Written by Rafiu Adeniran Lawal, Executive Director, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation
On the 2nd March 2020, the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres presented the first report on youth and peace and security to the United Nations Security Council. This report highlights the level of implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 and subsequent resolution 2419 by member states across the world.
The UNSCR 2250 which is a product of the joint efforts by youth organizations, civil society organizations, United Nations (UN) entities and governments, is the first UN resolution that recognizes the positive roles of young people in issues of peace and security. This resolution not only debunks the old stereotypes of viewing young people as deficits, it brings an asset based narrative and gives legitimacy to the huge efforts and sacrifices being made by young people across the world in ensuring sustainable peace and development. There is no gainsaying that the adoption of resolution UNSCR 2250 in December 2015 has brought huge visibility to the initiatives, actions and projects of young people across the world. Young people are now taking advantage of this ground breaking instrument to access new spaces, strike partnerships and mobilize support for their work.
The UN Secretary General report couldn’t not have come at a better time than now when youth peacebuilders and their partners are preparing for the commemoration of the 5th anniversary of UNSCR 2250 in December 2020. This article therefore explore five major highlights and take aways from the recently presented UN Secretary General report on youth and peace and security.
No Peace without Youth
There is no doubt that the world has come to realize the untapped inherent potentials in the youth. One of the reasons for the adoption of UNSCR 2250 was the recognition that for the world to achieve peace it must leverage on the demographic dividends that the youth population provides. With a population of over 1.8 billion, today’s young generation is the highest the world has ever known, including them therefore is of democratic imperative. One of the ways of also ensuring that young people desist from engaging in violence and violent extremist acts is by offering alternative peacebuilding spaces. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres captured it clearly by postulating that ‘to achieve a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world for all, young people must be involved and the conditions that enable them to unleash their potentials must be created’. More than ever before we all must create meaningful opportunities which allow young people to participate politically, economically, socially and support peacebuilding efforts. Young people remain a critical partner in building and consolidating peace and development. Therefore, for any peacebuilding architecture to be effective and sustainable, youth inclusion is key and non-negotiable.
Addressing Vulnerabilities and Unequal Spaces
To achieve peace, we must begin to address the contextual and existing structural conditions which serve as limitations for youth participation in peace and development processes. As noted in the Secretary General report, ‘youth participation and representation in political processes is key to successful peacebuilding, yet their formal participation is extremely low’. For majority of young people especially in the global south, participation in decision making institutions, political and formal peace processes remains a mirage as new barriers are being constructed and instituted. We recognize the effort by nations to reduce age requirement for elective positions but nomination fees and party forms for most political parties run into tens of thousands of dollars making it very difficult for young people to seek and contest elective positions. It is now time to begin to recreate existing political opportunity structures by incorporating quota system and align voting and eligibility age so as to enhance youth participation in decision making institutions at local, national, regional and international levels.
Existing challenges and drivers of insecurity which frustrates peacebuilding such as under-development, corruption, poverty, unemployment, and infrastructural deficit remain objective realities and characteristics of most conflict affected societies. In a recent report on corruption released by the Transparency International (2019), out of 180 countries assessed, Nigeria ranked 146th, Mali 130th, Niger 120th. No matter how small corruption is, it has monumental impact on peace and security. More than half of Nigeria’s population like many other nations in the global south are currently experiencing what experts have described as multidimensional poverty which provides a fertile ground for terrorists to exploits. If these conditions are not addressed and uprooted by governments and stakeholders, the work and future especially of young people is endangered.
Also, as highlighted in the report, young people’s participation in peace processes is an essential element for the sustainability of peace agreements and peace processes. Young people must not be excluded from decisions that will have a direct impact on their present and future. Young people will either ‘inherit an agreement’s long-term benefits or its long-term consequences’. As youth in conflict affected societies we strongly desire the former and we are willing to make it our reality.
