Kenya: Learning theatre to promote peace and understanding among Somali communities



IREX Europe, in partnership with the Kenyan-based NGO Somali Aid Foundation (SAF), is implementing a project aimed at disenfranchised youth which uses theatre as a vehicle for youth to express their views and frustrations on key issues including poverty, lack of access to education and gender issues, among others. The project targets the Somali youth population in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh and in the refugee camp of Hagadera. The theatre technique used is Drama for Conflict Transformation (DCT), which promotes understanding and tolerance in different societies. IREX Europe and its partners have successfully implemented the methodology in Somaliland, Indonesia and Central Asia.


Somalia is a failed state and remains one of the most insecure places in the world with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. From the beginning of the 90s asylum-seekers from Somalia arrived in Kenya almost continuously and in considerable numbers. There are currently some 350,000 Somali refugees living in Kenya. Most of them are living in the three refugee camps around the town of Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya near the Somali border (representing the largest single concentration of refugees in the world), and the majority of the population is young people facing a high level of poverty and widespread illiteracy, all key drivers for conflict, violence and social problems.

Due to the difficulties of working with the displaced Somali population, particularly in the refugee camps, there is a general gap in terms of peace-building and conflict prevention type activities, as the focus of most assistance is on humanitarian emergency response work.
IREX Europe’s Theatre for Peace program aims at helping the vulnerable young Somali refugees, along with disenfranchised Somali-Kenyan living in the same area, address and work through conflict using Drama for Conflict Transformation (DCT) methods that combine theatre debate, poetry and reflection to create a “safe space” for exploring incendiary issues. Drama for Conflict Transformation is a rich methodology that encourages improvisation and play to help participants develop new views and behaviors. In situations of entrenched conflict, where debate and historical analysis rarely serve to change minds, DCT unlocks the creative power of individuals and communities to adopt new perspectives and develop novel solutions. Not only is DCT a powerful tool for transforming attitudes, it also provides a platform for practicing conflict resolution strategies.

Project Activities

The project will target Somali and Somali-Kenyan youth, as well as adults who will support them in their work with theatre: teachers, theatre-makers (actors and directors, whether formally trained or enthusiasts), and NGO leaders.
To encourage ongoing use of the methodology in participants’ home communities, in December 2010 an initial training for teachers, local theatre-makers, and NGO leaders will equip supportive adults with the tools to serve as facilitators in DCT.
During the main youth trainings the trainers will reinforce their DCT skills through mentoring by IREX Europe’s international DCT expert, Ms. Christine Cox.

A smaller group of highly motivated young participants will have the opportunity to attend a follow-on theatre workshop, which will prepare these youth participants to share anti-conflict plays with communities across and around the Dhadhaab area and Nairobi. Participants will learn how to engage audiences and involve them in exploring conflict issues within theatre scenes. Through a small grant component, the project will allow these young people to organise their own theatre troupes and conduct theatre tours within their communities. These youth–led informal theatre showings will reach hundreds of additional youth and adults either in the camps or in schoolyards, youth centers, and market areas.