There is a range of literature on the role of young people in conflict situations, most focusing on young people as violent by nature rather than as a product of their communities. Much attention has also been paid to youth as agents of conflict rather than peace. Enhancing structures that promote the participation of youths in peacebuilding will actively contribute to their engagement with decisions and activities that affect their wellbeing.

There is a wide range of literature on the role of young people in conflict situations, especially when it comes to perpetuating violence. Most of the papers tend to focus on young people as violent by nature rather than as a product of their communities. Furthermore, a lot of attention has been paid to youth as agents of conflict rather than as agents of peace. Considering that 65% of the population on the African continent consists of young people, it is becoming increasingly more important that, rather than seeing young people as agents of conflict and destruction, they are seen as agents of peace, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and advocates for social cohesion in their communities.

So far there has been little attention given in the literature to the role of young people as peacebuilders. Young people face a distinct risk in situations of conflicts because they are recruited as soldiers, exploited sexually and in most cases, manipulated by political aspirants who benefit from these conflicts, such as in the case of Sierra Leone and the Charles Taylor case. Therefore, considering the role of youth as peacebuilders, the question addressed here is: “What must be done to enable youth to become active agents of peace?”

A study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (2005:9) states that:

There is an automatic tendency to problematize youth as a factor in violent conflict while overlooking their many positive contributions to a society, including their potential role in sustaining the social fabric and peace, as well as their survival in impossible environments.

– UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery

Researchers and scholars, employing several theories, have studied the management, resolution and transformation of conflict as part of the move towards the restoration of peace in conflict-shattered areas. It is evident from the literature reviewed here that such studies emphasize the involvement of young people in perpetuating violent conflicts without adequately addressing the way youth could be positive instruments in peacebuilding processes.

Organization of African Youth (OAY), formed as a result of the ratification of the African Youth Charter, has been working with young people all over Africa and advocating for the inclusion of African youth in all spheres of society, as enshrined in Article 11 of African Youth Charter.

Article 17 of the Charter, especially, elaborates on the role of youth in promoting peace and non-violence and the role of state parties to strengthen the capacity of young people and youth organizations through promotion of intercultural, interreligious learning, civic education, human rights education, promotion of democracy and mutual respect for cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. The challenge has been the inability of these international laws and treaties to penetrate into the different countries; or better still the adoption of a youth-friendly policy to peacebuilding.

The inclusion of young people in peacebuilding processes is bound to facilitate sustainable peace in a society, by redirecting the energies of young people to the implementation of constructive peace projects. Incorporation and utilisation of youths in peacebuilding processes would facilitate their transformation from agents of violent conflict, to agents of peace in their societies.

Youth are more likely to avoid violence and engage in peacebuilding if they are granted a specific set of opportunities, interrelated and mutually reinforcing, which we call threshold conditions for peacebuilding. These threshold conditions include engaging in political participation; forging connections between youth and their communities; building constituencies for peace; training youth for the workplace; and building youth’s confidence and self-esteem.

Organization of African Youth views peacebuilding as more than just the signing of agreements to stop violence (such as ceasefire agreements). Peacebuilding efforts should also involve a social change that can be brought about by formal, non-formal, and informal education; school-to-work transition; peace-building and conflict resolution; youth engagement, participation, and empowerment; workforce development and livelihoods. These aspects of peacebuilding are the focus of our work.

It must be noted that a conflict situation or violent conflict cannot be brought to rest, managed or transformed, without adequately exploring how the energy of its primary agents could be redirected for the attainment of sustainable peace in a society or country.

The availability of adequate educational infrastructure and systems, employment opportunities and other structures through which youths can be active participants in making decisions concerning their wellbeing and that of the country at large, would go a long way to redirect youths’ energy from conflict to societal development. This would consequently enable the development of sustainable peace and security in societies.

In conclusion, enhancing structures that promote the participation of youths in peacebuilding processes will actively contribute to young people’s engagement with decisions and activities that affect their wellbeing.

Policies and institutions that enable investment in children and youth to succeed at the micro and macro levels should be encouraged. These could take the form of full multi-sector programmes that target youth in specific areas of activity, such as employment creation and/or peacebuilding projects.

Written by the Organisation of African Youth in Cameroon

Featured Image Credit: Delta State Youth Council

Written by UNOY Network

The United Network of Young Peacebuilders is a global network of young people and youth organisations committed to establishing peaceful societies. Our mission is to link up young people’s initiatives through our global network of young peacebuilders, to help empower their capacities and to help increase the effectiveness of their actions.