REMARKS BY AU YOUTH ENVOY TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL
ON PEACE AND SECURITY IN AFRICA: MOBILIZING YOUTH TOWARDS SILENCING THE GUNS IN 2020
New York, 2nd October 2019
As the African Union Youth Envoy, I cannot overstate the importance of this glorious day in accelerating Agenda 2063 aspiration 6, of an Africa, whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth.
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 that 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 therefore an integral part of peace and security agenda. This is why the AU’s Saleema Initiative and the UN-backed Spotlight Initiative couldn’t have come at a better time. It is important that greater collaboration is forged to ensure that young people, especially young women, play a key role in ending some of the longstanding harmful practices that inhibit young women’s agency. In Nigeria, 5 years ago 278 girls were abducted and thanks to youth-led campaigns like #BringBackOurGirls concrete action was taken but still 112 girls are missing. It is important that the UN continues to prioritise the rescue of these girls, especially because they come from a region where 2 out of every 3 girls are married before their 18th birthday. It is important that the UN continues to invest in safe, quality and free education for all, especially girls.
- On August 16th this year, I have joined forces with African women leaders network (AWLN), and AWLN young women leaders caucus with the support of UN Women and Office of AU Envoy on WPS, organized together the first ever intergenerational retreat on women leadership in Africa hosted by the government of Kenya.The African Union Commission offers robust support to young women through AWLN in close partnership with the UN, African civil society organizations and women’s and youth led organizations.
- We will also come back to Nairobi to collaborate with H.E Uhuru Kenyatta for another milestone to convene the first ever AU Youth Summit and Festival as Pre-African Union Summit meeting for youth voices to be included in decision making processes at the African Union and declare their position and role on Silencing the guns
Many such engagements will continue to take place but together we can make more impact, by moving from policies to implementation. We may not need more recommendations as much as we need action and delivery now by;
1- Promoting and convening intergenerational dialogues, collaboration and sustainable partnerships with youth which will build trust with government institutions and mechanisms and address youth exclusion. This is the time for young peacebuilders making the headlines and for intergenerational co-leadership. The UNSC, AU-PSC and relevant organs of the RECs and member states can effectively utilize youth agency to co-lead conflict prevention and mediation efforts
2- Enhancing the capacities and leadership of youth through platforms of mentorship, internship and leadership to facilitate their professional career development, particularly those from rural areas and if there is one thing the UN can change to create more opportunities for young people in Africa, it is to put an end to unpaid internships at the UN.
3- Using sports, arts, music, dance, storytelling and film to mobilize the largest continental campaign on silencing the guns, these tools have proven to be effective for advocacy as an alternative peacebuilding approaches. Six hundred million youth in Africa is a gigantic network of diverse and innovative minds who are interconnected as well through the web. In an instant youth can spread information, alert, raise awareness and their outreach and advocacy potential is unprecedented with new technologies.
4- Investing in civil society and civic space, providing direct financial and technical support to youth interventions and providing funds for youth-led peacebuilding initiatives through effective and sustainable mechanisms that benefit and sustain their work, scale their impact and not harm them.
5- Translating commitments to Action – We trust that UNSC resolution 2457 on Silencing the Guns in Africa, and the subsequent mobilisation of the UN System by the Secretary General through the UN Silencing the Guns task force, will generate the required support for our member states, the AU and the RECs to successfully implement the Silencing the Guns Agenda.
6- Lastly- If there’s one policy framework we must think through it would be the intersectional between WPS and YPS agendas which was highlighted by The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security. The inclusion of young women and girls as partners in the Council’s work on conflict prevention and sustaining peace is crucial. Young women are consistently subsumed into these different categories, which renders them vulnerable to being left out.
Young women and girsl face a double discrimination due to their sex and age, falling between youth-focused peacebuilding and prevention programmes, and women-targeted peacebuilding interventions. To ensure that the inclusion, empowerment and systematic engagement of young women is central to the implementation of both 2250 and 1325 UNSC resolutions.
We should not let fear drive our decisions but more than ever we need a leadership of courage that is not just responsive but empowering and preventive.
My generation is craving for greater political space to operate and drive the desired change;
My generation is ready to make an impact that may not be comprehended but still cannot be denied;
My generation is ready to put behind unhealthy competition and foster collaborative partnerships within innovative and sustained resourcing;
Young Africa cannot continue to be ignored as the most youthful population in the world, young africa deserves a seat at the table and in decision making positions to make peace possible.
There is never a better time to ACT than now and make the decision for genuine youth engagement on YPS and development agenda.
In 2013, my cousin through our family, community and local government support, started a gym project in our village because he wanted to make a difference and inspire the unemployed youth of our community to believe in themselves and serve because he realized his power to bring about healing and mend the broken spaces of our world instead of destroying it. Despite anger and frustration, the majority of young people are choosing not to fight back but to create alternative spaces and that’s what youth are asking you to do. We must focus on building, building communities, building trust, building dialogues and building resilience.
And to build youth trust in institutions, we need to reframe this debate so they can be perceived as part of the solution, not the problem.
We need to articulate a story of hope and Africa’s leadership for youth and can’t find better than the words of South Africa icon Steve Biko to end with, He said “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face”.
That face, excellencies, is young. African Youth are already doing their part for peace and development because when young people promise, young people deliver. Now we need you to also contribute your part and Let us co-lead.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Ms. Aya Chebbi
Chairperson’s Envoy on Youth
African Union Commission