Time is running out for Africa to ‘silence the guns by 2020’ and end all wars – a target set by the African Union (AU) in its Agenda 2063 plan for a peaceful and secure Africa. The AU in 2013 also resolved to not bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans.
With greater youth involvement in Africa’s peace processes, this target might be more achievable. And as the continent marks Africa Youth Day today, this is a good time to consider the impact the youth can have on Africa’s security.
Young people have directly felt the consequences of violent conflict in Africa. The fall of president François Bozizé in 2013, for example, plunged the Central African Republic into conflict. This led to high unemployment, exclusion from political participation and extreme poverty, making the Central African Republic the worst country in the world to be a young person.
In Somalia, where chronic instability persists, about 82% of the population is under 35 years, and is arguably the group most affected by the conflict.
The youth must be included in peace processes if the guns are to be silenced in Africa by 2020. The AU Commission’s Peace and Security Department, in collaboration with the AU Youth Division and the Department of Political Affairs’ African Governance Architecture, are developing a framework on youth, peace and security.
This process is expected to define clear ways in which the AU can collaborate with those aged between 15 and 35. This will feed into the overall gender, peace and security strategy of the Peace and Security Department.
The department launched the Youth for Peace Africa (Y4PAfrica) Programme in Lagos, Nigeria, on 4 September this year. The programme aims to effectively involve African youth in promoting peace and security.
It also hopes to change the perception that African youth are harbingers of violence – and instead show how they can be formidable partners for peace. It is doing this by building their skills in preventing, managing and resolving conflict, as well as peace support operations and post-conflict reconstruction. The programme promotes the active involvement of youth in all peace processes.
Now that Y4PAfrica has been launched, it must be accessible to young people from all walks of life across the continent. It needs to be recognised as the gateway for youth engagement in peace and security issues. This can be achieved through collaborating with Regional Economic Communities and national youth departments of countries in conflict as well as those enjoying relative peace.
There are specific actions that the AU needs to take to give all African youth the chance to be peacemakers through Y4PAfrica. First, it needs to define the duties that the youth are expected to play in peace processes. This includes what youth are required to do at local, national and continental level. Are the youth meant to be peacekeepers, mediators or peacebuilders?
Second, the AU should encourage states to dismantle social, economic, institutional and geographic obstacles that prevent young people from playing leading roles in conflict resolution. Interventions in South Sudan for example should include the goal to comprehensively integrate young people into formal mediation processes.
Third, Y4PAfrica should push for a review of peace and security policies of the AU and Regional Economic Communities to ensure they enhance the visibility and rights of young people.
The AU should also consider making Y4PAfrica an integral pillar of the African Governance Architecture Youth Engagement Strategy. The African Governance Architecture has brought youth from all five regions of Africa together to discuss youth leadership at all levels of governance.
Last, gender equality should be a major characteristic of the Y4PAfrica programme. It should be central to the programme’s principles and activities, and young leaders must be gender-sensitive. Here the AU’s FemWise-Africa initiative can help realise the potential of young women in peace and security processes.
Young people make up the majority of Africa’s population. They need to be seen – not just as part of the problem or as victims of conflicts – but as a positive resource that can help the continent achieve sustainable peace.
Drawing young people into Africa’s peace processes could help stop the wars and silence the guns. Without them, the prospects for peace are much less positive.
Muneinazvo Kujeke, Junior Research Consultant, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS
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