Note: a complete summary of today’s meeting will be available after its conclusion.
BIENCE PHILOMENA GAWANAS, Special Advisor to the Secretary‑General on Africa, emphasized that silencing the guns in Africa is not a choice but an absolute necessity. Highlighting the shared goal of “leaving no one behind”, she pointed out that Africa is the world’s youngest continent with 20 per cent of its population — some 220 million people — between the ages of 15 and 24; this is projected to rise to 350 million in the next decade. To harness that demographic dividend, urgent efforts are required to combat threats to peace and security on the continent, including radicalization, violent extremism, terrorism, sexual violence, xenophobia, cyber insecurity, organized crime, forced migration and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Also critical will be efforts to address the root causes of such challenges, such as exclusion, inequality, high unemployment rates and climate change.
Spotlighting the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2018 report, “The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security”, she said too often perspectives on youth are distorted by stereotypes that associate them with violence and conflict. “These myths have triggered a ‘policy panic’, producing un‑nuanced policy responses that involve hard‑fisted security approaches that are counterproductive and not cost‑effective,” she said. However, the majority of young people — including those in Africa — are peaceful and enterprising. They are agents and partners of peace. Drawing attention to the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the African Youth Charter, she said the onus is on Governments, the private sector, civil society and the United Nations to work together to implement those normative instruments.
“For Africa’s youth, the time for effective and meaningful implementation of these instruments is now,” she continued, noting that young people are demanding urgent action and making their voices heard across the continent. For example, youth in South Sudan secured a place in the country’s governance structure. African countries, meanwhile, have taken important steps aimed at removing structural barriers that prevent or limit the inclusion and active engagement of youth in peace and security, political governance and socioeconomic development. Some countries have put in place laws and initiated campaigns to promote youth political participation, such as the “Not Too Young to Run” law in Nigeria and the “Vote 18” campaign in Cameroon.
Outlining the African Union’s “Master Road Map of Practical Steps for Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”, she said it includes work to address the bulging youth unemployment crisis through a “1 million jobs by 2021” campaign and other youth development strategies. The United Nations is working in partnership with African Member States, the African Union and regional economic commissions — as well as other regional and subregional bodies and the African private sector and civil society — to support meaningful youth inclusion and participation in the continent’s conflict prevention and peacebuilding processes. The Peacebuilding Fund opened an annual special funding window, known as the Youth Promotion Initiative, which has already invested $28.8 million in 11 African countries.
She also drew attention to various initiatives supported by the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The private sector — especially information and communications technology (ICT) companies — could be engaged to provide free SMS‑based platforms through which youth can share their views and participate in peacebuilding. At the regional level, the African Union and regional economic commissions should promote the inclusion of youth in their peace and security programmes and processes. United Nations country teams should ensure and promote synergies between national Sustainable Development Goals implementation plans and Council resolutions 2250 (2015) — on increasing youth in decision‑making — and 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. To further consolidate such work, the Council itself may consider creating an informal expert group on youth, peace and security, she added.
AYA CHEBBI, African Union Special Envoy on Youth, recalled that in 2013 her 22‑year‑old cousin was recruited by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) — an experience that strayed far from her own, despite their very similar backgrounds. Her cousin’s recruitment raised questions that eventually led her to pursue a dissertation on youth recruitment to violent extremism. “First and foremost, this is a question of narrative,” she stressed, voicing regret that when young people draw the world’s attention they are too often spoken of as perpetrators of violence. Instead, African youth do not resign themselves to the hardships of their situation but are using their agency and creativity to “build the Africa we want”, she stated.
Calling for a shift in the world’s negative narratives — of which many young people internalized themselves — she described the human capital and talent of African youth as “the driving force of our continent”. In fact, Africa’s young people are today the most informed, resilient and coolest generation. Since 2010 waves of youth‑led peaceful change have swept the continent, demanding their legitimate rights. “We must see these youth movements, uprisings and activism […] as an opportunity to channel that energy into positive change and engagement in peacebuilding,” she emphasized, spotlighting recent movements in Tunisia, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, among others.
“We have a generation trapped in the state of waithood — waiting for adulthood — because they are in a constant negotiation to find their political and financial freedom,” she continued. Many youths across Africa are barely surviving. Yet despite their lack of resources they are hustling. Drawing attention to the critical nexus between those efforts and Africa’s broader development, she said investments in young people are both strategic and critical. A nexus also exists between youth issues and education and health care, because in the absence of those services violent groups become economic and social actors. Reflecting on her work across the continent, she underscored that youth are determined to make the continent safer and more secure.
She also cited examples of youth‑driven initiatives, recalling the first open session of the African Union on youth, peace and security in 2018, which subsequently resulted in a continental framework on the matter. In addition, the bloc is working to end such harmful practices as female genital mutilation and child marriage, which are part of a broader peace and security agenda. There must be a greater engagement of both youth and women in such work, she stressed, highlighting the youth‑led #BringBackOurGirls campaign, launched in 2014 to locate 278 abducted Nigerian girls. More work is needed to translate commitments into action regarding Council resolution 2457 (2019) on silencing the guns in Africa, she said, adding that the inclusion of women and young people as partners in the organ’s conflict prevention and sustaining peace agenda is also critical.