Since 2018, African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) engagement with young people has achieved many milestones for the AU youth, peace and security (YPS) agenda. One breakthrough was the inclusion of young and influential peacebuilders on the PSC's agenda. As the PSC chair for April, the Republic of Burundi will convene a meeting today (25 April 2022) to allow the PSC to revisit the implementation of the Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security.
Burundi will also host a continental dialogue on YPS on the sidelines of the meeting. While 100 young participants will convene in Bujumbura, more than 1 000 will connect virtually. This meeting could allow the PSC to boost the agenda to ensure that it works for the continent's youth.
Implementation in 10 years
The launch of the AU Youth for Peace Africa programme in September 2018 marked the birth of Africa's YPS agenda. Despite subscribing to United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2250 and 2419 on YPS, the AU needed a homegrown and youth-led solution to peace and security issues.
In May 2020, the PSC endorsed the AU Study on the Roles and Contributions of Youth to Peace and Security and the Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security. The latter came with a 10-year implementation plan to advance the AU's YPS agenda in member states. These documents were crucial but long overdue for Africa's peace and security discourse.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted implementation by both policymakers and the youth. It was not business as usual as healthcare became a priority at the expense of the YPS agenda. This period disrupted the work of the first cohort of African Youth Ambassadors of Peace (AYAPs), PSC-mandated to work with regional economic communities (RECs) and youth groups/networks to further the agenda. The ambassadors had limited opportunity to connect with their constituencies, given travel restrictions and challenging virtual interactions.
Fast forward to 2022, and with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, hybrid virtual and face-to-face interactions have become a solution. Young AU leaders, such as the newly inaugurated ambassadors, need to travel the continent to meet stakeholders, especially the youth.
Hybrid approach, best of both worlds
Underscoring a point highlighted in a previous PSC Report article on the YPS agenda's progress, the PSC has shown that it is only as strong as the political will of its members. The will to give youth a platform is gradually materialising.
Present in Bujumbura will be the AU Commission Chairperson's Envoy on Youth, Chido Mpemba. More than five months into her term, she will caucus with the second cohort of AYAPs, five from each of Africa's geographical regions. In April, the group underwent induction in Harare to prepare for the two-year term. This group will be able to discuss emerging YPS-related issues not only with the PSC but with young people from across the continent.
This hybrid meeting allows for this while affording the PSC the opportunity to deliberate privately with young leaders. According to Orit Ibrahim, co-convener of the AU Youth for Peace Africa programme, Bujumbura is a platform for AYAPs to share their home regions’ experiences and encourage and partner with Burundi youth to develop a national YPS action plan.
Expectations in Burundi
The Burundi continental dialogue and PSC session will allow reflection on the modest achievements and the challenges of the youth agenda. Undoubtedly, the continent is advancing discussions on youth inclusion in peace processes through PSC-led or -supported initiatives. For instance, member states such as Nigeria have begun projects supporting the Continental Framework on YPS and have drafted a national action list based on the 10-year implementation plan.
Nonetheless, marginalisation remains, particularly in member states' governance and peace processes, a result of the slow pace at which member states are rolling out the implementation plan. The AU is often incapable of stopping this. The ability of the continental dialogue and PSC session to deliver the promise of the YPS agenda depends on three main factors.
First, the number of member state-led dialogues and initiatives has to increase to ensure that implementation stays on track. Targets have been set for 2024 and 2029. By 2029, the plan states ambitiously that at least 40% of member states should have national YPS action plans. Increased regional representation is favoured for greater inclusion of youth and should stipulate a quota for those in the diaspora and least-represented groups such as island dwellers.
Secondly, the PSC should increase its cooperation with RECs in addition to young peacebuilders such as the AYAPs. Partnerships could be forged to facilitate the sharing of innovative ideas to boost the regional agenda. RECs can, in some instances, better serve the needs of their regions and play an increasingly important role for the PSC in mainstreaming the needs of youth. This should be reflected in their relationship with the PSC.
YPS being crucial for African states, the agenda requires considerable attention. Beyond their terms as chair, Council members must give young people a platform to nurture the agenda continuously, thus ensuring its sustainability and relevance for generations to come.
Image: © Muneinazvo Kujeke/Twitter