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YOUTH: Why are Youth Overlooked and Underutilized in Peacebuilding Movements? Lessons from the African Great Lakes Region

YOUTH: Why are Youth Overlooked and Underutilized in Peacebuilding Movements? Lessons from the African Great Lakes Region

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This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Kasherwa, A. C. (2019). The role of youth organizations in peacebuilding in the African Great Lakes Region: A rough transition from local and non-governmental to the national and governmental peacebuilding efforts in Burundi and eastern DRC. Journal of Peace Education, online publication, 1-38.

Talking Points

In the context of youth organizations working to build peace in Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 

  • Youth organizations are particularly capable of positively contributing to peace because of their varied conceptualizations of peace, which foster multidimensional approaches to peacebuilding, and their ability to integrate indigenous knowledge into their conflict resolution efforts. 
  • Inclusion of youth in nationallevel peacebuilding was impeded by stigmatization and discrimination, funding and budget constraints, inadequate institutional support, and the failing post-war transition to peace.   
  • The following changes would facilitate the inclusion of youth peacebuilding at the national level: the assignment of key roles for youth in initiatives for peace, security, and development; adequate resource and budget allocation for youth initiatives and tangential sectors; the establishment of programs to increase youth representation at national level; and a youth-sensitive approach across all sectors.  


Youth are often overlooked as valuable actors in peacebuilding, even in regions where they are actively and constructively working toward peace. In this study, the author examines the role of youth organizations in building peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. The author argues that youth are effectively working to build peace at a local and community level, yet they are not included in peacebuilding activities and decision-making at the national level in Burundi and eastern DRC. This study outlines the factors contributing to the effectiveness of youth organizations working for peace, identifies key challenges that hinder youth inclusion at a national level, and recommends steps to overcome these barriers.  

In this study, the author conducted interviews and focus group discussions with youth from both countries—all with participants ages 18 to 35 years. Participants included active and hard-to-reach young people selected from youth organizations, networks, social movements, or governmental agencies associated with the Ministry of Youth. The youth organizations included in this study were not working exclusively in peacebuilding but rather were working across many sectors. The interviews and focus groups shed light on how youth are constructively working for peace and the challenges they face in implementing their peacebuilding activities. 

The interviews revealed that the real strength of youth peacebuilding in these countries was the diversity of views youth held about peace and therefore the broad range of peacebuilding activities they engaged in. Perceptions of peace ranged from reducing violence to building tolerance and respect to encouraging individual freedom. In line with transrational peace theory, which argues that “peace is not a singular, monolithic and monological concept,” youth organizations were particularly capable of positively contributing to peace because their diverse conceptualizations of peace fostered multidimensional approaches to peacebuilding. These included educational sessions and campaigns, human rights activism such as sit-ins and strikes, community activities such as sports and music, and production of peace research reports and documentary films. Additionally, youth organizations took an elicitive conflict transformation approach in their worktherefore they were “more effective than any other organizations in [the] peacebuilding processes [of Burundi and eastern DRC].” Youth emerged from and worked within the conflict-affected communities, meaning they had a vested interest in what they were doing and could readily apply their indigenous knowledge to resolve local conflicts.   

Transnational peace theory 

“a theoretical model that takes into account a multiplicity of overlapping, yet not completely coinciding viewpoints in building sustainable peace.” When applying this theory in the field, peace workers developed the elicitive conflict transformation approach, which, “draws out, highlights, and catalyzes existing or communally held knowledge related to transforming conflict between individuals, groups, and communities.”  

Dietrich, W. (2013) Elicitive conflict transformation and the transnational shift in peace politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Dietrich, W. (2018) Elicitive conflict mapping. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Despite the positive role that youth organizations play in the peacebuilding process, the interviews identified four main barriers that make it more difficult for youth to contribute to peacebuilding at the national level: 

  1. Stigmatization and discrimination: Youth were consistently identified by decisionmakers, at the international and local level, either as victims of conflict needing assistance or as perpetrators of violence threatening stability, but never as peacebuilders. This stigmatization is reinforced by the on-going recruitment of youth into armed conflict (a by-product of the failing post-war transition to peace—see below).  
  1. Funding and budget constraints: The youth organizations in this study all depended on external donors and consistently struggled to secure funding for their activities 
  1. Inadequate institutional support: At the local and international level, there is little to no support for inclusion of youth in decision-making or peacebuilding activities. If there is, it is restricted by the prevailing stigmatization and discrimination of youth and by operating restrictions imposed by political authorities.  
  1. The failing post-war transition to peace: Burundi and eastern DRC have both achieved milestones toward ending civil war and armed conflict, yet conflict among armed groups for access to power, resources, and land remains. In both countries, recurrent instability and poor implementation of key reforms “compromise the trajectory of many young people from violence perpetrators to peacebuilders[.] 

