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Victor OCHEN addresses the UN Security Council on 2nd October 2019

Briefing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 

By VICTOR OCHEN, on 02nd October 2019

Your Excellencies 

  • I congratulate South Africa for assuming the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council, for October 2019 
  • I thank the members States of United Nations Security Council
  • And I thank fellow briefers, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen 

I send you my warmest greetings from Uganda. 

It is a great honor to be invited to take to participate in today’s Security council convening which is on the theme “Peace and Security in Africa”, with focus on African Union Program on mobilising youth the Youth towards Silencing the Guns in Africa, by 2020. A subject like this comes on the backbone of stories like mine among many others, which in fact is defined by pain and suffering from war. 

Your Excellencies, when I was a growing up as a child, like most children I wanted study and become a doctor, a pilot, teacher and I always anxiously awaited when my parent would be able to build a semi-permanent house at home. But, when war came, everything turned upside down. My dreams were cut short, my vision for the future got amputated by war. 

Since I was a kid, I spent most of my life in a displaced camp in Uganda, with millions of other Ugandan children sharing my same painful journey. We felt the whole world had forgotten about us and we asked ourselves how we could fight against our disgraceful fate. Every day I had to struggle to survive being abducted, being killed and struggling with what to eat, where to sleep and worrying if you going to sleep will wake up alive, or we will not wake up in the hands of armed men. Worst, was when my own brother was abducted, it was on the 10th December 2003 (International Human Rights day), and to date, he has never been seen again. 

Of course despite the exhausting journey, we wondered whether it was enough, or if not too late to just criticize war mongers. We thought that, instead of criticizing warmongers, let’s raise peacebuilders and praise the peace builders.  Only through that we thought we would achieve what the continent is thirsty for, in this case Peace!  

On the peak of our hardship, at a cross road I was pondering whether picking up the gun to fight was the way to go. Something in me kept on telling, war is not an option. We chose peace, and formed peace clubs in the camps and went on to establish the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET) in 2005. 

The initiative became an ingredient to help us transform our trauma into opportunity for leadership and peacebuilding. 

Your Excellencies 

Working with our initiative to mobilise youth and training them as peacebuilders, allowed us to ask some fundamental background questions of which I believe sharing with the United National Security Council would help and together we can find solutions. The key and important questions to the Security Council are; 

  1. How do we reduce on the gun flow to the continent?  
  2. How do we make peacebuilding rewarding, and peacebuilders rewarded, so that peace is chosen?
  3. How do we build trust among Africans, and trust towards Africans?
  4. How do we deal with the systemic marginalisation of Africans by fellow Africans, and international norms? 

Your Excellencies

As we embark on the campaign of silencing the guns in Africa, It is important to answer questions from those young people who lack options. In my recent trips to different parts of the continent, a young man told me thatI admire your call and telling me that African Union has the Youth for Peace programme, and the aim is Silencing the Guns in Africa. But, to me – my gun is my father, my gun is my mother, my gun is my food, my government, my security and my gun is my life. How will I exist without my gun? Questions like these are many, and that means we got to be innovative if we must silence the guns in Africa.

Your Excellencies, 

While working in different parts of Africa, we realise there are several common challenges facing young people which include,

Lack of critical positive momentum – how do we build a transformative leadership agenda for youth. Majority of youth go to the streets to riot and demonstrate and the chant is always “down-fall, somebody must go, regime change, and all these are done with so much anger and urge for revenge and destruction. There are no many opportunities for peace, love and solidarity chants and movements.

Migration – in Africa, due to hardships and lack of opportunities at home there is growing uncertainty among the youth with thousands seeking work abroad, while those who remain are setting for low quality livelihoods and that makes them prone to a range of risks and vulnerabilities.  

Hierarchy and state of mind –  it is true language has changed, and so much talk about youth engagement, empowerment but so little has changed in reality. Language has changed, but power has not. We are stuck in non-progressive power, and this is about patriarchy. The question is who do we include in discussion for mind-set change at all levels. 

Too many war profiteers – home and abroad. Let us all understand that in as much as we want to end conflicts in Africa, lets also address the concerns of too many war profiteers from African conflict, home and abroad. 

Celebritization of peace –While it is important to engage influential actors in bringing awareness to situation, majority Youth feels they don’t relate to so many international initiatives. If we seek to bring local change, let us create opportunities for local actors and celebrate more local heroes. 

Your Excellencies, 

As I conclude, allow me submit in my recommendations and call to UN Security Council if we must achieve in African Union’s led program of mobilising youth towards silencing the guns in Africa.  

The bedrock to the success will be political will generated by the weak and the powerful Africans. Their joint decision to negotiate a collective future supplied by the leadership necessary to create a climate in which all can thrive in Africa. 

About the gun violence – on the peak of increased gun flow to Africa, youth in Africa are really lost wondering who really wants Peace in Africa if nations are competing in militarising the continent. If the rest of the world really mean well for Africa, they could scale down on military cooperation with African governments and scale-up the partnership for peace. 

Address the post mortem approach to Peace – this has been seen in many ways such as “peace-keeping mission”, but youth need a pre-mortem approach which is “Peace-building” where we mediate in conflict upfront to prevent suffering and death. 

Mediation as tool for conflict prevention – this will be the only way we will be able to address the deep rooted different ethnic groups’ grievances before it escalates into violent conflict. 

On state sanctions – from what I have seen across Africa, sanctions do not work against the state as intended, but affects the ordinary people. I would recommend state capacity development rather than sanctions or aid cutting, because the people who suffer are the innocent populations, not politicians or war lords.  

On youth empowerment – I recommend that commitment of youth in peace and security needs to be matched by meaningful financing. Donors should give money and much needed technical skills. Youth have increased in number across the continent, but we must look at moving from numbers to positive impacts

Reconciliation – aware of several historical grievances, I recommend that focus should be on addressing the root causes of violent conflict – especially land and mineral resource-driven conflict – Imagine if Africa closes its border for only 1 year, think about how many industries would collapse globally! Africa has given so much to the world, but the world has not taken Africa out of poverty. So, Africa would be willing to share resources with the world, but should be in a way that benefits the African people not create war. 

Africa’s absence from a permanent UN Security Council seat –  there is a growing chorus and concern among the young African leaders and are of opinions that if UN must mean much to the new generation of Africans, there is need for them to be made to understand and own UN – not merely be seen as always only recipient of humanitarian assistance, but active members and contributors in driving the UN Visions for development and opportunity for humanity to thrive 

African Peace Academy – from our fifteen years of work in peacebuilding through our organisation the African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), we now know what works. This has led us to build the locally led initiative with a vision for the African region to impact world peace “African Peace Academy” 

The facilities we are putting in place is to help us raise the home-grown peace builders, conflict preventers, conflict mediators. Through a network of peacebuilders, we shall have a continent-wide Peace Movement to help us;

Empower Youth and develop among them principles of adherence, tolerance of different opinions without being compromised 

Support the partnership between youth and donors with intent to harmonize strategies to look at the long term aspects of building strong institutions 

Prepare as we are aware that African Youth have grown-up, and now many in numbers. They’re becoming a force. It will either be positive force, or negative force. But it will be a force. It would be the right thing to step up now help us re-direct that pace of change now to positive change

Innovate and have a model African-led Peace building mission/operation, to compliment the United Nations or African Union Peace Keeping mission/operation 

Your Excellencies, 

With all the above, we will accelerate innovation for lasting peace in Africa. 

I thank you your Excellencies as I have come to an end of my submission 

Peace in Africa – Peace to the World

Victor Ochen 

Executive Director

African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET)