Youth in the peace building process; how is Kenya progressing?
In 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted the ground-breaking resolution on Youth, Peace and Security which recognises that “young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security”. For Africa’s youth who have for decades been ignored in the peace process, where do they stand considering this resolution? Are they finally being included in peace building processes? If yes how? If otherwise why not? Is their inclusion meaningful or mere tokenism?
Vice Versa Global’s Nicera Wanjiru explores the dynamics of involving youth in the peace building process. And why it is important for African leaders to acknowledge the importance of changing the current status quo.
Youth are defined as people aged between 15 and 24. The Kenyan National Youth Act defines youth “as males and females of between the ages of 18-35years”.Traditionally, for example amongst the Samburu community (in Kenya) youth fall between categories of newly initiated young men and women between puberty and the age of 30.It is therefore important that the definition of youth is not standardised since some nations define youth by age while others define it based on roles ascribed to young people or by the cultural rituals such as circumcision, initiation rites, conquests e.t.c .Given the background, there is a need to recognise that actively involving African youth in the peace building process is vital in the peace and reconciliations processes.
Why youth inclusion is vital.
According to the 2019 Kenya Census, youth constitute 29 percent of the total population. The census further indicated that youth between the ages of 18-34 make up 25 percent of the population with 43 percent of the population being below 15 years.On a global scale, youth make up 1.2 billion of the world’s population, 600 million of whom live in violent regions.
Roughly 20 percent of the population of the African continent are youth.Based on this age group, they account for a large part of the active work force in any society; contributing directly to wealth generation and are responsible for the sustenance of different people.This apart, youth are usually the primary perpetrators of violence and form the largest number of casualties during violent conflict. They are usually caught between post-election violence as was the case in the Kenyan 2007-2008 post-election violence.
Where are Kenyan youth in the inclusion process?
Mathare youth leader Mohamed Malicha says there is need for youth to determinedly search for and use the limited opportunities which exist. Malicha draws on his own experience of becoming a youth representative in the Nyumba Kumi (community policing) committee. A position he says was not handed to him on a silver platter.He confirms that even in local committees where there are slots for youth representation, they exist to fill quotas. While Kenya is a signatory to the UNSCR 2250, Malicha notes little is done to translate into action what is on paper. And youth continue to be used by politicians only to gain popularity, while elders are reluctant to pave way for the young people or engage with them.
Adopted by the Security Council at its 7573rd meeting, the UNSCR’s Resolution 2250 on Maintenance of International Peace and security “recognises that youth should actively be engaged in shaping lasting peace and contributing to justice and reconciliation, and that a large youth population presents a unique demographic dividend that can contribute to lasting peace and economic prosperity if inclusive policies are in place,” among others.The resolution’s 5 pillars are participation, partnerships, prevention, protection: disarmament and reintegration.
Eight years on, the question remains, has the resolution been translated into action especially in African countries where the youth make up most of the population and conflict and violence remain rampant? This in a continent that comes second in the number of armed conflicts per region with more than 35 non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) taking place in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.
Building onto the significance of youth involvement in the peace process is the UNDP 2023 report – Youth in Africa: A demographic Imperative for peace and security which states “the fact that despite the socio-economic and political challenges they face, youth remain proactive and engaged in peace building within their communities through innovative approaches. Young people contribute positively on issues ranging from prevention of election violence, early warning and response mechanism, reconciliation initiatives, community dialogues and more…”
“It is about time nations involved the youth both fully and constructively in a holistic meaningful way for sustainable peace, says youth leader Zelpha Ingasiah.”
Ingasiah, whose work involves community organisation and mobilisation in the field of peace and security, concurs with the UNDP report. Her work as a mediator and moderator for peace dialogues involves coordinating community driven initiatives to promote youth inclusion. Ingasiah is among the first youth representatives in the Nyumba Kumi committee in Majengo, Nairobi.
While she notes that gainful representation of the youth is yet to be achieved, she applauds 2010 Kenyan Constitution which has provision of youth representation in all governance structures. She, however, believes corruption and nepotism rend this representation unmeaningful.
Where do Kenya’s youth stand?
Zelpha confirms active participation in local public meetings promoting peaceful co-existence by Kenya youth. She says they have managed to add to speak out against violent conflicts arising from actions such as cattle rustling and are part of community driven initiatives to promote alternative dispute resolution. In addition, they have also participated as mediators both locally and nationally.
Youth have partnered with local actors, administration, security officers and other stakeholders to address issues that cause insecurity and conflicts. They have been at the front working to break cycles that lead to insecurity. They have fostered a relationship with local administration and security agencies to promote information sharing that has seen communities become safe and peaceful.In addition to the above, Kenyan youth have started community initiatives such as sports academies, local enterprises and resources. These initiatives are ensuring youth members from the communities are protected from recruitment extremist gangs or getting involved in crime, terrorism etc. One significant initiative today is the Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) initiative which seeks to build relationships, foster cohesion and promote integration.
Local youth have also been involved in the national calls for disarmament and amnesty. The youth who have peacefully surrendered their light weapons and small arms to security agencies are now playing the role of ambassadors. And today they are inspiring others to peaceful surrender their arms, both urban areas including Nairobi and Mombasa and in rural areas such as Turkana.
Those youth who have served their prison terms are now part of the youth mentorship programs in different communities. They are using their experience to transmit the message of “crime does not pay”.A few of them also run programs which disengage youth from criminal groups and gangs. They collaborate with security agencies in sharing of and have follow ups with youth who have broken away from criminal groups and today there are youth community mentors who refer their counterparts to National counter terrorism council (NCTC); for disengagement; are youth.
“As far as youth inclusion in peace and security goes, we are not where we should be, not even close to where we need to be. But we are also a few strides ahead of where we used to be when the state did not recognise the importance of having young people at the table,” says Ingasiah.