Liston Tumaini emerges in front of an open-air “maskani”, an informal space where youth meet.

He holds a Bluetooth speaker playing loud hip-hop beats. He has no microphone but relies on his thunderous voice.

Tumaini starts rapping, and his supporters start dancing.

Tumaini waves his hands, kicks his feet, and spreads peace messages in a string of rap verses, all in his local language, Swahili.

His fans call him Skill-T Volcano, for flavour.

“They say my lyrics ruptures like a volcano and hot like a volcano,” Tumaini says.

He has been doing this for two years – and got more intense and influential since joining INUKA, a youth-focused peacebuilding project.

I use music as bait to bring youths together, discuss challenges facing us, and ways we can overcome them.

A youth himself, the 32-year-old does this to steer young people away from violent crimes and towards being peace ambassadors. Just as his name suggests, Tumaini infuses hope in the community through his songs.

But he could not do this before joining INUKA in 2018.

Tumaini had no network. He fumbled in public. The rapper was not an influencer he is today. He commanded no respect, especially from his seniors. They perceived him violent.

No longer the case.

Music stops violence

Today, Tumaini is an icon in his small Kisumu Ndogo community. He is admired by young and old.

His slum within Kilifi county has been reporting cases of youth violence and acrimonious relationship with justice sector actors.

Not anymore.

Incidents are declining. Youths are finding useful ways to get engaged because of Tumaini’s songs filled with peace messages, which they enjoy and get inspired when listening.

The community is also collaborating with security actors.

Not left behind, youths are forming groups, save some money to start businesses either after advice from Liston or taking part in INUKA’s “maskani” meetings.

And it is because of INUKA that things are changing. The project is implemented in Kilifi by MUHURI and funded by the European Union, through Search for Common Ground in Kenya (SFCG).

Tumaini has become an overnight viral sensation.

“I use music as bait to bring youths together, discuss challenges facing us, and ways we can overcome them,” Liston says in one of the “maskani” sessions we held.

One of the project’s component is “maskani” meetings. “Maskani” is a space where youth idle or engage in favourite pastimes like discussing football, politics, or anything. Targeted youths under INUKA visit such places and disseminate peace messages. They lure some, like Michael Shafata.

“Liston invited me to this project and after visiting our ‘maskani’. He told us how to avoid violence. I found his information useful,” Shafata says.

Inspire hope

Shafata says after the training, he and other youth formed a group and got incorporated legally.

He says they have opened a bank account and placed some savings.

“We are looking forward to opening an office and starting projects. We will ensure youth are meaningfully engaged instead of idling at ‘maskani’,” Shafata says.

Michael Shafata. Photo: Ernest Cornel.

MUHURI’s Mohamed Gumo says Tumaini’s shift from health to peace music is working wonders.

Gumo, who is the project’s focal person, says INUKA enabled Tumaini to gather enough content on challenges facing youths, then script them into songs that inspire hope.

“He rallied for peace and security within his slum,” Gumo says.

Shafata says INUKA has normalized interactions with justice sector actors like police and judges, whom they could not see eye-to-eye.

Tumaini, through INUKA, has also exposed youths to radio talk shows and mentored others to use art to preach peace.

“I thank MUHURI, the European Union and Search for Common Ground for this noble project,” Tumaini says.

INUKA project is ending in September 2020 after inspiring and transforming dozens of youths like Tumaini and Shafata.

Its objective was to increase the effectiveness and inclusiveness of community peace and security efforts involving vulnerable and marginalized youth in Coast.

INUKA strengthened the capacity of and coordination among community-based youth groups. They are now more active and effective in peace and security efforts in their communities.