By Ter Manyang Gatwech,
IYA Executive Director,
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
September 10, 2017 (Nyamilepedia)—– The increasing participation of youths in violent activities in South Sudan in recent times is a source of worry to both policy-makers and leaders alike. Most violent activities, ranging from armed robbery, gender –based violence, human rights violations, cultism, rape, street fighting, cattle riding, violence, to violence the crises moments in South Sudan are being perpetrated by youths. Yet, the very future of this country depends on the kind of youths the present generation is able to nurture. This negative trend, obviously, is a product of a myriad of factors which this article will attempt to discuss shortly, and also suggest ways by which the menace can be tackled.
Since South Sudan attained political independence in 2011, one of the most challenging issues bedevilling the country is that of youth involvement in violent conflicts; whether they are ethnic, communal, religious, ethno-religious or political. Youth participation in violence is either a direct or indirect product of the structurally violent nature of our society over the years. Indeed, this trend has become a very common characteristic of not just the South Sudanese society, but several African countries; to the extent that Africa has come to be tagged “a conflict endemic continent”. In South Sudan, apart from the Civil War earlier mentioned, which threatened the very fabric of the country’s existence, the country has witnessed several other conflicts in its different parts and at different times, leading to the emergence of youth militant and insurgent groups. SPLM brought the total independence through Referendum in 2011.
WHO ARE THE YOUTH?
A very crucial question we must answer at this juncture is who is a youth? In answering this question, it must be acknowledged that there is great difficulty in arriving at a common universally accepted definition of the term. However, the United Nations defines youths as “those persons between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four years, without prejudice to other definitions by member states”. The African Youth Charter defines youth as “every person between the ages of 15 and 35”. Many countries also draw a line on youths at the age which a person is given equal treatment under the law, often referred to as the “age of majority”, this age is often 18 in many countries. In some countries, the age limit extends to between 30 and 40, in others it extends up to 45 years. The Nigerian National Youth Policy 2001 Document on its part defines youths as “people between the ages of 18 and 35”. However, the operational definition and nuances of the term youth often vary from country to country, depending on the specific socio-cultural, institutional, economic and political factors. Despite the challenges of definition, the United Nations defines youth as a person between the ages of 15 and 24. UNESCO understands young people as heterogeneous group in constant evolution and that the experience of being young varies enormously across regions and within countries. The Nigerian National Youth Policy (2001) defines youth as comprising all young persons between the ages of 18 and 35 years who are citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Youths have a number of characteristics, which include physical stamina, exuberance, intelligence, and perseverance, among others. All these potentials, if properly harnessed, constitute an invaluable asset to any nation. Failure to fully harness these potentials in youths only spells disaster for the future of any nation.
WHAT IS CONFLICT, VIOLENCE AND PEACEBUILDING?
The term “conflict”, from a very simplistic view may be said to be the absence of peace, disagreement, chaos, violence, disharmony, fighting etc. From a scholarly point of view however, conflict may be said to be the struggle or competition between individuals, groups or societies over incompatible goals, which often leads to violent destruction of life and property. This definition does not in any way assume a status of universal acceptance. Scholars, certainly differ in their conception of the term conflict. It however, gives us a fundamental idea of what conflict is. The struggle may be over resources, values, power, ideology, and territory, just to mention a few.
Violence is a concept in peace studies which means any action that inflicts physical or psychological harm on a person or group of persons. This is usually adopted when a conflict has escalated to the stage of crisis or war. Although violence may be conceived in this way, it is important to be a bit more academic while attempting to understand the term. This implies that we should go beyond the simplistic understanding of the term. A renowned Peace Scholar by name Johan Galtung describes violence in three ways. These are: direct violence; structural violence; and cultural violence. Direct violence is any action that inflicts physical harm on an individual or group of persons. It includes things like killing and maiming, burning of peoples’ property, and rape, among others. Structural violence on the other hand means those structural deficiencies in a society which make the society not to function effectively, so as to create the enabling environment for its citizens to realize their aspirations. These include, but are not limited to corruption, lack of good governance, lack of functional institutions, lack of critical infrastructure, abuse of human rights, and massive poverty. Cultural violence to him refers to all the values, traditions, beliefs, and norms in a society, which promote or reinforce direct violence.
