One year ago today, alongside the UN Youth Envoy Ms Jayathma and the Afghan Representative to the UN, Ms Sofia Ramyar, I had the privilege of briefing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) Agenda. This was the first time since the Security Council adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 and 2419 that they were hearing from young people at the Council on its implementation.

Wevyn Muganda , UN Youth Envoy and Sofia at the Security Council

Picture taken after the briefing of the implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda at the Security Council

I thought about the impact that representation of young people in decision making processes has today. Therefore, I will in the most simple ways possible, try to walk through the YPS journey and reflect on the milestones made so far.

For years, the contribution of young people towards building and sustaining peace had been overlooked. Ironically, history shows that revolutions have been led by young men and women who played different roles in the struggle for freedoms, independence and even in peacebuilding missions. In fact, the narrative that has been popularly put out there is that young people are victims or perpetrators of violence in communities. This has affected the way governments, civil society, international organisations have worked in conflict affected countries.

That changed on 9th December 2015, when the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted the UNSCR 2250. For those who are not very familiar with UN processes, a Security Council resolution is a formal will by the Security Council. The resolution is binding which means that once adopted all member states are obligated to uphold and implement them and can be held accountable by the Security Council – the UN organ tasked with maintaining international peace and security.

The UNSCR 2250 recognised the important and positive contribution of youth in maintaining and promoting peace and security and as such increase the representation of young people in decision making processes. UNSCR 2250 is anchored on 5 key pillars of implementation;

  • PARTICIPATION: – increase participation of young people in decision making processes from the local to the international level. It also calls for member states to take into account the views and needs of young people in peace processes including in negotiation of peace agreements, peacebuilding initiatives and reconciliation processes post conflict. It also calls for member states to enhance the participation of young people through empowering them with skills and resources that are critical for their participation
  • PROTECTION: – respect and uphold the human rights of all people including young people during and post conflict. Member states are obligated to protect young people from wars, crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing and all forms of sexual and gender based violence.
  • PREVENTION: – prevention of violence through promoting a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural and interreligious violence involving young people. It also calls for member states to provide resources to support peacebuilding initiatives by young people as well as creating an enabling environment for peacebuilding and social cohesion through policy formulation and implementation
  • PARTNERSHIPS: – partner with youth and youth led groups across all levels to implement peace building initiatives. It also calls for member states to engage with relevant stakeholders including young people in key decision making processes
  • DISENGAGEMENT AND REINTEGRATION: – take into consideration the needs of young people in efforts to disengage, rehabilitate and reintegrate communities affected by conflict. It calls for investment to build the capacity of young people to meet the demands of the labour market through education that promotes a culture of peace. This pillar affirms the relationship between education, employment and training in preventing the marginalisation of youth in communities.

The adoption of UNSCR 2250 in 2015 was a big step in promoting youth development and has seen increase in the way governing institutions work with and for young people.

One of the next steps of adoption of UNSCR 2250 was the request to the Secretary-General to carry out a progress study on the youth’s positive contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution, in order to recommend effective responses at local, national, regional and international levels, and further requests the Secretary-General to make the results of this study available to the Security Council and all Member States of the United Nations.

This independent progress study report – The Missing Peace was presented on 23rd April 2018 at the Security Council

On 6th June 2018, the Security Council adopted the second resolution on youth, peace and security; UNSCR 2419. The UNSCR 2419 reaffirmed the commitment of the Security Council in the implementation of UNSCR 2250 and called for the increased (and inclusive) representation of young people in negotiating and implementing peace agreements. While the resolution reiterated the commitments laid out in UNSCR 2250, the parts that really stood out for me are;

  • The Call for member states to protect educational institutions as spaces free from all forms of violence, and to ensure that they are accessible to all young people, including the marginalized and take steps to address young women’s equal enjoyment of their right to education
  • Expressed its intention, where appropriate, to invite civil society including youth‑led organizations to brief the Council in country‑specific considerations and relevant thematic areas.

 Note that it is because of this that young people like myself had the opportunity to share my experiences and make     recommendations to the Security Council on the implementation of the youth, peace and security agenda.

After the adoption of these two resolutions, the Security Council has invited young people to brief them on the implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security; 17th July and 2nd October 2019.

