Rose Mbone participated in the course Inspiring African Women Leaders between November 2019 and February 2021, a course developed by the Kofia Annan International Peacekeeping Trainng Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra with the support of the GCSP. This course supported 16 women leaders from across the African continent to advance the Women Peace and Security agenda.
Host: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy Podcast. Thank you for tuning in to our podcast where we explore some of the latest global issues affecting peace, security, and international cooperation. In this week’s episode Fleur Heyworth, Head of the GCSP’s Gender and Inclusive Security Cluster speaks with Rose Mbone, founder of The Legend Kenya as we mark International Women’s Day on March 8th.
Fleur Heyworth: I'm really delighted to be with Rose Mbone, who is the founder of The Legend in Kenya, who has been recognised by the African Union for her work on youth, peace and security, and is working on a daily basis in her community in Nairobi. Rose, a very warm welcome. It's a pleasure to speak to you today. Thank you so much for making the time. Could you just first of all, tell us a little bit about where you are?
Rose Mbone: Thank you so much Fleur. And thank you to our audience. I am Rose Mbone, and I'm the founder of The Legend Kenya. I was born and raised up in the informal section of Korogocho in Nairobi, this is the third largest land, and it carries people who live around $1 a day or some even 50 cents. So that is the community that raised me and made me who I am, irrespective of the many challenges in that community, especially violence related challenges, issues of gender based violence, issues of high rate of crime, it is still home, and a very beautiful place to have been raised up in. If I was to go back in life, I still choose it because the things I went through growing up really shaped who I am today.
Fleur Heyworth: Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that Rose. And one of the reasons that we are so keen to interview you is to understand more about your work. And so, my first question is, in fact, why did you establish The Legend Kenya?
Rose Mbone: The reason why I established The Legend Kenya is because I was a victim of crime and violence. I had a brother who was arrested in 2005, for participating in criminal activities, because in Korogocho by then, crime was like a lifestyle. Youth will drop out of school and pick crime as an alternative. Some will want to pick crime as a lifestyle because they want to live flashy lifestyle, but they have no means of being employed. They have no papers; they are not educated. And some of them felt like hard work, going to do casual labour was somehow hard work. So, when my brother was arrested in 2005, he was released in 2012 March. In 2012, August, something terrible happened. He was shot dead. That thing pinched me; I felt a pain that I've never felt in my life. And I was confused because I didn't know what to do, where to start from, or even how to go about it. It took me months to process the reality that he is no more. I looked around and I saw many families. In Korogocho, 7 out of 10 families are victims of extrajudicial executions, and they have lost either their husbands, their sons, their uncles. So I felt there was a need to openly come out and talk about the issue of crime in a positive way that will benefit the community, the youth and the security actors, because there was a lot of mistrust, and a lot of issues of blame game. Youth will tell you “the police are bad people, the only thing they know is to shoot it to kill”. And the police on the other hand are like “a young person cannot just be clean mad and is living in Korogocho.” So there was that issue of blame game, mistrust and I felt the only way to process my pain, the only way to make sure that another parent is not losing a brother, a son, a father, a bread-winner, is to openly talk about the issue of crime and directly engage both youth and the police. And I also felt like women were the key beneficiaries of these young people when they participate in criminal activities. So, there was power in women, because they are their mothers, their sisters, their wives. And they really know the deep secrets of these young people. So that is what triggered me.
Fleur Heyworth: Thank you so much, Rose. So, you had the mission. What does this actually mean on a daily basis? What do you do?
Rose Mbone: The key pillars of our work include trauma, healing, awareness, and resilience. This is to help people who are hurting to be able to process their pain so that they're able to help themselves and also support others who are hurting. This is because a person who is hurting will always find a way of hurting others. When hurting you, you have to act, sometimes you act in by hurting yourself or act out by hurting others. We also do community dialogues between security actors, especially the police, and local administration, chiefs assistant and youth. This is to bridge the gap that already exists where there is a lot of tension and blame games between these parties. We also empower youth with the tools of active non-violent ways of countering violence and conflict. This is because we have seen young people lose their lives because of grudge. When you offend me as Rose, I go and mobilise my friends, my community, my family, and now you become our enemy. It is forgotten that you offended me. Now you offended my family, my friends, my child. So, we have seen young people lose their lives because of such grudges. We also see young people lose their lives competing for resources, either forcefully or sometimes by engaging in ways that are not so good. So, giving them tools and information on active non-violence helps them to process when a situation happens. They're able to analyse what is the root cause of this problem? And how can we solve it as a community? We look at the issue of disarmament and reintegration. Disarmament because in the community, the gun violence, was so high, the violence was on the rise. So, we are in a way championing for silencing these guns in our community, making sure that they understand that it is okay to surrender an illegal firearm back to the government. You can be given amnesty; it is okay if you come out from prison and you will be welcomed. But if you face hostility, then you are not prepared enough psychologically that this is a reaction as a result that something that happened in your past. So, it should not affect how you move forward in your life. These are some of the key pillars that we really focus on, and also making sure that we localise the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda, the [UN] resolution in languages that are simple and best understood at the community level.
Fleur Heyworth: So you are really working at the heart of prevention of building trust, building a sense of psychological safety with what you're doing, building confidence, trying to get to the source of problems before they erupt and become even more complicated and form violence. So that leads me to my next question, and how has the framework of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda helped you in your work?
