By Ahmed Hadji
The world celebrates International Youth Day with revelation that the planet now has the largest youth population in history, creating unique potential for economic and social progress.
In Africa, now the world’s youngest continent, up to 70% of the 1.1 billion population is under the age of 30. The last 20 years have seen a significant improvement in socio-economic conditions, with high literacy rates and expanding opportunities for young people across the world. Many of the recent tech innovations have been invented by youth in their prime, driven by talent and the desire to experiment and shape their environment.
However, youth across the globe still face major difficulties in the realms of access to quality education, employment, health and effective participation in decision-making processes.
On December 9, 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted a historic resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security calling for greater positioning of youth at the heart of development. The UN resolution outlines the duty of governments to protect young people during conflict and in post-conflict societies, promote their participation in peace-building and peacekeeping.
It entreats member states to increase representation of youth in decision-making institutions at local, national, regional and international levels. Member States are also implored to increase their political, financial, technical and logistical support to address the needs and encourage participation of youth in peace efforts.
Africa alone, home to about 300 million youth (between the ages of 15 and 24), high rates of youth unemployment and under-employment have been major sources of unrest.
The impacts of the global financial crisis; poverty and social exclusion have led young people to migrate from rural to urban areas in droves, in search of better opportunities and livelihoods. Evidence abounds to show that dissatisfied youth, unlike older persons, can be a socially destabilizing force, as witnessed by the demands for change during the Arab Spring in Africa.
In North Africa, where the revolutionary sentiments first flared up, unemployment rates were found to be higher than in most parts of the continent, at 31% in Tunisia and 34% in Egypt. This partly explains why young people are often seen by governments as a source of problems rather than as valuable resources.
In Europe, the Middle East and Africa where recent terror attacks have shaken society, youth have turned out to be not only victims but also deadly tools in a larger and complex battle. UN resolution 2250 was in part informed by the rise of radicalization to violence and violent extremism among youth who are still drawn into the ranks of terrorism.
Young people can play as positive role models in preventing and countering violent extremism, and conflicts that inhibit socioeconomic development. Youth-led organizations can be important partners in delegitimizing the possible violent actions and extremist propaganda among peers.
During armed conflict, the UN mandates all parties to take the necessary measures to protect civilians, including youth, from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. It also encourages all those involved in the planning for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration to consider the needs of youth affected by armed conflict.
In one frantic appeal during his tenure, the former UN Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon told the 15-member Security Council to ‘encourage young people to take up the causes of peace, diversity, and mutual respect. Youth represent promise-not peril.
Uganda, along with many other countries across the world, has made strides in engaging youth in policy formulation at all levels of leadership. Seats for youth have been reserved at local council levels as well as in youth organizations, national youth councils, and youth parliaments set up at the national or regional levels.
More than ever before, many states have enacted policies and established special programmes aimed at generating employment through skills development and entrepreneurship. Incubation centres have been set to mentor youth and turn them into job creators and build an economically active population through business start-up schemes.
However, the challenge is that policies and issues that affect youth are often implemented in an ad-hoc manner, without adequate consideration for their long-term implications on youth and youth as beneficiaries are not part of the planning and designing of these programs and policies.
In order to realize full advantage of a bustling youth population and to ensure future prosperity, heavy investment is required in the fields of education, health and employment. Skills-based education will be one of the most potent weapons against unemployment in developing countries, faced with a mismatch between education systems and the skills needed in the labour market; a small private sector and flooded public services sector.
Therefore, to be able to address issues of violence and build lasting peace it’s imperative that states like Uganda focus on proactive and preventive measures through creating inclusive and enabling environments for youth to be able to prosper and achieve their dreams and ambitions.
The role of education for peace is emphasized as it promotes a culture of peace tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue that involves youth and discourages their participation in acts of violence, terrorism, xenophobia, and all forms of discrimination.
To the youth, it is our generational responsibility to get involved and safeguard our future interests that are threatened by the effects of violent conflicts. Our numbers, dynamism and interconnectedness through the various social networks are our greatest assets in challenging violent conflicts.
If you are out there doing just that, you are not alone. Many of us are deeply involved in initiatives to fight violent extremism and we have committed our energies and resources to be part of the solution.
The writer is a youth policy analyst. This article was co-authored with other youth activists Hassan Ndugwa and Teopista Kizza