In 2015, I was part of a conference that brought together African women to review the 15-year impact of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the first to address the specific impact of war on women and girls, passed unanimously in October 2000.
UNSCR 1325 is a landmark resolution, but the level of awareness about it is extremely low, particularly among the grassroots communities it is expected to serve. Conversely, the assumption is made especially by international actors that most people know and engage with UNSCR 1325, and the host of resolutions supporting it.
This is so despite the findings of the UN on the 10th and 15th anniversary of Resolution 1325 that, while progress had been made in passing laws against sexual and gender-based violence, sexual violence as a deliberate strategy in areas of conflict still occurs with impunity.
With all eyes now on Resolutions 2250 of 2015 and 2419 of 2018 on youth inclusion in peace and security and especially as negotiators of peace agreements, there may be a predictable pattern.
Campaigns headlined by a young celebrity will publicise the resolutions similar to Angelina Jolie’s hosting – in 2015, the year “1325” turned fifteen – of a three-day summit as part of an initiative on ending sexual violence in conflict.
World leaders will sign up to youth protocols. Conferences, forums, meetings, colloquiums, workshops and seminars on youth will be held.
The estimated 2018 East African population of youth aged 24 years and under in Kenya is 58 percent, Tanzania 63 percent, Uganda 69 percent, Rwanda 60 percent, Sudan 63 percent, South Sudan 63 percent, Ethiopia 63 percent, Eritrea 59 percent and Djibouti 52 percent.
Studies will be carried out to confirm these demographics. Youth will be categorised as bloggers, artistes, professionals, university students, others, plus a special category of radicalised youth. Dissemination programmes will then be tailor-made for these demographics.
During violent ethnic conflicts, militias, composed mainly of youth from mainly poor backgrounds, are usually looking for a cause to provide a vent for their anger usually over their limited chance of formal employment and the inequalities they encounter every day.
During the violence, these youth enjoy respect from people – mainly from their ethnic communities, whom they “protect,” while in normal circumstances, “the protected” expect the youth to be in their service.
In the absence of the rule of law, it is to this youth that the lawyer, doctor, professor turns. These youth, sometimes for the first time in their lives, enjoy respect. When the violence ends and the rule of law is restored, they revert to their previous positions as cobblers, butchers, touts and “watu wa mkono” and look back with nostalgia to the violent period when they were respected.
Many then become “sleepers,” willing to be recalled to action at any hint of violence, unlikely to feature in any dissemination programme of a UN resolution.
Where would young “sleepers” find people who would speak to their needs? Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who at 42 is just a decade and one year ahead of Resolution 2250’s 18-29 age classification of a youth, has in a few months ushered in reforms that include a return home of dissidents and “sleepers” of various ethnicities and an end to the state of war with Eritrea – classified by experts as intractable.
The people “sleepers” listen to speak to the understanding that committing an atrocity goes beyond the promise of 50 rand, birr, naira, cedi or shillings to fill the stomach to a hunger for respect.
They address structural causes that inhibit youth success such as poverty, lack of education, shelter and health; structural inequality and power relations that configure approaches to race and ethnicity; refusal to accept pluralistic opinions and differences; unacknowledged contributions in meetings making youth participation merely tokenism…
The year 2020 is the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to doctor Dennis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for ongoing “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war” shows how much still needs to be done.
One can only hope that 20 years after the adoption of UNSCR 2250, the Nobel will go to those who developed a programme for “sleepers,” or ended the profitable business of supplying arms to combatants in wars, or composed a peace agreement with lyrics to a song or poem that will connect divided people, in the way music does, across cultures!
Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism: Exploring Ethnic and Racial Diversity for Educators, and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides. [email protected]