Overcoming sectarian divides in coastal Kenya

Along the coastal region of Kenya there are long-held sectarian divisions between Muslim and Christian communities around issues such as land rights, distribution of political power and access to the economic benefits that flow from Mombasa’s port. Recently, these tensions have been made worse by Kenya’s involvement in the conflict in Somalia and the heavy-handed tactics of Kenya’s law enforcement agencies. Extremist groups exploit these tensions, attempting to drive a further wedge between communities by promoting violence and separatism as the only solutions to their grievances.

We aimed to create an intervention which could bring these communities together to constructively discuss peaceful, practical and non-sectarian solutions to their grievances and to identify ways in which communities themselves could challenge extremist narratives and recruitment tactics.

We worked with an award-winning local NGO, S.A.F.E, to develop an interactive piece of theatre which explored the radicalisation journey of a young man who lived on the coast in the context of the unravelling friendship between his Muslim family and their Christian neighbours. After watching the play, audience members had the chance to direct the actors or even become characters themselves to reshape the characters’ decisions and change the story’s ending.
This interactive show was performed in ten areas impacted by sectarian violence and extremism, and was followed by facilitated workshops with the audiences to explore what these issues meant to their own communities. They were attended by over 5000 people. We then turned the play into a full-length feature film which continued to tour the region using a mobile cinema. The film was released in Kenyan cinemas and aired on national television. It went on to win awards at multiple international film festivals including Rome and Zanzibar.