The Conflict-Development Nexus: Exploring the Potential of Youth in Regions Emerging from Conflict

Neema Mgana, Founder, African Regional Youth Initiative and Program Director of the youth component, American Friends Service Committee's (AFSC) Africa Initiative; Patricia Langan, Program Director, International Youth Foundation's (IYF) employment center; and Michael Shipler, Children and Youth Division Coordinator, Search for Common Ground (SFCG).

Mgana, Langan and Shipler spoke about the importance of factoring youth programs into development assistance efforts to manage, resolve and prevent conflict.

Mgana began the session by characterizing the role of youth in conflict as a major problem affecting Africa as a whole. She emphasized that demographically speaking, youth constitute the majority on the continent, and that the fact that many of them have grown up in societies riveted by armed conflict as well as other social and economic crises presents a reality that the development community only ignores at a peril. Children and youth, particularly girls, have come to suffer the brunt of violent conflict in an era marked by a breakdown of the separation between combatants and non-combatants. Having been lured into rebel movements and other armed forces by the prospect for economical gain or social status, youthful combatants' needs are often not sufficiently addressed as part of post-conflict reintegration programs. Mgana introduced the AFSC Africa Initiative's attempt to strengthen the voices of African youth, voices that have traditionally been ignored.

Langan outlined IYF's experience of using its holistic youth development approach, originally intended for peacetime settings, in conflict situations. Drawing on examples from the Balkans and the West Bank, Langan presented some principles that could guide development assistance planners in designing programs that will foster the involvement of youth in conflict management and prevention. According to Langan, in order to be successful such programs must be tailored to the specific enabling environment, taking into account such factors as infrastructure, political situation, inter-group relations and the level of capacity of civil society organizations. Langan posited that programs should not only address commonly encountered problems among youth, but should aim to foster an active role of youth in the administrative and organizational aspects of the program itself.

Shipler highlighted the importance of making youth part of strengthening non-violent approaches to conflict. He emphasized that youth are already actively participating in conflicts around the world, albeit oftentimes among the ranks of those who perpetuate violence. Development assistance, by taking note of this reality, can help transform youth's existing roles in conflict by offering them an opportunity to make constructive contributions to peacebuilding. In many cases, however, youth have already taken matters into their own hands and have created support organizations and networks. According to Shipler, these efforts usually do not receive the attention they deserve. Neither is it widely recognized that, ironically, youth who have lived through the experience of armed conflict have acquired skills as a result, which can be tapped for more productive pursuits. Shipler posited that rather than imposing organizational structures on youth, development assistance should focus on harnessing existing youth-led organizations for conflict resolution.

Drafted by Susanne Martikke with Anita Sharma, Director, Conflict Prevention Project, 202/691-4187