When the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (AU PSC) endorsed the continental framework on youth, peace and security (YPS) in June, it marked a significant step in advancing the continent’s YPS agenda. Yet the challenges facing the implementation of the framework are numerous. Besides the potential difficulty of gaining buy-in for the framework during a pandemic, the greatest task will be for AU member states to establish the national action plans required to achieve the objectives of the guiding document.
The framework intends to facilitate extensive engagement and participation of youth in peace processes at national, regional and continental levels. After all, it was designed to enhance the development and promotion of strategic plans and initiatives by AU member states, regional economic communities/regional mechanisms (RECs/RMs) and the organs of the AU system itself.
The framework also complements and echoes Article 17 of the Africa Youth Charter and the UN Security Council resolution 2250 by highlighting five key priorities for action. These are to increase youth participation in peace processes; capacitate youth as champions of conflict prevention; protect youth in conflict situations; facilitate partnerships and coordination between youth and other stakeholders; and, finally, the effective disengagement and reintegration of youth fighters.
Cementing the framework as a guiding document for a successful YPS agenda depends on actions taken in the early phase of its inception. This means that gaining buy-in for the document and its key tenets is a priority, and essential to instil a sense of ownership among all stakeholders, – especially the youth. It will also act as a guide for YPS initiatives by RECs/RMS, governments and youth groups.
Buy-in among member states depends on the degree of political will to invest in empowering youth in peace and security. Political will is needed to unlock the human and financial resources required both to boost existing youth-led initiatives, and to create new ones.
Equally critical is creating buy-in and awareness among the broader youth population. The framework can form a basis for the youth to engage with, for instance, the state – and can, in this way, ultimately steer their visibility in peace and security.
Efforts to popularise the framework should ensure that the PSC-approved, 10-year action plan is not hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Any such campaigns should rely heavily on digital platforms. However, this also limits the audience reached to youth with online access.
Moreover, RECs/RMs are critical in generating regional buy-in for the framework. Some, like the Economic Community of West African States and the Horn of Africa-based Intergovernmental Authority on Development, could adopt the framework with ease, as in-house, youth-focused peace initiatives already exist. These organisations ought to draw on the framework to establish regional action plans, which should, in turn, guide the unilateral actions of their member states.
No framework can succeed without an action plan. Without clear steps and milestones, the ideas brought forth remain only on paper. NAPs will be at the core of every member state’s engagement with the framework. These action plans should unambiguously outline their commitments. Successful action plans align with national priorities and required reforms; guarantee transparency, accountability and youth participation; and contain specific, time-bound and measurable activities.
Creating an NAP for youth, peace and security should take into consideration the following four key issues. First, the successful formulation and implementation of an NAP requires the involvement of a wide range of actors. The complexity of peace and security challenges in most member states calls for engagement with government-level policymakers, civil society representatives as well as members of active youth organisations and networks. Ensuring ownership among youth groups will require a highly participatory approach.
Second, NAPs should be informed by careful pre-analysis and planning to ensure that human and financial resources are sufficient. For this reason, it is vital that funds be allocated to preliminary implementation activities as well as capacity-building opportunities for key stakeholders.
Third, the NAPs are not an end in themselves, but rather a tool to guide how the five key priorities of the AU Framework can be achieved. The NAP should be viewed as the critical first step in ensuring that member states do leave the framework on a shelf to gather dust. History has shown that when frameworks are not timeously adopted and acted upon at the national level, they fast lose momentum and relevance.
Lastly, drawing on state-level political will, a culture of peace must be ushered in by introducing a mandatory peace-education curriculum from basic to tertiary levels in countries’ education systems. Much of the AU’s vision surrounding the future of youth in peace and security on the continent revolves around maximum youth inclusion and participation. However, gerontocratic and patriarchal governing systems are encountered in many AU member states. These systems shrink spaces for youth activities – for example, by failing to enact long-term local and national platforms for youth engagement in peace and governance processes. Peace curricula would offer significant opportunities for long-term domestic progress; constructive inter-generational dialogue at the national level; and further engagement with RECs/RMs and the AU.
To delve deeper into the need for national youth policies to strengthen the framework, the Institute for Security Studies/Training for Peace Programme, in partnership with the AU’s Office of the Youth Envoy, hosted at least 20 youth, peace and security experts from all five regions of the continent for a closed roundtable on the matter. The event will feed into a comprehensive report to be published in October 2020.
Author name, organisation and position:
Muneinazvo Kujeke, Research Officer, ISS Training for Peace Programme