahead of the March 2013 elections, Saferworld worked with key peace, security and election management actors across Kenya to strengthen preparedness and coordination in support of peaceful, free and fair national polls.

Saferworld has worked to promote the practice of conflict sensitivity through the Conflict Sensitivity Consortium. In 2011-12, we carried out national research into people’s perspectives of conflict and research into Early Warning and conflict prevention in Kenya.

This work has been supported by UKAID, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kenya and the International Development Research Centre.

Since 2013 Kenya has undergone a paradigm shift in its governance structure from a centralised political system – blamed for vast inequality, exclusion and deep divisions – to a devolved system of governance in which 47 county governments have powers over local social, economic and political development. This transformation is part of the important constitutional, legal and institutional progress that has been made in Kenya under the 2010 constitution and has empowered Kenyan people to play a more active role in their local governance and peace structures.

However in spite of this momentum, several underlying causes of conflict remain, which have the potential to severely affect Kenya’s safety and security. While potentially bringing decision-making closer to the people, the devolution process started in 2013 threatens to exacerbate local conflict dynamics and has the potential to reproduce the national ‘winner-takes-all’ political culture centred on ethnic competition for resources and power. If these dynamics are replicated in the new county structures they risk fuelling grievances that have contributed to violence in Kenya for decades. Insecurity has also risen dramatically since 2010 – there have been regular attacks claimed by the armed group al Shabaab, including large-scale attacks on a shopping mall in Nairobi and a university campus in Garissa, which have killed hundreds of people.

The population remains deeply divided; al Shabaab attacks threaten to drive religious divisions in the country, while tensions over land and access to resources continue to drive violence at the local level. Justice for past political violence remains unresolved, undermining prospects for reconciliation between ethnic communities and for improved trust in the security services. Comprehensive reform of the police – as envisaged in the 2010 constitution – has started, but has been beset by delays and internal wrangling. Prolonged state-centric policing characterised by human rights violations, impunity and corruption has generated an overall lack of confidence in the security and justice system, particularly the police.

The adoption of the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty by the United Nations General Assembly was a major step forward in combatting the global weapons trade. However, despite Kenya formally being a champion of arms control at the international level, locally small arms and light weapons still pose a serious security threat to communities. As a result of their feelings of vulnerability and ongoing insecurity, many communities are arming themselves to fill the void left by the state’s failure to provide them with security services.

This map is intended for illustrative purposes only. Saferworld takes no position on whether this representation is legally or politically valid.

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Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC – Bungoma)

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) 

Isiolo Peace Link (IPL)

Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons (KNFP)

Life and Peace Institute (LPI)

Local Capacities for Peace International (LCPI)

National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict Management (NSC)

Peacenet Trust Kenya


Usalama Reforms Forum

Security Research and Information Centre