The author recommends key changes to help facilitate the transition of youth from constructive peacebuilding at the local level to inclusion in peacebuilding activities and decision-making at the national level. Different peacebuilding stakeholders (governmental, non-governmental, and traditional) must acknowledge the positive role of young people in peacebuilding by assigning “key roles to the youth as a social category in all initiatives for peace, security and development…[and]…national policies.” Furthermore, adequate budget and resource allocation should be provided to youth peace initiatives and related sectors that directly impact youth, such as education, employment training, and sports. Engaging with young people and establishing programs to increase their representation in decision-making structures at the national and local level is paramount. The author also recommends a youth-sensitive approach be developed by peacebuilding stakeholders and implemented across relevant sectors, including the establishment of a youth desk in strategic sectors.  

Informing Practice

In light of on-going peace talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan, the conclusions of this article are timely. Thus far, peace talks have included the U.S. and the Taliban, with expectations of formal peace agreement.1 Once the U.S.-Taliban peace deal has been signed, presumably the Taliban will engage in peace talks with the Afghan government and people. The inclusion of Afghan youth, especially young women, in these peace talks is paramount to their successInternational and national stakeholders should ensure that they are meaningfully included.  

With conditions similar to those in Burundi and eastern DRC, Afghanistan has a multitude of factors that could sway male and female youth to engage in violence or work for peace. Unemployment and poverty are rampant in Afghanistan, both of which can act as recruitment mechanisms for youth to participate in violence and can be considered drivers of conflict. At the same time, many youth are being drawn to peace work. The People’s Peace Movement (PPM), begun in 2018 and comprised largely (but not exclusively) of Afghan youth,2 has conducted marches, staged nonviolent protests, and met with Taliban leaders in an effort to pressure leaders to pursue peaceDecision-makers at the international and national levels, however, have yet to acknowledge the interests or concerns of the PPM. It is important to note that the exclusion of male and female youth in peace talks will likely lead to their failure, as illustrated by the Arusha peace talks of Burundi in 2000. The Arusha peace talks resulted in an agreement for peace and reconciliation, but the lack of input from youth ultimately led to a failure to implement the Arusha peace agreement and a continuation of violence. Excluding entire segments of the population from peace talks is a strategic misstep—as critical perspectives of those living in conflict will be omitted from the process, and root causes of violence will be overlooked. 

As this study demonstrates, there are key steps that can be taken to elevate the role of excluded groups, such as young people and women, to the national level. Participants in the Afghanistan peace talks should, at the very least, acknowledge the role of young men and women in constructively and positively working for peace at the local level and facilitate their engagement in the next stage of peace negotiations if there is to be any hope of building a sustainable peace to end the 19-year war.  

Continued Reading

Cirhigiri, C. C. (2019, June). Youth and peacebuilding: Key insights and lessons from a global online consultation. Peace Direct. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from 

Fix, E. (2019, February 6). The future of Afghanistan lies in the hands of its youth. Counterpart International. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from 

Haqqani, S. (2020, February 20). What we, the Taliban, want. New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from 

Hassan, S. (2018, August 18). After 17 years of war, a peace movement grows in Afghanistan. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from 

Klar, R. (2020, February 17). Peace deal with US to be signed by months’ end, Taliban saysThe Hill. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from 

Simpson, G.  (2018, March). The missing peace: Independent progress study on youth, peace and security. UNFPA. Retrieved February 14, 2020, from 

Keywords: youth peacebuilding, African Great Lakes Region, Resolution 2250, inclusive peace processesyouth organizations, peace processes

The following analysis appears in the Special Issue on Peacebuilders in Volume 4 of the Peace Science Digest. 

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