How reading contributes to peacebuilding in West Africa

On the 14th July, 2022, Muna Kalati attended an online training organised by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) on Networking and Advocacy for Effective Implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda in West Africa.  The training aimed at building the capacity of 100 members of Youth4Peace Networks across ECOWAS member States on the strategies and advocacy tools needed to successfully help end conflict and encourage peacebuilding. Muna Kalati was represented by our Programs Coordinator, Mrs. Julia-Faith Bassaw, who attended to share on how our reading programs are positively contributing to peacebuilding. 

Among the facilitators were Queeneth Tawo, Regional Coordinator Women, Peace and Security (WPS) at WANEP and Josiane Sombo, Program Officer – Youth and Peace Education at WANEP. They reiterated the importance of understanding the legal framework on United Nations Security Resolution 2250 (UNSCR 2250) and shared  that the five key pillars of resolution 2250 are participation, protection, prevention, disengagement and reintegration. They highlighted that digital advocacy via social media can ensure a more peaceful dialogue online and there is a greater need to develop peace education and peacebuilding programs for young people. Youth who have been engaged in extremism and acts of violence needs to be re-educated and reintegrated into society. Finally, facilitators and participants encouraged ECOWAS member states to allow youth to participate more in peaceful processes and meaningfully contribute in decision making. They are also expected to include young people right from the onset of policy development. 

WANEP is of the view that a new approach is needed in conflict prevention due to the nature and complexity of the conflicts experienced in West Africa. Sustainable peace has been found to tremendously increase when the youth are given the platform to meaningfully contribute and participate in the peace process. ECOWAS in recognition of that and to ensure effective implementation of the Conflict Prevention framework, paved the way for youth involvement through the addition of the 2019 Plan of Action. In like manner, the African Union in a bid to increase participation of the youth in peace processes, developed a continental framework aimed at offering direction on how to implement the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) Agenda. 

Despite these existing peacebuilding frameworks and policies, youth are still marginalized when decision making and peace processes are involved. This has largely been due to the inability of States to provide substantial commitment towards the support and promotion of youth participation in the prevention of conflicts. The need for intensive advocacy towards the development of national policies exists and Muna Kalati intends contributing through our various programs in peace education, literacy and numeracy. For example, we donated hundreds of books to victims of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon and we regularly hold the Reading4Healing project, which targets child victims of violence and who are hospitalized. 

In 2020, approximately 8,521 children were reported to have been enlisted to serve as child soldiers in conflicts in Africa according to a UN report. The report further indicated that Africa alone accounted for 40% of child soldiers; 2,674 children lost their lives in armed conflicts and 5,748 sustained varying degrees of injury. 

Prevention is better than cure

Prevention of insecurity must come before protection. Attention must be given to initiatives and actions which teaches peace, tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance of diversity to the youth. This will create long term attitude and positive behavioural change as they grow. Indeed, reading is a powerful tool which can either negatively or positively change attitudes, character and influence the outcome of events. Most of what we read, what was read to us or what we heard has played a major role in most of our life’s choices. These experiences shaped our attitudes, behaviours, and value systems. If this is true for adults, it’s even more for young minds, who are more impressionable and can easily be manipulated. Hence, educational initiatives such as Muna Kalati, Rainbows4kids, Rwanda Girls Initiative, and the Nolbed Foundation are changing the narrative by increasing programs oriented towards peace education to children. 

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