Rose Mbone: The Youth, Peace and Security Agenda is something that I'm really proud of, because it speaks directly about our day to day activities at the community level. When I look at the four pillars of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda, when you look at protection, sometimes it is terrible because even the community itself somehow doesn't understand that you can be protected by the state. And it is okay to participate in peace processes, you are allowed. There are some things that when they happen to you, you are supposed to report them, you are supposed to be protected and the perpetrators are supposed to be held accountable. When you look at the pillar of disengagement and reintegration, here we have so many young people who have come out of prison, they were arrested, and now they're out. When I look at the pillar of reintegration, we are making sure that we take them through the trauma healing process, so that they are prepared, sometimes the community will reject you just because you are a prisoner, you are an inmate and you have just come out. And this has been a very big challenge. When you look at disengagement, the moment you lead a disarmament process, you are in a way disengaging the youth from participating in violence and crime, because you are encouraging them that “you know what, maybe you acquired this illegal fire arm in a way that you are not even conscious when it happened”. Now that you know it is in their own hand, it is okay to surrender it back to the government. This is amnesty. And I have seen the disarmament process that we led in 2018. It was out of the young person volunteering and coming down to me and saying, “Rose, you know, I really need to take it back. I don't know where to start from. And I don't know how to go about it”. I tell him “Wait, we will solve this problem both of us, it is not your problem. This is a community problem. This is a Kenyan problem.” Because you never know where the firearms are going next. You never know the victim of this firearm. When you look at the participation pillar, young people today in the community of Kenya are coming out strongly as peace actors. This is something that really touches my heart. When I look at our informal settlement, I see peace champions. Today the peace actors are appreciated. And we are building partnerships. We are participating in different levels of peace building in this community. And I have seen young people come together and do different activities that even attract the national government. It is still a challenge though, that you know, young people especially I want to narrow it down to young women, female youth normally are looked down upon and when they present their ideas somehow it is not mature enough. I really take my time to make sure that this Youth, Peace and Security Agenda is localised at the community level. And I make sure that I understand deeply the pillars because not everybody in my community can read and write. But when I understand, I am able now to speak it in a language that they understand better. And also trying to make it artistic in a way that it is not like a theory class that will take you a whole day. You know, it's not easy for somebody who has not been enlightened or is not educated to sit down and ponder a lot of information. But it is really easy when you do it practically, then they're able to swim in your boat and understand your message.
Fleur Heyworth: So, what's been the impact of COVID-19 on your community and on your work?
Rose Mbone: I would like to mention that COVID 19 really was like an eye opener. Because, yes, gender-based violence has been happening in the community. But this time, it was too much. We could just feel. And you realise that especially women were really falling victims of gender-based violence. We have child headed households, we have relatives who will just take advantage, especially the uncles, the brothers from mom's side. They you think we are supporting these children with food, but some them get intimate with them. Also, I would like to point out the issue of economic impact on women and youth. When this COVID-19 came, it really hit hard people who work as casual laborers, they are not permanently employed. So, most of them were laid off, and you're going back home, you have no salary. Because you are paid everyday based on the work of the day. So, there were a lot of conflicts in the house, especially when a woman asks for food, then she will be beaten up because the man is too angry that they have no money. They are not working. So where do you expect this money to come from? People were fighting domestic violence was really terrible.
Fleur Heyworth: You've also mentioned that abortion has increased. Are you able to say anything about that?
Rose Mbone: When we were doing our weekly food distribution, we targeted the most vulnerable people in the community, especially the elderly, the sick people with vulnerable conditions. When walking along the riverbank, we used to come across aborted fetus’. And this was something really traumatizing, so this was something that really increased botched abortion. Most women, they were locked down with their abusers and their oppressors, and some were even raped. As a result, they ended up being pregnant. And also, you could realise that sometimes people will take advantage especially of the people living with disabilities, especially the women living with disabilities. We came across a case of one woman who was raped and she's a disabled woman. And she became pregnant in the process. And she said she couldn't keep that. So, as we all know, abortion is not allowed. It's not legal in this country. So, most of them, they were opting for this botched abortion. It was very high during this pandemic.
Fleur Heyworth: Rose, you've talked so eloquently about your professionalism, your passion, your ability to connect with people in the community and within the security sector. What are your ambitions for The Legend? What are the next steps for you?
Rose Mbone: At the Legend, currently we are coming up with a safe space. Its aim is to bring a user-friendly environment where young people can measure their talents. Young people can openly share and talk about the issues that affect them without fear of being victimised. A safe space that a police officer can walk in or a security actor or maybe a local Chief Assistant can walk in and just share a word with the young people where we have this community conversation. They are part of us. I also look at The Legend Kenya as an umbrella and a shield. If the sun is too hot outside, there will be an umbrella to provide shelter. If the conflict is too much and the violence is on the rise, there will be a shield. This shield will be tools that we have passed to young people of active non-violence, trauma healing awareness and resilience, knowing their rights, making sure that when they are out there, they are peace ambassadors, when you look at them, you're at peace with yourself. I also see The Legend Kenya partnering with other like-minded organisations to make sure that in this journey we are not working alone. There are several other organisations who are doing almost similar activities like The Legend Kenya.
Fleur Heyworth: Rose, it's been absolutely inspiring talking to you. I hope that you get the support you need to carry on this incredibly valuable work. You've helped to bring to life the concept of local community, building Youth, Peace and Security, and Women, Peace and Security. And you live those values that they are trying to bring out in society. So, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us and we wish you all the very best.
Rose Mbone: Thank you so much Fleur and I look forward to future engagement and I really hope that one day this world will be a better, safer, and peaceful place for our great great great great grandchildren.
Host: That's all we have now for today's episode. Thank you to Fleur Heyworth and Rose Mbone for joining us. Listen to us again next week to hear all of the latest insights on international peace and security and don’t forget to subscribe to us on Anchor FM, Apple iTunes, follow us on Spotify and SoundCloud.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in written publications are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) or its employees. The GCSP is not responsible for and may not always verify the accuracy of the information contained in the written publications submitted by an author.