REMARKS BY AU YOUTH ENVOY TO THE UNSC
ON PEACE AND SECURITY IN AFRICA: MOBILIZING YOUTH TOWARDS SILENCING THE GUNS IN 2020, New York, 2nd October 2019
Distinguished Members of the United Nations Security Council
Ladies and Gentlemen
I thank you for the opportunity to brief the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on this important theme on peace and security in Africa particularly to inform on contributions of African youth and strategies to mobilize the UN family towards silencing the guns in Africa. I would like to express my gratitude to the Republic of South Africa for this invitation and for your leadership on the youth agenda.
I want to also thank the African Union Silencing the Guns Unit and the Youth for Peace (Y4P) Africa program of the AU Peace and Security Department (PSD) with whom I work closely in mobilizing youth for the promotion of sustainable peace and development in Africa and also thank the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa to UNSG and the AU Permanent Representative to the UN for the continuous support and advocacy for African youth agenda.
Please allow me to also congratulate our AU member states the republic of Niger and republic of Tunisia for being elected as non-permanent members of the Security Council and also congratulate Tunisia for successfully organising early presidential elections following the death of the president BCS. Young Tunisians said their word at the ballot box using their power of voting,campaigned with zero budget and chose two candidates out of the norms. The process however, remains fragile and very challenging and we need to equip these young people and support innovation in our political processes.
In my presentation, I am going to address four main questions;
What are the core issues we need to reflect on?
What is the reality on the ground in Africa?
What are we doing about it at the AU?
What can we do together?
In 2013, my cousin was recruited by Daesh at the age of 22, at the time he just graduated from university with an engineering degree. It was a tough experience to go through with the family which made me think, why youth like my cousin would choose this path while I have chosen non-violent activism and we both grew up with the same educational and social background.
That led me to do my thesis on youth recruitment to violent extremism in Kenya and Tunisia and together with my eight years of Pan-African activism and my work as the AU youth envoy since my appointment last November, I want to offer the council 4 main reflections on our topic today;
1- First and foremost this is a question of narrative
Unfortunately when African youth get the world's leaders attention they are spoken about as perpetrators of violence, with images carrying the guns, as a dangerous class, as a number of unemployment, as migrants dying in the mediterrenan, as a youth bulge. But they are not spoken about as the generation of peacebuilders that changed the course of history, that revolutionized technology, that inspired new ways of citizen engagement. African youth do not resign themselves to the hardships of their situation but they are using their agency and creativity to build the Africa We Want.
There is a danger of the victimization disempowering narrative that overlooks youth agency. Many young people have internalised the idea that they are marginalised with no voice and now perceived to be heroic when they join violent groups. When we do not value our youth and their contribution to society, they will look for recognition somewhere else.
Therefore, our definition of demographic dividend should be about peace dividend, youth as the human capital, talent, and the driving force of our continent.
We must change the narrative about African youth as a collective positive actor among the most informed and resilient generations Africa has ever seen, and the coolest generation!
The narrative question is also gendered because gender stereotypes are reinforced and young women’s voices and unique experiences often go unrecognized.
In this narrative question, we must also acknowledge that since 2010 waves of youth-led peaceful change has swept our continent demanding legitimate rights, peacefully and creatively.
We must see these youth movements, uprising and activism in Tunisia, Senegal, Gambia, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Algeria and other countries as an opportunity to channel that energy into positive change and engagement in peacebuilding.
I come from that generation that started the first 21st century peaceful revolutions, we stood up for our rights and not only demanded but led change, we moved from being perceived as subjects to active citizens and changemakers and I am here with you today as a testimony of deserving generation to be at the decision making table.
2- The question of hustling
We have a generation trapped in the state of waithood - waiting for adulthood - because they are in constant negotiation to find their political and financial freedom. It’s about the livelihoods of our young people who are barely surviving, and who do not understand the contradictions of our time, to be the most youthful population 65 percent under 30 and yet the most insecure and marginalized.
Young people are hustling, ticking a young women empowerment box here, and a youth participation box there! with lack of resources, support and huge challenge with bureaucracy and limited documentation of their work. They hustle to sustain their impact from annual membership dues, training costs, and in-kind contributions. They hustle for funding as civil society, hustle to collaborate with institutions and governments, they hustle to participate in peace processes and hustle for representation.
But the real hustle, excellencies, should be to make sure that we silence the guns by 2020.
3- The question of identity and belonging
We want youth to give up the guns but can we answer the big question in the mind of 19 or 21 year old, who am I ? what are we offering them? Can we give direction and assurance that we will provide all the enabling environment needed for our youth to thrive.
The big question of identity which we do not often talk about and only focus on temporary responsive measures to fix conflict, is crucial. Our efforts are informed by our multi-layered sense of identity, young, female, indigenous, refugee, migrant, with a disability, living in post-colonial Africa and so on.
