On 15 November the PSC held its second Open Session on Youth, Peace and Security.
During the session, the first African youth ambassadors for peace were presented to the PSC. The role of the peace ambassadors – one from each of Africa’s five regions – is, among others, to advocate and promote active and meaningful participation of young people at all levels of policy formulation, implementation and monitoring of peace and security decisions and agreements.
They are also supposed to facilitate coordination between youth and relevant stakeholders when it comes to the planning and evaluation of interventions to promote peace and security.
The progress made on recommendations from last year’s PSC open session, in November 2018, was also presented to PSC members. This includes two PSC-mandated documents: the Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security and the Study on the Roles and Contributions of Youth towards Peace and Security in Africa. The two documents still await adoption by the PSC.
While the convening of an annual PSC session on Youth, Peace and Security signals the political will of member states to enhance the role of the youth in peace and security, much more can be done. Notably, the PSC should make sure the momentum is sustained and that it facilitates the participation of youth in peace and security issues in the months leading up to November 2020, the next Africa Youth Month.
It is also important that the youth ambassadors take their message to their various regions. Synergy between the AU and regional economic communities (RECs) and regional mechanisms (RMs) is crucial in this regard.
How to effectively include the youth?
For over a decade the AU has rolled out several strategies to promote youth inclusion and participation in governance, peace and security on the continent. This is in response to accusations of exclusion by young people, who form up to 65% of Africa’s population.
The Africa Youth Charter, adopted in 2006, provides a policy framework for the development of national programmes and strategic plans for youth empowerment by AU member states, civil society and international partners.
The charter encourages the participation of youth in peace and security processes.
Notably, Article 17 of the charter calls for member state action in ensuring inclusion and fostering participation of youth in the pursuit of peace and security. This article resonates with United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. The resolution recognises that young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. In addition, UNSCR 2419 looks at increasing the role of youth in negotiating and implementing peace agreements.
Youth for Peace Africa
As part of the AU’s efforts to promote its flagship project – Silencing the Guns by 2020 – the AU’s Peace and Security Department launched the Youth for Peace (Y4P) Africa programme in September 2018.
Y4P Africa has arguably shown good progress in its first year of existence. Among other initiatives, a study requested by the PSC was carried out in collaboration with the commission’s Youth Division, the Office of the Youth Envoy and RECs/RMs. This collaboration included the organisation of five regional consultations with youth group representatives to probe their roles in and contributions to peace and security in their regions; and field visits to at least 15 member states were conducted.
Additionally, the programme, in collaboration with the African Governance Architecture Secretariat, the Youth Division in the Human Resources, Science and Technology Department and the Office of the Youth Envoy, with input from youth representatives, validated the Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security, mentioned above.
Action needed by the PSC
With both mandated documents validated, the next step was to present them for consideration and eventual adoption by the PSC. To those present at the PSC open session last month, it was clear that in order for progress to be made on the AU’s youth, peace and security agenda, unity among PSC members is required.
Inputs from member states highlighting the plight of their youth, and that of RECs/RMs showcasing youth programmes in their region, revealed that there is meaningful political will for youth inclusion.
With that in mind, it is evident that the PSC, which has aided the creation of an AU youth, peace and security agenda, can also cause progress to stall. Another open session in 2020 is around the corner, and it is in the interest of the council to record more progress for the good of Africa’s peace and stability.
As 2020 approaches, the AU will review its progress in the Silencing the Guns initiative. The focus will be on addressing the shortcomings experienced since 2013. From a youth perspective, one of the key gaps thus far in the AU’s peace and security agenda has been the exclusion of the majority population of the continent – the youth. Now that the AU has created space for youth inclusion, it will be wise to ensure that throughout next year, the role of youth in silencing the guns is prioritised and mapped out.
AU–RECs relationship key for implementation
The five youth ambassadors for peace – selected through a rigorous process in the second half of 2019 – are meant to ensure that young people in their regions contribute towards peacemaking efforts such as dialogue and mediation, among other civilian roles. The success of their work is partly dependent on the quality of RECs/RMs’ relationship with the AU.
The AU should be able to work hand-in-hand with RECs towards further popularising the Silencing the Guns initiative. This will ensure that youth ambassadors can engage their RECs on community-level youth participation, as they will be based in their regions and not in Addis Ababa.
However, the AU and RECs/RMs need to further capacitate the youth ambassadors so they are knowledgeable about the thematic areas of the AU’s peace and security agenda. These include peace support operations; post-conflict, reconstruction and development; conflict prevention, including early warning; security sector reform/disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration; and crisis/conflict management and resolution.
This will equip them to advocate for peace and security, as intended. The PSC-mandated study on the contributions of youth towards peace and security showed that African youth knew little of the AU’s peace and security agenda as well as of existing frameworks on the discourse.
The establishment of ambassadorial roles for young people in peace and security is thus a step in the right direction. More attention needs to be paid to the development of peace and security-specific normative frameworks by the AU for young people. UN frameworks complement the work of the AU, but young Africans need to be able to refer to locally contextualised frameworks and action plans that speak to their regional experiences of peace and security.
Owing to the fact that the documents referred to above still have to be adoptedby the PSC, Africa’s youth continue to wait for the Continental Framework on Youth, Peace and Security and a subsequent strategy or action plan for its implementation. Clearly, what is needed more than anything is a guide for young people to beef up their existing activities in line with the expectations of policymakers at the AU level.