Following a hotly contested election in 2017, Kenya witnessed increased levels of ethnic and political polarisation that saw the country split into two opposing sides – one supporting the ruling party and the other the opposition, which threatened to destabilise the country with serious socioeconomic and political consequences. A concerted push from civil society, religious institutions and the donor community eventually led to a truce between the president and the leader of the opposition, known as ‘the handshake’. Following the truce, an initiative was launched to enhance national cohesion and find lasting solutions to systemic issues that, among other things, manifest as recurrent electoral violence; this is known as the ‘Building Bridges Initiative’. The truce has, however, totally transformed the political landscape in the country and presented new challenges in the form of ideological differences in areas that are traditionally homogenous voting blocks, as well as political realignments within the ruling party.
Together with our partners, we support communities to resolve emerging conflicts and engage peacefully in electoral processes. We bring together historically adversarial groups – including people of different political affiliations and ethnic groups – to talk constructively in safe spaces, break down barriers, increase appreciation of each other, build mutual trust and forge resilient relationships for sustainable peace. This builds on the understanding that while people of different ethnic groups, political party affiliations, age, gender and other identities live together and have contact through day-to-day activities, they still have limited opportunities to discuss issues of concern, which are magnified around election periods – leading to violence.