We need to promote a Pan-African transnational identity and global citizenship, when youth think pan-African and global, it offers a place of belonging, it allows new imagination of the individual and the community and of the Africa We Want as borderless, transnational, multilingual and multicultural community.
Our Pan-African policies at the African Union are creating the dynamism needed through the African Continental Free Trade Area, intra-trade, open borders, African passport, and Pan-African universities. The only way to end violence in our continent is to unite our youth around the pan-african vision and space of exchange, knowledge and solidarity. Even our education should instill pride and empower the African child in their African identity to combat xenophobia, hate and exclusion.
And we must not forget there is no Pan-Africanism without feminism.
4- And Lastly we need to reflect on the nexuses with PS agenda
We have a trendy word in the youth space called intersectionality, everything for us is intersectional, our analysis, our challenges, our fluid identities and therefore our solutions must be intersectional.
There is a nexus with development. it is not only a smart idea to increase investment in youth development, it is strategic, to ensure that the near future bears the fruits of peace and prosperity.
There is a nexus with governance, we should deliver the health, education and the services that our citizens and youth deserve because where there is an absence of these services, violent groups become economic and social actors.
There is a nexus with inequality because jobs alone do not address deep-seated awareness and lived experiences of injustice for youth who then look upon violent groups as legitimate fighters rather than perpetrators of violence. The future of work needs to be about dignity, because young people don't want just jobs but jobs with dignity.
There is a nexus with climate change, in the words of AUC chairperson HE.Moussa Faki Mahamat, "The effects of climate change in the Sahel has become a threat to peace and security not only in the Region but also worldwide”
There is a nexus with health and diseases, Africa’s peace and security Agenda is confronted with yet another challenge. The Ebola Virus. As you know, a new outbreak of this deadly virus was reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 1 August 2018. Since then over 3000 people have been infected and more than 2000 have died. Women and young people have been hit hardest. African youth may escape the bullets but end up dying anyway if we don’t take action against Ebola and this will need our collective action in combating this scourge, by also adopting a peace-focused approach to help curtail the disease’s spread and by mainstreaming community and political reconciliation with local cooperation, building trust, and resilience in the priorities of the response.
Excellencies, since my appointment by the Chairperson of the Commission, with the support of the AU Youth Advisory Council, I have been humbled by what my brothers and sisters are delivering as we speak, with little to no resources, just with the courage, resilience, and determination to make Africa a safe and secure environment for all. African Youth did not wait for the declaration of the Year of silencing the guns to act. Neither did they wait for UN resolutions or AU Assembly decisions, to act to make peace possible.
Mr. President, I wish to share some of what I've seen and heard:
I have undertaken a solidarity mission to South Sudan where young people like Jok who is replacing bullets with books at the PromiseLand Secondary School, are at the forefront of building the world’s youngest state, disseminating the Revitalized Peace Agreement on South Sudan of September 2018
I met youth in Eritrea and Liberia using innovation for nurturing a culture of peace in their countries
Youth groups in Kenya work in informal settlements empowering young women using arts to change attitudes, behaviours and actions that can incite violence
The African Youth Action Network in Uganda trains young refugees on peacebuilding, emotional intelligence and advocacy against hate speech including on social media.
A Local Youth Corner in Cameroon is working in eight prisons to provide repeat offenders an alternative to reoffending positively impacting about 5,000 young people in prison and empowering 300 youth peer educators to become “Prison-Preneurs”
Excellencies, Youth in Africa have demonstrated effective and impactful change, should they be given opportunities, tools, knowledge and capacity.
And African youth, welcomed the decision of the AU Member States to mark the year 2020 under the theme: “silencing the Guns, creating a conducive environment for development”. The theme is a tribute to the efforts invested so far to realise the objectives of Agenda 2063 flagship project.
The Y4P Africa program of the AU stems from the relevant decisions of the Assembly of the African Union, especially Article 17 of the African Youth Charter (AYC) which was adopted in 2006 and recognizes since then the important role of youth in promoting peace and security in Africa and encourage their involvement in mediation and conflict prevention efforts.
On 8th November 2018, we had the first open session on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) where PSC called on AU Member States to urgently implement UNSCR 2250 with a particular emphasis on the development of national action plans (NAPs) and the finalization of the continental framework on YPS for consideration and adoption by relevant AU policy organs.
The Council also requested the Commission to conduct a study on the role and contribution of youth to peace and security on the continent which will be submitted in November 2019; as well as the appointment of five African Youth Ambassadors (AYAP), with whom I will work closely as the AU Youth Envoy in the promotion of peace and silencing the guns.
The AU also works to end harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage that we believe are part of a borader agenda on gender based violence and the