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Unexplored power of youth as peace-builders

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Celina Del Felice and Andria Wisler state that around the world many young people are victims of cultural, direct and structural violence and become carriers of that violence or perpetration.

Del Felice and Wisler, both PhD students in the Netherlands and United States of America, respectively, state that there is a strong tendency among politicians and researchers to see youth as a problem to be solved other than a potential to explore to achieve national peace and development.

“However, many youth are peaceful and peace-builders. Equally affected by various forms of violence, they decide to act constructively towards building a culture of peace,” they say.

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The two look at the young people, as any other members of a dynamic group in society, as having played a crucial role in positively transforming conflict situations and in building the foundations of democratic and peaceful country.

In Malawi, though, the contribution of the youth towards conflict resolution and peace-building has been very minimal. This is largely because political parties have, either deliberately or out of sheer negligence, failed to tap from their potential in achieving this goal.

The youth are typically considered a problem to peace and thus are left out or manipulated by politicians to achieve their political aspirations.

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Various studies suggest that when young people are unemployed and with few opportunities for positive engagement, they represent a ready pool of recruits for groups seeking to activate violence.

And in countries where there is not wide-scale armed conflict but which experience high unemployment rates and inequality, research has found that urban gangs appear as young people group themselves to protect each other from the police, from other groups and to create sources of income.

Former President late Bingu wa Mutharika promised a new lease of life for the youth when he ditched UDF to form his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2005.

Mutharika vowed that his administration would not use young people to silence his political opponents, but, instead, devise programmes and policies that would help empower them to unlock their potential.

But contrary to his promise, the fallen president used the DPP Youth – or cadets as Mutharika himself christened them – as a tool to incite violence targeting anyone perceived to be against his leadership style.

And this has been the trend to date! The United Nations (UN) Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on Peace-building and Sustaining Peace include a strong reference to the role of youth in peace-building, and call upon Member States and the UN “to consider ways to increase meaningful and inclusive participation of youth in peace-building efforts through creating policies, including in partnership with private sector where relevant, that would enhance youth capacities and skills, and create youth employment to actively contribute to sustaining peace.

The UN therefore urges member states to identify existing initiatives and youth networks, and how to effectively support them, without depriving them of their agency.

The landmark resolution 2250 (2015) acknowledges that youth play an important and positive part in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security and urges member states to give young people a greater opportunity of participation and decision-making at the local, national, regional and international levels.

Furthermore, it considers setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes.

It also urges countries to raise their political, financial, technical and logistical support by taking the needs and participation of youth in peace efforts in conflict and post-conflict situations into account.

The National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust national programmes manager, Gray Kalindekafe, says by reducing young people as a weapon for perpetrating violence, politicians are not only violating the rights of the youth, but also denying them the opportunity to unlock their potential and capabilities in socioeconomic activities in their respective societies.

“Youth is an important period of physical, mental and social maturation, where young people are actively forming identities and determining acceptable roles for themselves within their community and society as a whole.

“The emerging evidence shows that youth participation can increase the legitimacy and sustainability of peace processes, adding that engaging with young people is not only a demographic necessity, but a democratic imperative and an important avenue for accountability of institutions to their mandates, to legal norms and the people they strive to serve,” says Kalindekafe.

He emphasises that there is need for political parties to review the role of the youth in order to reposition them as change agents, to bring fresh and new ideas to the party, to bring innovation and use of new technology to the different political parties, to prepare them for leadership positions now and in the future.

He says political parties need to come up with deliberate youth policies to help unleash the hidden potential among our youth.

“To move from exclusion to meaningful inclusion, we must transform norms, practices, approaches and attitudes, and recognise young people as equal and powerful actors who can positively contribute to all steps and all aspects of peace processes. Despite the barriers, young people actively influence peace processes through diverse roles and initiatives,” he says.

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