On 9 December 2015, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) set a historic precedence for young people and civil society’s increased participation in conflict transformation and conflict resolution processes through its adoption of Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.
The importance of Resolution 2250 cannot be over emphasised, especially as it brings to the centre the young women and men, who have been marginalised by colonial cum patriarchal power dynamics for long, prohibiting them from actively participating in peace building and conflict transformation processes. Feminist power analytical frameworks posit that gender oppression is not necessarily about sex, but also about class, and such power analytical structures rely on a unique assumption about the basis for the marginalisation and subordination of the less powerful. Based on this, feminist epistemology views exclusion from participation in governance, peacebuilding and related processes on the basis of power dynamics - such as the age factor, as a serious violation of human rights, which in turn has serious consequences and ripple effects on governance, peacebuilding and democratisation processes.
Likewise in conflict studies, a correlation between countries prone to civil conflicts and those with burgeoning youth populations is strongly proposed. (Heinsohn, 1990; Cincotta, Engelman and Anastasion, 2003) Social scientists label this demographic profile the “youth bulge,” (Fuller, 2003; Goldstone, 1991) arguing that it has potential to destabilise countries, especially in the developing world. The youth bulge philosophy hypothesises that countries with rapidly growing young populations, or with a disproportionate percentage of the young versus the old, often end up with rampant unemployment rates and large groups of disgruntled young people who are more susceptible to recruitment into rebel or terrorist groups in countries where such possibilities exist, or who can direct their unused energies towards the innovative invention of all possible actions to counter hegemony, and to destabilise the status quo. Cincotta, et al (2003) likewise, argue that a large proportion of young adults and a rapid rate of growth in the working-age population tend to exacerbate unemployment, prolong dependency on parents, diminish self-esteem and fuel frustrations.
Admittedly, frustration and competition for jobs on their own, do not directly fuel violence. However, they do increase the likelihood for the unemployed youths to search for social and economic advancement by alternative means, which might not necessarily be positive to the hegemonic relationship between them and their states. Additionally, young people have fewer responsibilities like families, careers and property, and this heightens their likelihood to be more prone to taking up arms.
Unfortunately for African countries, such actions often result in rebellion and violence from the youths, met with counter action from the state, and resulting relations have potential to breed even more violence. This is so because the culture of violence in an African state is directly linked to the purposes for its subsistence, and the state itself subsists for reasons that should be determined by its national interests. What this means is that the African state survives much on the organic or assumed 'shared values' with its citizens, which is what determines its hegemony and legitimacy over the citizens, and as such, any acts of violence, no matter how linked they are to the need for progressive transformation, may be viewed by the State as rebellious acts, and receive reprisals, in the name of protecting national interests. (Benjamin Reilly, 2008) Countries with weak political institutions are most vulnerable to such 'youth-bulge-related violence' and social unrest.
Research claims that to some extent, World Wars I and II were due to large amounts of young people (particularly in the Balkans circa 1914); that Japan’s invasion of China in the 1930s can be partially explained by its large number of youths, and that the Marxist insurrections in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s were caused by the swelling population of the region’s unemployed youth, noting here that guerrilla-related violence quelled as the number of young people diminished. (Horsely, 2010; Thayer, 2009)
In the post-Cold War period, it is officially on record that between 1970 and 1999, 80 percent of civil conflicts occurred in countries where 60 percent of the population or more were under the age of thirty. (Cincotta, Engelman and Anastasion; 2003) Today there are sixty-seven counties with youth bulges, and of these, sixty are experiencing social unrest and violence. While demographers are quick to stress that youth bulges do not solely explain these civil conflicts, because corruption, ethno-religious tensions, poverty, and poor political institutions also play contributing roles, they do not necessarily rule out as coincidence, the predilection toward social unrest among states with large youth populations.
In sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands, sixty-two countries are considered “very young,” (Ibid), and this means that two-thirds of their populations are under the age of thirty, while less than 6 percent are above the age of sixty. Countries in this category include Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. There are other aggravating factors to the youth-bulge-related-violence, and these are rapid urbanisation, increased frustration and expectation among job seekers and environmental stress.
Migration pattern from rural areas to urban centres place a huge stress burden on cities across the developing world which lack the infrastructure, resources, or jobs to accommodate the influx of desperate workers. This creates ripe conditions for black-market activities, which in turn fosters groups of dissatisfied unruly youth and in countries where there is impending conflict, militia groups may start mushrooming. In relation to the environment, a sudden increase in the youth populations often lead to degradation of forests, water supplies, and agricultural land, further fuelling conflict over the remaining few resources, and again, this is a common characteristic of sub-Saharan Africa.
An increase in educated, especially degreed youths with no jobs, can also provoke social instability, what Coleman (1974 as cited in Xenos and Cabamalan, 2002) terms “… an explosive combination of millions of young people with high expectations and no hope of fulfilling their dreams.” Gavin sees a corollary to this problem as globalization and "...the images beamed across the world on American television – where a hyper version of material success is constantly exported," and this explains the huge influx of youths to Isis zones for recruitment.
