South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It’s located in Eastern Africa, is about the size of Texas and has about as many people as Ohio (11 million-est). South Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world, has a 27 percent literacy rate and is completely underdeveloped. Its economy is driven by oil exports. South Sudan declared independence from the Sudan on July 9, 2011. At the time, it was considered a huge success for the world. But its existence for 2½ years as a sovereign state has been disastrous. This latest crisis is just another part of the country’s struggle to stand on its own.
In any post-conflict situation, the likelihood of going back to violence is extremely high. One of the key groups that influence such a situation is youth. Armed conflicts throughout the world have displaced approximately 6.6 million young people (Abayomi 2004). These youths are dislocated from their communities and homes, exposed to violence and face extreme hardship to survive. It is said that young people face the most burdens of war and violence. These young people often face the additional barriers of a lack of sufficient education, health care, protection, livelihood opportunities, recreational activities, friendship, and family support. The conflicts and wars of the world are unavoidable if we do not engage the youth constructively.
Young people (and women) tend to be the shock absorbers of social change and are profoundly affected by the different forms of violence – direct, cultural and structural (Galtung 1969). In addition, in post-conflict periods the effects continue to evolve. Like all human beings, youth need the basic human needs of ‘security, identity, recognition’ and space for development (Miall, Ramsbotham and Woodhouse 1999). When young people are not able to obtain these necessities, they are more likely to turn to or be used for violence. Since the young people of today will be the leaders, facilitators and stakeholders of what I normally like calling the present rather than hat some people called the future, it is pertinent to engage them in the peace processes, peace building and shaping their political attitudes and skills.
Youth in many cases have been active agents during armed conflict and their agency creates special and diverse needs in the post-war period. Youth’s support and participation is needed for the success of new law and order in post-war settings because they are often the primary producers of violence in the post-accord period ranging from political dissident violence to crime as for the case of South Sudan. Youth are also the victims of much post-accord violence – direct assaults and displacement as well as structural violence – which, while it may not fatally impact the peace process, will shape attitudes and behavior over the long run. Youth are the primary actors in grassroots community development/relations work, they are at the frontlines of community development and peace building.
Not only this, youth are taking a central role in bringing changes throughout the world. The recent events of the Arab Spring is a good example of how youth are becoming advocates of change. Youth are normally seen as soldiers and rebels due to their involvement in violent campaigns throughout the world. However, traditional images of youth in war and violence have to be changed. Youth are and can be agents of peace and advocates of change. Youth in post conflict states must live up to the task to work together to embrace diversity and unity of purpose and strongly chant divisions, tribalism, nepotism, favoritism and corruption.
According to the 2008 Sudan Housing and Population Census about 70% of the population is below 30 if we are to go by this definition. This means almost one third of the South Sudan population consists of youth, which is significant number considering the fact that they are the drivers of social change. Youth have always played an important role in South Sudan history especially during the long decade of civil war between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLM/A). Many of them lost their lives, properties and educational opportunities. Since the country currently is going through a crisis and some transitional period, it is important that the youth are actively engaged in the peace building process which could have a multiplier effect even in transitioning the country from war to peace and sustainable development.
The involvement of youth as a positive force for peace in South Sudan, Africa and the rest of the world is critical now than ever before. Although most of them are involved in violence of different forms throughout the world, they are also a primary cause in bridging divides they have inherited from the previous generations’ conflict. There is a willingness among the population of youth to become engaged in productive activities, whether they are education, jobs, or even politics, if correctly focused. For South Sudan, what is needed now is a larger and meaningful engagement with youth. A few major steps have to be taken, such as the creation of a National Youth Policy. A more coordinated and concerted approach that focuses on the needs of youth and how it can make youth take part in the peace and nation building processes which is more likely to garner their praise and increase their positive involvement and hence creates a sense of national identity and cohesiveness. It is therefore imperative that various stakeholders recognize the essential role youth can play in not only bringing peace but also in nation building. The future moral, social, and political challenge will be to see whether humanity can mobilize the energy, creativity, and vision of youth in pursuit of peace as successfully as it has in pursuit of war.
#Peace South Sudan, Africa and the World#