Looking at the South Sudanese society, one can see a prevalence of all the forms of violence described by Galtung. First, there is widespread direct violence. This comes in the form of armed attacks during crises moments, armed robbery, and rape, among several others. Structural violence comes in the forms already described above also. It is crucially important at this juncture to comment on some dimensions of structural violence, and I would like to begin with corruption, because most others are deeply rooted in it. It is mind-bugling when one considers the amount of foreign exchange South Sudan earns per day just from the sale of crude oil, yet, most of South Sudanese are still wallowing in excruciating poverty. The overarching effect of this is the general lack of basic necessities of life – food, shelter and clothing by most of South Sudanese.
In addition, basic infrastructure such as functional health care, good drinking water, and good road network, among others, are near absent, compared to what obtains in other countries which cannot be placed at per with South Sudan, in terms of resources and manpower potentials. Where some of these facilities and services exist, their cost is often beyond what the ordinary citizen can afford. Most of our roads have graduated from being ‘death-traps’ into ‘graveyards’, while most of our hospitals have also graduated from being ‘mere consultancy clinics’ into ‘transit camps to the mortuary’, due to corruption and mismanagement. We shall discuss the relationship between this scenario and the rising trend of youth participation in violent activities shortly.
Peacebuilding on the other hand refers to the steps taken by multiple stakeholders towards establishing positive peace in the society. Within this context, the role of critical stakeholders such as the state, international organizations, top political and military officials, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the media, traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth groups and Community Based Organizations (CBOs), among others, is considered very crucial. The idea of perceiving peacebuilding as a multi-stakeholder activity is borne out of the fact that conflict affects everybody in the society; therefore, peacebuilding should be the responsibility of all in the society, though in terms of ranking, some stakeholders shoulder greater responsibility than others. The state for instance, is considered to be the most critical stakeholder in task of peacebuilding because, aside from the fact it has enormous resources with which it can provide critical infrastructure such as roads, water, and electricity, among others, to its citizens, it legitimately controls the instruments of coercion, with which it enforces law and order in the society and also protects the life and property of its citizens. Traditional rulers and religious leaders are equally very crucial because they exercise great influence over their subjects and followers respectively.
YOUTHS AS AGENTS OF PEACEBUILDING
This paper will not be fair to the South Sudanese youth if it stops at portraying them as a violent set of people, or better still, easy recruits for violence, without focusing on their potential role in peacebuilding. Youths, just as they are very active in perpetrating violence, they can equally be effective instruments of peacebuilding in any society. Viewing youths as agents of peace challenges the traditional conception of youths as agents of violence. How can youths be effective agents of peacebuilding? To start with, for the fact that virtually all our schools are dominated by youths, the school therefore, can serve as a breeding ground for both war and peace. When peace virtues are inculcated in the youth, they will certainly grow up to be peaceful in the society. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs, 22:6).
Again, youths can utilize the opportunity provided by a democratic system to build peace in the society. In this regard, associational life can bring youths together for the purpose of peacebuilding, rather than violence. They can organize themselves and make their voices heard on matters that affect them, and indeed, the entire society. By this, they can influence positive action on such matters from government and other stakeholders.Moreover, the opportunities provided by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can serve a very crucial role of mobilizing youths for peacebuilding in the society. The use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Blogger, through the internet or mobile phones can help youths spread peace messages, rather than hate messages.
Youths are very critical to the development of any society, the world over. Without a well-educated and therefore, empowered youth, no society can have the needed peace and stability to fast-track development. Most South Sudanese youths today, have increasingly become perpetrators of violence, not because they are naturally violent, but mainly, due to the structurally violent nature of the society within which they find themselves. We noted in this paper that under this circumstance, the future of the South Sudanese youth has been hijacked, and unless the measures which we suggested are carried out by all stakeholders, we will only be raising a generation of militants, insurgents, drug addicts, and armed robbers, among others, whose target will be the society itself.
By Ter Manyang Gatwech, founder and Executive Director of International Youth for Africa (IYA), Coordinator of South Sudan’s Civil Society Network in Diaspora and Human Rights Activist ,Gender Expert on South Sudan and Africa.