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Community Peacebuilding in Unsettled Times: Engaging Youth as Leaders and Partners

Forging a New Frontier in Peacebuilding and Education

Young peacebuilders can play a leadership role in preventative diplomacy, community training, local capacity building, and innovative peacebuilding approaches said speakers on a virtual panel, “Community Peacebuilding in Unsettled Times: Engaging Youth as Leaders and Partners,” on March 25.

Panelists from Nigeria and international bodies from West Africa and the United Kingdom also addressed the misunderstanding held by many that the ongoing conflict in Nigeria is solely religious, between Muslims and Christians. This reductionist perspective fans the flames of violence while overlooking many other factors, such as poverty and economic disparity, political corruption, and conflict over traditional lands.

Moderator Father Canice Enyiaka, Program Development Specialist for Interfaith/Community Outreach at the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), introduced the session with a video clip of GPF peacebuilding work in Kaduna state, “a microcosm of the Nigerian state” for GPF work, he said, because of its religious and ethnic identities and the threats posed to settled communities by violence.

Approaching the forum theme through questions directed at each panelist, the moderator first asked,  “In what manner is each organization addressing youth leadership development with eyes on enhancing community peacebuilding and social cohesion?”

Representing the UK-based Conciliation Resources, which believes that people living in areas of violent conflict should be involved in its resolution, West Africa Project Manager Daniel Tucker explained that the NGO works in two regions of Nigeria: the Middle Belt region where there is inter-communal conflict and herder/farmer related violence, and Northeast Nigeria, a region where the Boko Haram insurgency is active.

“Youth are at the heart of the violence, whether as victims, perpetrators, or protectors,” Tucker said. “But too often they are excluded from the solutions of that violence in a highly patriarchal society. We look to deepen resilience, so they don’t have the tendency to fall into violence and we look to opportunities to engage youth to drive positive social change.”

Alice Coulibaly, International Programs Officer at London-based Peace Direct, agreed, saying that both organizations took this approach. “We don’t see youth as potential sources of violence, but as potential architects of peace in the future.”

Dr. Willie A. Eselebor, a professor at the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, explaining how his department has developed many programs to teach students the tools of peacebuilding. “The University provides critical manpower for community peacebuilding,” he said, including interns to work with interfaith bodies, to assist and experience how conflict is reduced.”

Father Canice then asked, “Religion has often been weaponized as the major trigger of conflict in Nigeria. Do you think this assessment provides a true picture of the Nigerian situation?”

Panelists agreed that Nigeria is a complex and multi-layered society, with many other causes of conflict that remain unaddressed by the state. Religion is a “trigger” and is used to divide and inflame violence, panelists said.          

Mr. Tucker said the farmer/herder dispute is a resource-based conflict. Competition over access to water, land, and other results of climate change often lead to outbreaks of conflict. “Just because the Fulani are herdsmen and Muslim and farmers are Christian, the conflict has been oversimplified,” Tucker said. “Look more deeply at the complexity of the conflict. Most herders are also farmers, farmers have cattle, people in the farming community are Muslim as well.”

Concluding the session with final words, GPF Nigeria Program Manager Abdulq Ahmed told the forum, “Youth are important because if given the opportunity, they act as agents of change,” which is the inherent nature of youth.

“At Peace Direct,” said Ms. Coulibaly, “we are shifting away from traditional efforts of measurement. The international community should not be the ones defining what success looks like, it should be the communities themselves.”

“Together we can build sustainable culture of peace along diverse pathways,” concluded Dr. Eselebor.

The panel was convened as part of a two-day virtual forum, “Peacesharing: Forging a New Frontier in Peacebuilding and Education,” hosted by the Global Peace Foundation and Co-operation Ireland, which engaged education and peacebuilding stakeholders from 69 countries.