In Africa, conflict inevitably leads to population displacement. High levels of armed violence and insecurity have a destructive effect on a country’s development, hampering economic growth and often causing lasting suffering among the population, which can persist for generations. In recent years, some countries have been shaken by crises, notably Central Africa, Mali , Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Sudan, Eswatini and recently Guinea which has had repercussions on the education, health and well-being of population.
The pandemic has hit disadvantaged and marginalized groups the hardest. In addition to the pandemic, we have seen a rise in stigma, discrimination and hatred. COVID-19 affects all people, regardless of where we come from or what we believe in. In the face of this common enemy, we must remember that we are not each other’s enemy. In order to recover from the devastation of this pandemic, we must put in effort to achieve peace within our communities. We need to celebrate peace by fighting hate, including online hate, and spreading compassion, kindness and hope to fight this pandemic and heal, together.
The 21st of September is the International Day of Peace which is celebrated all over the world. The United Nations General Assembly has declared that this day should be dedicated to strengthening the ideals of peace in all nations and peoples. This year’s theme is: “Rising above, for a more equitable and sustainable world”. For this edition, the United Nations invites us to focus on solidarity and the creative spirit of all people for a just world.
Africa Unite was invited to a webinar by the International Catholic Youth Students to engage on the role that young people can play in the promotion of a culture of peace, tolerance, dialogue and inclusive representation at all levels. All of which is in the context of the implementation of UNSC Resolution 2250, Agenda 2063 and SDG 16 for sustainable peace.
Event poster: International Day of Peace Sub-Regional Webinar Southern Africa
Amongst the facilitators was one of Africa Unite’s interns Oboitshepo Seleka, who gave insight into the challenges that young people face within the context of politics and peace in Southern Africa. The presentation entailed identifying and analyzing the gaps in actions of duty bearers and stakeholders towards the creation and promotion of environments that promote inclusivity and tolerance. Moreover, highlighting recommendations for action that African youth can take up in the implementation of these resolutions and policies for equitable and sustainable peace.
The UN Resolution 2250 states that young people must take their full place in raising awareness and promoting peace as actors of peace. However, some of the challenges that young people face include being discouraged from running for elected office due to perceptions that leadership positions should be reserved for older people. Young people continue to be stereotyped as troublemakers hence the local resistance in some societies to view them as actual agents of change. This is particularly strong in hierarchical societies where the elders dominate decision-making and leadership positions that do not give space to youth voices and contributions.
Amidst these challenges, young people have shown that they are able to play an active role, particularly at grassroots and local levels, as peacemakers, mediators, and peacebuilders. They can build social cohesion and trust across different groups; open channels and spaces for youth from across diverse backgrounds to work together and build a shared vision of a peaceful world; advocate for human rights and against violence in any form It is rather long overdue, young people ought to be engaged in peace work and human rights initiatives. Africa Unite continues to take the lead through its Human Rights Programme where young people are trained and equipped in human rights, to foster a culture of peace and understanding of human rights within their communities. Thus, strengthening the capacities and skills of their peers.
In the webinar, Dr Mwilu Mumbi, Programs Officer Education – UNESCO Zambia spoke on the impact of inequitable access to education and economic opportunities amongst youth on durable peace and a sustainable and equitable region. Mr Trust Mamombe, Director (Africa) from the Institute of Economics and Peace, then facilitated a discussion on climate change and the COVID-19 health crisis impact on sustainable peace in the Region and how the youth can contribute to sustainable recovery. He further illustrated the need to foster youth ownership of the demographic dividend and the need to have positive peace within our societies.
Recommendations that were made by various stakeholders in the webinar which are to be tabled before the African Union, include:
- Broadening youth consultation; Awareness of the importance of peace and building additional platforms for effective engagement between youth and political parties.
- Encouraging an effective use of social media. Social media can provide a positive platform for youth to engage in online debates, organise, build networks, and voice their opinions, outside of traditional forms of media and peace dialogues.
- Challenging perceptions about the inability of youth and women to occupy leadership positions as well as be part of peace initiatives
- Effectively addressing youth priorities: youth voter turnout in future elections will likely depend on the ability of local and national leaders to address the concerns and priorities of youth which are centered around job creation and other economic opportunities, as well as addressing corruption.
- Political inclusion and meaningful participation across all communities: to represent demographic representation has become increasingly important in our times today. Youth should also be given space to participate in politics and peacebuilding initiatives from the local level.
Overall, the event brought together peacemakers from various parts of the continent such as Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia and Kenya. All participants acknowledged the need to put words into action and begin with active involvement of the youth in peacebuilding initiatives across all communities, at all levels.