Resilient communities are made of people who are healthy, free and living dignified lives. As some countries transition to the recovery phase, in my country Kenya, the numbers continue to rise and a growing despair can be felt. The directives and measures issued to flatten the curve have left many more vulnerable to economic and social shocks.

Some of the challenges to social cohesion beyond the pandemic include; the mistrust between communities and their leaders brought about by the lack of openness in sharing information on Covid-19, the resentment for political leadership brought about by the double standards in implementation of Covid-19 prevention measures, the cases of police brutality and killings, the alleged misuse of funds purposed to support vulnerable communities during this period and the deliberate exclusion of vulnerable groups.

These challenges are not new and continue to trigger violent reactions by many young people. Preventing violence should focus on winning the hearts and minds of young people. This is why online platforms like Beyond the Lines which I manage are important in continuously shaping the narratives: – from those of hopelessness and despair to active citizenship and collective responsibility as a means of enhancing peace and security online and in our communities. We need to strengthen patriotism and the confidence to lead amongst young people. Like a farmer nurtures to their own plants, like a mother cares for her family, young people care for what they believe in and feel a part of. We need to build societies that young people are protective of, where they feel involved and cared for. There is no one more prone to recruitment by extremist groups than a person who has nothing to lose.

During these difficult times, for many of the communities I work with, staying home is not possible when you live in a tiny and crowded house. E-learning is inaccessible and where available is expensive or unsafe for use. Unemployment and loss of income has left many starving and struggling to make rent. Should you go out, you risk infection, should you stay in, you risk starvation. It may be difficult to comprehend but this is the reality for many young people.

And yet, I am encouraged by the determination of young people all over the world such as my colleagues from UNDP’s 16×16 youth initiative who continue to do important peacebuilding work while providing support to their communities during this pandemic. From offering online youth dialogue spaces and solutions for women’s empowerment in peace and security in Tunisia, to pushing for accountability and transparency of resources directed towards COVID-19 response in Malawi, to hosting a virtual campaign and weekly sessions with young people on stress and anxiety management in Venezuela, it is evident that young people make for key strategic partners in building stronger and peaceful societies.

Through Mutual Aid Kenya, an initiative I co-founded with Suhayl after the first case of covid-19 was confirmed we have built a network of volunteers who are at the frontlines responding to the immediate needs of their communities through; distribution of food and sanitation supplies, education materials for children who cannot access e-learning and most importantly engaging in advocacy campaigns and political processes such as the formulation of the Pandemic Response Management Bill. Through mobile money donations from hundreds of individuals we have dedicated 100% of the donations to supporting over 2,000 families in 10 different slums in Mombasa and Nairobi. And while the impact is commendable, it must not take away from the need to hold duty bearers accountable to their people.

Moving forward, we need to appreciate how interconnected we are. We need to do more than just make promises to support young people and put our money where our mouth is and that means investing heavily in the capacity of young people to be key players in building peace and more resilient communities. We need to carefully reexamine our strategies of engagement with communities, our policies especially of preventing violent extremism and the way we govern communities. It has to be driven by the local communities to meet the needs they prioritise.

We need to better invest in youth led PVE initiatives through;

  • Providing resources especially funding to youth led PVE initiatives at the local and national level
  • Acknowledge the important work young people are doing to prevent violent extremism through strengthening the participation mechanisms of young people in peacebuilding and civic spaces.
  • Ensure that the PVE space is not only inclusive of young people but also diverse in the voices of young people represented. This will ensure that policies and programmes targeting young people on PVE are more effective

This pandemic is not just a health crisis but an injustice which is why it poses great threats to peace and security. Surely, there can be no peace without justice. And as for many countries moving into the recovery phase, there is a danger in creating and pushing the narrative of a ‘New Normal’. Violence, inequalities, marginalisation and human rights violations should not be our ‘new normal’ but rather we should use this experience to re-align our strategies in achieving peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

 

 

Note: This article was first presented by Wevyn Muganda on 9th July 2020 at the Counter Terrorism Week hosted by the United Nations Office of Counter Terrorism (UNOCT)

 

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