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Indaba Session - Is a youth bulge a blessing or a curse?

“Youth, Peace and Security (UNSC Resolution 2250): Pathways for Implementation and Practice in Africa” was the topic of the Indaba Session held at IPSS on 10 March 2017


21 March 2017

On 10 March 2017, the MPSA and IPSS Alumni held a joint Indaba Session on youth, peace and security, and the role of youth in political decision making in Africa presented by H.E. Amb. Dr. Aisha Abdullahi, outgoing AU Commissioner for Political Affairs and H.E. Marilyn Nolufefe Dwabayo, Deputy Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to Ethiopia.


“Is a youth bulge a blessing or a curse?” questioned Dr. Yonas Adeto, Associate Academic Director at IPSS, during his opening remarks. Africa is currently experiencing the phenomenon of a ‘youth bulge’ as the proportion of youth in the population, compared to any other group, is significantly increasing. Young Africans, however, face many obstacles.


Dr. Abdullahi, the first AU Commissioner to enroll in the Executive Master’s programme (MPSA) at IPSS, commended the course on its evolution. Concerning the youth bulge, she asserted that the choice is ours to make; Africans themselves must decide whether a youth bulge is a blessing or a curse. During her intervention she highlighted the importance of acknowledging the issues young people face today. “Unfortunately, in many parts of the world youth live in conflict zones, and are vulnerable to their impacts,” she stated. She also warned against the belief that young people can only be victims or perpetrators, emphasizing that young people can also be peacebuilders. In order for them to do so, opportunities and jobs must be created for them. If this is not done, she added, they may turn to alternative and unsolicited jobs such as child soldiers or smugglers.


UNSC Resolution 2250 was highlighted as a response to these issues and demands. It covers areas including youth participation in decision-making processes, their protection from war and armed conflicts, preventive inclusive policies and instruments, reintegration strategies, and partnerships between relevant organizations and young people. Dr. Abdullahi mentioned Article 17 of the African Youth Charter, which elaborates the role of the youth in promoting peace and non-violence and the physical and psychological scars that result from violence, armed conflicts and wars, prevention, partnerships, reintegration and follow-up. She also raised the concern that very limited efforts have been made to implement this article, but cited a number of youth-friendly initiatives of the African Union including the African Governance Architecture's Youth Engagement Strategy (AGA-YES).


“During my time, we had aspirations, we had goals, we could see the horizon, but we didn’t know how to get there.”


Drawing on her experience as a youth activist in South Africa in 1976, Amb. Dwabayo affirmed that things have improved as there are now platforms to talk - “the waters are not so muddy anymore” - and opportunities have been created to mould the Africa that young people want. She added that in order to prevent hurting stalemates during conflicts, the youth should be ambassadors of peace, and choose talk, negotiation and dialogue as ways tol allow them to realize their aspirations.


“Are there safe spaces for youth to take hold of what UNSC Resolution 2250 advocates for, especially with the securitisation of youth activism? Spaces in which the youth can authentically express themselves outside of predetermined agendas? There seems to be intergenerational tension and ‘unfinished business’, so how do we bridge this gap?” These questions were raised by one of the participants during the open discussion. Amb. Dwabayo responded by stating that the space for youth to protest in peace is there, but what is missing are mechanisms for youth dialogue as enshrined in the constitution. She challenged the youth in the session to scrutinize their countries’ constitutions or in existing mechanisms. She added that young people must remember that there is nobody against them because the power to become what they aspire to be is within them.


The session was concluded by Dr. Yonas who encouraged the IPSS alumni and others who attended to think about their next steps both individually and collectively.