As I write this today, I cannot help feel nostalgic about this day last year. As an activist and peacebuilder, it can be difficult to see the impact that my work has. This is because every single day is a day where injustices hit the headlines, injustices that continue to increase the vulnerability of young people putting them at risk of violence. However, getting an opportunity to represent not just young Kenyans, but young people all over the world was one that I took seriously. In my presentation at the Security Council, I made the following recommendations;

  • First, enhancing the participation of young people in decision making processes at all levels, including by listening to voices of local actors;
  • Second, protecting the human rights of all individuals, with particular focus on youth, especially young women and sexual minorities, human rights defenders and peacebuilders.
  • Last but not least, ensuring greater accountability and regular reporting in the Security Council on how well it is doing with and on youth.

It therefore brought me so much joy to learn that on 14th July 2020, the third resolution on Youth, Peace and Security Agenda, UNSCR 2535 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council. The key highlights of UNSCR 2535 are;

  • Call for protection of young people in civic and political spaces. It also calls for development of a guide to protect young people including those who engage with the Security Council
  • Appointment of focal points on youth, peace and security including at the United Nations, nations and regional organisations
  • Acknowledges the Women, Peace and Security agenda as key in implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda. That the impact of YPS is fully dependent on the full and effective participation of young women.
  • Recognition of the role young people play in crisis and humanitarian responses such as climate disasters and the covid-19 pandemic. Further, looking at the impact that these crises affect young people.
  • Establishment of a 2 year reporting mechanism on youth, peace and security

The three resolutions provide opportunities for young people and stakeholders to tap into the capacity that young people have in developing communities. In its fifth year of implementation now, the YPS agenda has been a critical component in working towards sustainable development. Across the world, young people, albeit the limited resources and support are developing initiatives and innovations that address the 17 sustainable development goals. Financial resources and political goodwill still are the biggest challenges facing young people today.

Development efforts have to be inclusive to ensure that they work for the people. The violence of exclusion is another obstacle towards achieving peace and security. For instance, although member states are obligated to protect all young people, many states continue to impose violence on minority and marginalised groups. Young people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds continue to be criminalized and excluded from decision making processes further widening the gap of inequalities. And for many young people in developing countries, justice is not accessible and where possible, is undermining and poor quality.

Additionally, climate change and the scarcity of resources continues to pose great dangers to peace and security. With natural resources depleting, and increased impunity in the distribution of wealth, young people have been put in a difficult situation that have stirred hopelessness on how our future will look like.

A future without trees, oceans, plants, animals means a future of scarcity. Scarcity stirs violence with everyone scrambling for the limited resources available, with the fittest, or rather in this situation the economically and socially privileged taking more for themselves. We cannot let this happen.

The representative of the Dominican Republic in his address to the Security Council ‘expressed regret that the organ did not find consensus on recognizing more explicitly a reality that young people in conflict are affected by climate change. “They will feel the consequences of climate change most acutely,” he said.

Development has to take into account the needs, rights and demands of the bulging youth population. Technology, for instance is one of our generation’s biggest development. It has expanded our choices for education, health, socialization, and politics. However, for communities with limited or no access to electricity and internet, technology has further marginalised them. Social media platforms have been a key component of peacebuilding in the same way it has provided opportunities for extremists to propagate hate and violent narratives. Cyber bullying, online radicalisation and other violent attacks online are challenges of our time that we must address if we are to achieve sustainable development by 2030.

10 years from now according to my country’s definition of young (18-35), I will be transitioning from a young person to a not so young person. I don’t know what they call people who are above 35 years of age, older adults? Non- young adults? Is there even a word for it?

Today, I can say I am young because of my age, after 2030, I will be one of those who like to identify as young at heart. I want to hold myself accountable for my actions today. I want to remember all my mistakes, my fears, my achievements, my dreams and my actions while young and wear all of it as my badge of honor.

I do not seek to define my youth with perfection or excellence.

I am short of that.

Rather, I would like to define it with my struggles to be socially conscious despite my personal prejudice and beliefs. I want to come back to this article a decade from now and see how my expression of thoughts, even though filled with self-doubt, contributed to a better world for myself and everyone else in the world.

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