Democratization and Security of the Digital Space
With COVID-19 pandemic disrupting lifestyles, societies are finally embracing the digital life. The digital space is already experiencing an upsurge in patronage and deployment, albeit a lot of people still lack access to digital tools. As young people continue to use the internet to educate themselves, create opportunities for dialogue, build networks, lead advocacy and promote peace and security, stakeholders have expressed concerns about the growing use of the digital space by terrorists for the purpose of recruitment, incitement, fundraising, dissemination of propaganda and general planning and coordination of terrorist activities. More than ever before, we need to ensure that the digital space is democratized and secure for positive social interactions.
Fostering Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships
The UN Secretary General has called for an increased support for youth to achieve their full potentials. As we stated clearly in the Amman Declaration (2015), young people are open to partnerships and collaborations. Beside the traditional challenge of funding, we need training and capacity building to monitor, evaluate and sustain our work. International agencies, national governments and local authorities must therefore support and partner with youth building peace especially on capacity development. With more support, we would have greater impact in communities where we work and increase our reach. We must continue to foster inter-generational dialogue and create space for knowledge sharing. The UNSCR 2250 has stressed the need for government to engage relevant local communities and non-governmental organizations in developing strategies for countering violent extremism
Young peacebuilders have always pointed out that the scarcity of funds serve as impediment to the sustainability of their work and operations. In a report titled ‘Mapping a Sector: Bridging the Evidence Gap on Youth Driven Peacebuilding’ published by UNOY Peacebuilders and Search for Common Ground (2017), it noted that a majority of the youth led organizations working in local communities operate with limited funding, with 49% operating with less than $5000 annually. As echoed by the Secretary General in his report, inadequate funding remains a central challenge to the implementation of resolutions 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018). According to him, ‘meeting the funding challenge requires the mobilization of additional and new resources, as well as a shift in focus towards preventive interventions tackling both the drivers of violence and the root causes of conflict’. Young people are requesting for improved access and flexible funding opportunities. As we have recommended in the UN mandated independent progress study on youth and peace and security, we will like to see a substantial increase in the funding to young people and their initiatives. We therefore call on member states, donors, financial institutions and international organizations to allocate 1.8 billion, representing $1 per young person by 2025.
The conclusion of every analysis on youth, peace and security is the question of how to convert the demographic dividend into a peace dividend. The UN commissioned independent progress study on youth and peace and security (2018) provides the needed blue print for governments and international institutions to implement UNSCR 2250 (2015) and UNSCR 2419 (2018). As highlighted in the progress study, we must invest in young people capacities, agency and leadership through funding support, organizational capacity strengthening and network building; we must begin to transform and address the structural barriers limiting meaningful youth participation through economic, political and social inclusion; and lastly we must prioritize youth partnership and collaborative action through sponsorship and support for national youth coalitions and networks. The UN Secretary General in his report has therefore call on stakeholders to accelerate implementation of these strategies.
1) Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on Youth, Peace and Security, March 2020 https://undocs.org/en/S/2020/167
2) The missing peace: independent progress study on youth and peace and security (2018) https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/Progress_Study_on_Youth_Peace_Security_A-72-761_S-2018-86_ENGLISH.pdf
3)Ali Altiok and Irena Grizelj (2019) ‘We are Here: An Integrated Approach to Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes’ https://www.un.org/youthenvoy/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Global-Policy-Paper-Youth-Participation-in-Peace-Processes.pdf
4) United Nations Security Council Resolution 2419 (2018) https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sc13368.doc.htm
5) A Guide to UN Security Council Resolution 2250 (2016) https://unoy.org/en/2250-toolkit/
6) UNOY Peacebuilders and SFCG (2017), Mapping a Sector: Bridging the Evidence Gap on Youth Driven Peacebuilding, The Hague. http://unoy.org/wp-content/uploads/Mapping-a-Sector-Bridging-the-Evidence-Gap-on-Youth-Driven-Peacebuilding.pdf