Prioritizing Youth Peacebuilding Amid COVID-19

In December 2019, many people did not know or understood what is COVID-19 even though the virus was already affecting China. By January 2020, the virus was Italy and other countries. At this time, most Africans hoped and prayed that the virus would not visit the continent. The fear among many Africans was based on Western Media analysis that the virus will overwhelm Africa because of its poor medical infrastructure. Unfortunately for many Africans, by March 2020, the virus was in Africa and many governments began imposing COVID-19 restrictions ranging from bans on public gatherings, curfews, advisories on working from home, and closing of bars and restaurants. This was a big challenge for many young people who are working within communities to promote peace and counter violent extremism (CVE). Young people could not organize physical meetings with communities. At this time, most communities focused on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Issues of peacebuilding were relegated to the background.

Arigatou International — End Child Poverty (AI – ECP) in 2016 launched the Youth In Action (YIA) forum which brings together young people from the Eastern Africa Region to build their capacity on peacebuilding and CVE. YIA leaders work closely with local communities in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. These young peacebuilders are trusted by their communities and they, in turn, respond to the needs of their communities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying restrictions presented an unprecedented challenge to the work of young peacebuilders.

Country Synopsis SomaliaYouth-led peacebuilding activities at the community levels rely on face-to-face gatherings. The restrictions on social gatherings undermined youth peacebuilding efforts which meant youth-led activities could not take place. Even though some youths tried adapting their work to the online space, communities were left out as they had no access to the internet. Youth peacebuilders had to quickly adapt in order to continue supporting their communities, but this time, in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. In partnership with their local authorities, some youth leaders organized sensitization campaigns that entailed educating the community on COVID-19 and the importance of social distancing. Some organized and brought other young people together to jointly produce handwash and soaps to support their communities. Others produced and distributed facemask.

Unfortunately, as the pandemic prolonged, it became clear that government restrictions are leading to more inequality within societies as such exacerbating the underlying root causes of conflict. This is simply because government responses in Africa were not conflict-sensitive and no consideration was given to communities that depended on daily income. In addition, as inequalities grew, the relative stability that many communities within the Eastern Africa Region had enjoyed was being threatened by growing radicalization, theft, and terrorism threat. Many youths grew impatient and violently took to the streets with the least provocation. This was the case with the protest in Kampala in Uganda and the Muranga unrest in Kenya.

As governments and donor priorities moved from peacebuilding to COVID-19 response, young peacebuilders are struggling to sustain their work. As AI – ECP, COVID-19 provides an opportunity for us and our partners to advance peace. This has taken the form of sensitization, community-building initiatives, and mobilization through community radios and supporting the work of young peacebuilders.

In response to the growing uncertainty and anxiety among many young people and their communities, AI — ECP through the YIA has supported community-led radio sensitization which promotes social cohesion and peacebuilding. It became clear that even though most of the peacebuilding programs have been taken to the virtual space, the majority of those affected by conflict do not have access to these online spaces. As such, the danger with the new virtual reality is that, many communities will be left behind. To avoid leaving communities behind, community radios have become the best strategy. In 2020 AI – ECP reached more than 100000 people and a good number of those reached was through community radios.

The future remains uncertain as the pandemic continues into 2021. As AI – ECP, peacebuilding will continue to be at the forefront of our programming in 2021. This is because we believe that youth leaders through the YIA can play a leading role in preventing violence in their communities. As such, the YIA forum 2021 will present young people with the skills needed to be at the center of shaping more cohesive communities against FoRB and CVE for a prosperous future.