UN Regional Consultation on Youth, Peace and Security: Voices from West and Central Africa

The United Nations Security Council, on 9 December 2015, unanimously adopted Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS), the first UN resolution to recognize the important role young women and men play in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security. As part of the operational actions of the resolution 2250, the Secretary General was charged to carry out a Progress Study on the positive contribution of Youth to peace processes and conflict resolution, recommend effective responses at local, national, regional and international levels, and present the results of the Study to Member States of the United Nations. The progress study was designed to address the critical gap in young people’s participation and overturn negative stereotypes by highlighting and promoting young people’s voice, agency and leadership in building peace.

It is on this background that the West and Central Africa Regional Consultation on Youth, Peace and Security, was organized in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, from the 11th – 13th September 2017. It was the sixth of a Seven-series consultation across the world, and had 37 young leaders from West and Central African countries, who have being working on peace and security-related issues locally, regionally or nationally, from youth-led organizations, movements, initiative and networks. The Pan-African Youth Network for a Culture of Peace (PAYNCoP) was represented by Ekene Johnpaul Ikwelle (PAYNCoP Chairperson) from Nigeria, Stephane Leonel (PAYNCOP Fmr Permanent Secretary) from Gabon, and Lickiby Brusly Clichy (PAYNCoP National Coordinator from Congo).

The Consultation began with an opening ceremony attended by the President of Benin who was represented by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Hon. Oswald Homeky; the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Siaka Coulibaly; Ginette Mondongou Camara, Economic Advisor, UNDP; the UNFPA Resident Coordinator, Mr. Oueradrago and some others. The opening ceremony ended with a High-Level Panel discussion on peace and security, and Panellists shared experiences on how young people have and can continue to engage in efforts to ensure peace and security. This was followed by series of ice-breaking and team-building exercises which was designed to help participants learn about each other’s work and personality, build mutual respect and foster openness throughout the consultation.

The engagement proper on UN resolution 2250 began with an exercise to check how much the participants knew about the resolution – from its history to its unanimous adoption – and how it is relevant to the work they do. The Lead Author of the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, Mr. Graeme Simpson also explained the purpose of the study, his appointment to the role, the composition of his 21-member team (we would later learn that some of them were Youth with intriguing level of experience). He also mentioned that asides the regional consultations, the team will explore 15 country-specific case studies as well as 125 focused-group discussions in hard-to-reach areas. With the aid of small work groups, participants also discussed their understanding of Youth, Peace and Security and words like innovation, resilience, dynamism, co-existence, tolerance and engagement could be correlated across groups.

Day 2 began with participants exploring the 5-pillars of Resolution 2250 – Prevention, Protection, Participation, Partnerships and Disengagement & Reintegration – in relation to the daily work of their organizations. From questions on how relationships, networks and partnerships were formed; on why they were important and how helpful they have been; to questions on the challenges they face in building and maintaining partnerships, participants shared their experiences and discussed openly. Across groups, the following answers could be correlated: partnerships/networks help amplify voices to reach more people, minimizes duplication of activities, encourages sharing of skills, opportunities and resources, multiplies impact et cetera. While Partnerships are formed through referrals, relationships already developed from previous experience, or interactions et cetera, the challenges in building and maintaining them revolve around level of experience, religious & cultural norms, copyrights, failures on past interactions et cetera.

The discussions on the third (final) day focused on the main peace and security challenges young people face as peace builders, the impacts on their lives, the possible solutions and the relevant actors.  Issues around Social exclusion especially in policy development & implementation and decision making, secession movements, unemployment, absence of accountability and transparency, lack of justice, broken homes, harmful cultural and religious practises and norms were seen across groups and countries, violence (domestic, cultural et cetera) while open data, access to justice, Cohesion and inclusion in governance, informal and non-formal education mechanisms, new media campaigns et cetera were identified as solutions. There were emphasis on the need for inclusive policies, promoting social chain communication, promoting intergenerational dialogue especially at the grassroots, early warning system analysis, open and updated data, capacity building, strengthening partnerships and building strong institutions.

The youngest member of the Parliament of Benin, Hon. Guy Mitokpe, visited the participants and charged us all to stay true and consistent in our efforts towards ensuring social cohesion, peace and sustainable development.

The final session was about concrete follow-up actions by the participants, organizers and facilitators, as each of the participants made commitments in form of actions, to be implemented towards UNSCR 2250, when they get back home. From the PAYNCoP team, Ekene committed to organizing a campaign for peace using new media to show shared values, foster mutual respect and promote unity; Stephane committed to initiate a campaign for collection of signatures to popularize the UNSCR 2250, while Brusly pledged to promote peace and youth entrepreneurship in order to combat the radicalization of young people.

Mr. Graeme Simpson (Lead author of the Progress study) in his closing remark appreciated the participants for sharing their experiences, for digging real deep into issues that could have been otherwise seen as controversial amongst elders,  and for making useful recommendations which will be instrumental in preparing the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security. He pledged (as his commitment) to ensure that the final report of the Progress study reflects the voices and experiences of the participants.

Click here for other UN Regional Consulations on the UNSRC 2250

As reported by Ekene Ikwelle for PAYNCoP.