The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Peace and Security Centre of Competence Sub-Saharan Africa (FES PSCC) organised from 21 to 22 September 2022 in Dakar (Senegal) the 1st edition of the regional conference Youth committed to sustainable stability in the Sahel on the theme "Prospects for sustainable peace in the Sahel: what role and what contributions of youth to peace and stability in the Sahel? The objective of this meeting was to establish a permanent framework for dialogue between young people in the region for better collective security, to share experiences of effective resilience in the face of insecurity, and to make proposals for progressive approaches to cooperation between young people to promote sustainable peace and stability in the Sahel and West Africa. The conference brought together more than twenty young people from the Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad), including actors from civil society organisations, representatives of the defence and security forces and young political actors.
The countries of the Sahel are grappling with a succession of political, humanitarian and security crises with negative impacts on peace and development. The threats of destabilisation in this region include a broad spectrum of economic and social factors (poverty and inequality), unfulfilled constitutional and political reforms, conflicts over access to and exploitation of scarce natural resources due to climate change, inter-community tensions, among others. In addition to these structuring factors, there is the weakness of democratic institutions and defence and security forces, a weakened civil society, the lack of transparency of the elites who enjoy a deficient legitimacy, and the majority of the population who do not benefit from the 'peace dividend'. Insecurity is also fuelled by the presence of radical Islamist groups and cross-border crime, which is facilitated by the vastness of the territories, the porous nature of the borders, the limited capacities of the states in the region, the illegal circulation of small arms and light weapons and, above all, the absence of clear strategies at national level. The typology of these destabilising security challenges and threats and their transnationality as well as their rapid regional spread therefore call for an integrated response, particularly through better involvement of young people.
The Sahel has one of the youngest populations in the world which offers an opportunity for innovation, economic growth and development. More importantly, these young people can be agents of peace with a positive impact on the security of the region. The Constitutive Act of the African Union expressly recognises youth as an important partner in strengthening solidarity and cohesion between "our peoples". While the 2004-2007 Strategic Plan of the African Union Commission prioritised youth development and empowerment, Article 17 of the African Youth Charter recognises the role of youth in promoting peace and security in Africa. In line with this article and other normative frameworks on youth, peace and security, including UN Security Council Resolution 2250, the AU Peace and Security Department initiated and implemented the Africa Youth for Peace Programme in 2018 with the primary objective and responsibility of engaging African youth on peace and security issues. Despite these numerous regional and international mechanisms, it is clear that this important category of actors is often not or hardly involved in peace and security processes in the Sahel and West Africa.
This observation justifies the organisation by the FES PSCC office of the 1st regional conference "Youth Committed to Stability in the Sahel" one month after the celebration of the International Youth Day and in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2250 and the African Youth Charter to discuss the role and contributions of youth to peace and stability in the Sahel region.
The following toics were discussed :
The conference was organised in a hybrid format combining discussion sessions and practical group work and allowed for an inclusive dialogue on the following themes
- Analysis of the socio-political and security dynamics in the Sahel and their impact on the stability of the region.
- Youth, Peace and Security in the Sahel : challenges, opportunities and perspectives for a better involvement and integration of this category in accordance with the texts in force at the continental and international levels
- How can youth contribute to better security collaboration between CSOs, political actors and security sector institutions in the Sahel ?
- Involvement and consideration of youth needs in peace and security processes in the Sahel.
The discussions, experience sharing and workshops moderated by experts from the defence and security forces and academics provided a worrying diagnosis of the security situation in the Sahel, but also of the involvement of young people and the integration of their needs in peace initiatives. Among other findings, it was noted that
- The analysis of socio-political and security dynamics in the Sahel has highlighted the fact that the situation in the Sahel has been deteriorating over the years under the influence of various actors (groups identified as jihadists, self-defence militias, criminal groups, elements of national and regional defence and security forces), as well as the Covid-19 pandemic and the resurgence of coups d'état in the region.
- Several factors contribute to limiting the full participation of young people and their involvement in national peace and security initiatives in the Sahel, despite the numerous texts that exist at the continental and international levels. These obstacles are social, religious, cultural, structural and political.
- Awareness-raising, lobbying, advocacy, training and capacity-building activities are needed to promote youth participation and contribute to better security collaboration between CSOs, political actors and security sector institutions in the Sahel.
- The creation of a communication channel (mailing group, WhatsApp group) to continue exchanges through FES PSCC for future activities to promote increased youth participation on peace and security issues in the Sahel.
- Develop alliances between youth in the Sahel for strong lobbying and advocacy for a better consideration of their needs in peace processes.
- Fight against socio-cultural, religious, political and economic obstacles to the involvement of young people in security issues.
- Young people rely on training and awareness-raising to intervene in their community or locality
- Establish a youth network for peace building in the Sahel. It will carry out religious activities and information and awareness-raising campaigns for the population to prevent tensions and community conflicts and citizen participation in the peace and security processes in the region.
- Reflect on collaborative activities and initiatives to improve relations between youth and the defence and security forces, in particular through a communication and awareness-raising strategy that is more inclusive of young people and meets their expectations.