A Special Message for International Peace Day September 21, 2015  by      

By: Nicholas Kennedy Juma, Sports Association Assistant Program Officer

Peace Celebration

There is a wide range of literature on the role of young people in conflict situations, especially when it comes to perpetuating violence. Most of the papers tend to focus on young people as violent by nature rather than as a product of their communities. Furthermore, a lot of attention has been paid to youth as agents of conflict rather than as agents of peace. Considering that 65% of Kenyan population is occupied by young people, it is becoming increasingly important that, rather than seeing young people as agents of conflict and destruction, they need to be seen as agents of peace.

Youth must engage in intercultural dialogue and be advocates for social cohesion in their communities. This is the only way of building a just and better society. As we celebrate this year’s International Peace Day, the million-dollar question should be: what must we do to enable youth to become active agents of peace in our society today?

It’s true that young people face particular risk in conflict situations. They can be recruited as soldiers, exploited sexually, or—most commonly—manipulated by political candidates who benefit from conflict. Yet, in a place like Kibera, youth sustain the social fabric, and they survive in an impossible environment.  Because of Kibera’s status as a slum, there is an automatic tendency to only view Kiberan youth as agents of violence while overlooking their many positive contributions to a society. This should be something of the past.

Plenty of researchers have theorized about the restoration of peace in conflict-shattered areas. It perhaps comes as no surprise that many of these studies emphasize the involvement of young people in perpetuating violent conflicts without adequately addressing the way youth could be positive instruments in building peace. Redirecting young people’s energy and motivation to peace is essential to bringing peace to an entire community.

So, here are some ideas to help move us forward. To quote the Center for Civil Society and Governance, “Youth are more likely to avoid violence and engage in peacebuilding if they are granted a specific set of opportunities, interrelated and mutually reinforcing, which we call threshold conditions for peacebuilding,” meaning that these activities help hold youth accountable. These include “engaging in political participation, forging connections between youth and their communities, building constituencies for peace, training youth for the workplace, and building youth’s confidence and self-esteem.”[1] By focusing on these, we can make great progress in redirecting youths’ energy from conflict to societal development and peace, which would lead to sustainable peace and security throughout the whole community.

Perhaps most of all, involving youth from the beginning not only strengthens their sense of peace and justice for themselves and their neighbors, but they guide the process every step of the way. They know their community best, and they know what it needs. Empowering them to make those changes is the most efficient way to peace.

[1] Center for Civil Society and Governance, “Youth as a Catalyst for Peace: Helping Youth Develop the Vision, Skills, and Behaviors to Promote Peace.” Link: http://www.ngoconnect.net/documents/592341/749044/Youth+as+a+Catalyst+for+Peace-+Helping+Youth+Develop+Vision,+Skills+and+Beh


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