Goldston (1991) also attributes religion to this, arguing that the young “… are often drawn to new ideas and heterodox relations, challenging older forms of authority. He acknowledges that while religion can provide an outlet that is constructive and one that allows youth to build social networks and find a sense of identity, moments of desperation can force the youth to succumb to religious forces such as Islam, choosing it as an alternative force for social mobility, and in so doing, they get caught up in the controversies surrounding Christianity and Islam, and they become recruits for religious militias. Heinsohn (2009) further notes that of the twenty-seven largest youth-bulge societies in the world, thirteen are Muslim.
Yet youth bulge, if met with the right investments through the demographic transition, is not necessarily bad, as with time, youth populations can drive the ‘demographic dividend.’ (Bloom, Canning, and Sevilla: 2003) This is a situation where the youths become large in numbers but socially alert and economically-productive populations that can drive economic gains. This however does not happen without an injection of proper incentives and motivation on all fronts from the state and other relevant stakeholders. With the demographic dividend comes security, inclusion, active participation and possibilities for sustainable peace and security. For instance, the rapidly growing economies of East Asia, Europe and Ireland to mention a few, at one time all endured some level of ‘youth bulges’ that on the flip side contributed to their countries’ strong economic outputs. (Ibid) As such, conflict scholars still argue that it is possible for youth bulges to help shape politics for the better, and the role South Africa’s large youth population played in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s is a case in point. (Ibid)
And so what now, in the context of Resolution 2250, and in the context of Africa? What are the prospects for turning situations around in African because of this Resolution, and what does it mean for Zimbabwe, especially on the peace and security front?
Resolution 2250 is indeed a sign of transformation at the UNSC levels as well as at other levels of governance that have a say in the UNSC affairs, and our own African Union (AU) is one of them. As one key person notes, the resolution is a historic recognition “[…] that it is imperative for us to invest in young people to fulfil their potential and help them contribute to the achievement of peace and security [as active agents].” (Osotimehin -UNFPA, 2015) Osotimehin has made a political call for the world to strengthen working partnerships with young people, youth organisations, Member States and other partners to achieve on sustainable peace and security in Africa.
Likewise, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, has also noted that recognising that young people have a positive and constructive role to play in building sustainable peace and preserving international security will mark a shift in the way the world seeks to end violence and build inclusive and peaceful societies. Young women and men have always worked tirelessly at building peace and reconciling their communities, and with this resolution, their work gets very much the recognition they deserve. In other words the resolution transforms the narrative of the youths world over from that of victimhood and militias to that of peace builders and social transformers.
Lastly, the role that the youths have played in calling this Resolution into action should be acknowledged. Indeed, given the nature of politics on the global front, and the different faces of power, Resolution 2250 did not come easy, but is a culmination of various efforts by the youths and peacebuilding organisations world over who have for years one end, continuously called on the UN to establish a global policy framework to engage them in building sustainable peace and preventing extremism. This year in August, this call culminated in the Amman Youth Declaration, adopted in Jordan, with inputs from over 10,000 young peacebuilders at the first-ever Global Forum on Youth, Peace, and Security, outlining the need to leverage institutional support for youth-driven initiatives and programmes.
In the context of Africa, this is the time for State Governments to legitimize the meaningful involvement of young people in peace and security issues, and for development agencies like UN Women and UNDP, already working on peace and security issues, to accelerate the peace consolidation programmes in war torn countries and in countries recovering from war to ensure sustainable achievements on peace and security.
Bringing the issues closer home, UN Women and UNDP in Zimbabwe should seriously consider partnering the Zimbabwe Ministry of Youth on peace and security and governance related development work. The role that young people’s NGOs can play on this front is also highlighted, but more so, the government of Zimbabwe should seriously consider the practice of engaging the youth for political participation on all fronts, and in both less and more substantive positions, at all levels of governance in the country. Effectively achieving this will require a gender sensitive transformation of laws and policies at all levels, including political party and electoral laws and policies.
The UN Electoral Framework has to also consider that the Zebra representation is no longer ‘THE THING’, but coin for example the ‘Double Zebra Representation,’ where for every elderly man and woman established for political position, a young woman and man are also considered. The situation also calls for the Ministry of Youth, starting with Cde Zhuwawo and everyone else, to be capacitated and sensitised enough to stand up and claim the spaces for the youths in every area of national development.
UN Women Zimbabwe Country Office, as a result of the South-to-South Partnership with UN Women Eastern and Southern Africa and the African Centre for Transformative and Inclusive Leadership, and also as a result of the Triangular Cooperation with the Israeli Mission for Foreign Affairs (MASHAV), has innovatively designed a rare programme for the youths in Zimbabwe. This programme brings together young women from civil society, the political parties, the community peace committees, the private sector and the military together to learn how to use modern ICTs for economic empowerment, and how to use economic empowerment for peacebuilding and conflict transformation. With Resolution 2250 now in place, UN Women has potential to expand this programme design to harness more youths and more organisations; and to create more South-to-South and Triangular Cooperation partnerships. A peaceful and vibrant Africa is indeed possible, and welcome 2063!
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