By Damaris E.M. Jackson,
Everyone is aware that we live in a world where fear, strain, and restlessness abound. For thousands of years the most powerful civilizations – Persia, Rome, Babylon, etc. – came about through war, injustice, violence and dualistic thinking. Although that once dominant paradigm has collapsed, there are still differences and contradictions between people that still leave them divided; today, even educated people are involved in terrorism, which proves that the world is still conflict-oriented.
Today, more than 1.5 billion people live in countries, including Liberia, affected by fragilities and conflicts. As Liberia continues on her quest for peace and security in times like these, the government must consider the reintegration of old fighters as well as promote the empowerment of Liberian youth because they are the main perpetrators of violence. In 2011, Liberia had a population of approximately 3.5 million, with 65% comprising the youth. This shows that the youthful population is profoundly dominant, which justifies their inclusion in policymaking.
Let us take a look back at the Liberian Constitution. According to Article 11, all persons (Liberians) are “born equally free and independent” and have the inalienable right to enjoy and defend life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So instead of just acknowledging the youth as victims and perpetrators of violence, we must also acknowledge the fact that they are the seed and future of our nation who have certain inalienable rights.
The question then becomes: How can the government engage the youth in the nation building process to uproot or minimize the violence presently permeating our society? The government needs to encourage open forums for youths to express their opinions for inclusive participation regarding our National Agenda. They must realize that one’s contribution to society especially as it relates to sustainable peace and security is not determined by size, qualification, age or sex; but rather, what talents, maturity, and willingness a person can bring forth. It is vital to engage the youth as social actors with their own views and contributions. In practice, this can be done by encouraging the youth and adult-parents, teachers, non-profit workers, and community and religious leaders to support the formation of youth groups that offer young people the chance to formulate their opinions, which would then be infused in societal policymaking.
The period of youth is a primetime to exercise tremendous strength and energy; therefore, the government must enhance the peace building knowledge and skills of young people. Most young people in their quest for peace create positive impact with minimal resources; so it is important to provide them the tools that they need to become more effective change-makers. In concrete terms, this means giving them access to facilitators, educational programs, and networks that will enhance their conflict resolution and leadership skills. Training opportunities for them should range from content-based topics such as “Conflict or Gender” to more practice-focused areas such as “Advocacy or Project Management.”
The lack of understanding impedes progress and results in conflict. As we greatly look forward to the youth’s role and participation in promoting sustainable peace and security in Liberia, the government must build trust between it and Liberia’s youthful population. Youth mobilization in peace-building efforts is more likely to be successful if young people are given the opportunities to work with local and national authorities. With few constructive avenues to influence local and national politics, young people tend to view government as beset by corruption. Conversely, government often fails to take into account the views of the youth in policymaking, and may have different priorities for peace. However, to close the gap, activities that promote the legitimization of Liberia’s youth and foster their representation in local and national policymaking processes are crucial; and as such, joint workshops and community projects or platforms can help bridge the divide between the youth and government officials.
Young people alone can by no means have all the answers to the challenges facing the world today; neither does the older generation. Therefore, it is important to promote intergenerational change. Rather than working with the youth in isolation, experienced peace-building actors, local stakeholders, and parents should also be included. Through partnerships with communities and elders’ councils, the youth can demonstrate the benefits of their peace actions. By bringing together the visions of young people today and the experiences of older generations, new answers to challenges will be created.
Finally, it is crucial to avoid rewarding “bad behavior.” Therefore, government must support the youth who are positively contributing to their communities. Simple rewarding systems such as certificates, prizes, and scholarships can serve as great incentives for this purpose. This method can also inspire their peers to take action and participate in peace-building.
It is so ironic how nations often go to war quoting peace as the reason, and not realizing that peace cannot be imposed from outside with guns. Peace is not the product of terror or fear, nor the silence of violent repression; rather, it is the general tranquility contributed by ALL for the good of ALL. The solution is in our hands; LET PEACE PREVAIL!!!
Damaris Jackson is a 1st Year Sociology student at AME University and the third monthly winner of the Messengers Of Peace writing competition.