Holistic approach to peace critical for the Sahel
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Resolution on the Programme of Action on a culture of peace and the theme for 2020 is “Shaping Peace Together.”
In a speech marking 2019 International Day of Peace, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlighted the Sahel Challenge.
”If you go to one region in Africa, the Sahel, south of the Sahara Desert, you will see that climate change is accelerating drought and desertification.
You have farmers and herders that have been in harmony for centuries, but now because of the lack of water and pasture, herders are forced to move more and more into areas where farmers have their own activities, and this is creating conflict between the two groups,” he said.
“As they also belong to different ethnic groups and sometimes different religions, this gets involved into a pattern of conflict in the region and it helps the spread of terrorism in the Sahel becoming a threat to us all because terrorism as you know is today universal.”
In 125-words, the UN Chief had underscored dilemma of the Sahel and restated well-known mantra that what happens in the Sahel does not remain there: it spills over borders becoming a universal quandary.
The Lake Chad Basin and the Liptako Gourma region ir capture the essence of the Sahelian humanitarian crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not spared it: if anything, it has added to its challenges.
These two regions are in dire socio-economic, ecological and political crossroads as climate change and demographic bulges are piling pressure on scarce resources.
Political intolerance, the surge of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots in the Maghreb have disrupted development and weakened democracy and peace.
New studies are now shedding more light on the core challenge facing the region.
“It is important to note that while poor governance, high youth unemployment rates, resource scarcity and poverty have contributed to these unfavorable conflicts trends, it vital to take into account demographic elements as well,” A Demographic Threat?
Youth, Peace and Security Challenges in the Sahel by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) notes.
Amidst the conflicts and instability, UNFPA has been working with respective governments and partners to advance demographic oriented initiatives that give peace a chance.
The regional office for West and Central Africa has initiated a project on demography, peace and security. It is in this quest for peace that the all-inclusive strategy, Lake Chad Basin Regional Coordination Platform for Communities’ Resilience, Youth and Women Empowerment was inaugurated in 2019.
This platform buttressed with a ‘solutions-from-below” veneer is tasked with objectives of establishing forums of cultural, religious, young, women leaders for peace, security and development and increasing access to integrated reproductive health services.
Other objectives include increasing access to social support to curtail gender-based violence, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse together with promotion of proper and affordable healthcare for the vulnerable.
Through these approaches, UNFPA’s end-goal of harnessing the demographic dividend has been one informed with a vision for the future.
The youth not only form the majority of the population but are also greatest asset of the continent.
Ensuring they become peace ambassadors, agents of reconciliation and key development actors of their countries is the cornerstone of our #PutYoungPeopleFirst campaign.
Embedding religious leaders, youth, women, civil societies organizations’ and governmental agencies right from the grassroots remains one of the best ways of handling humanitarian disasters, averting unnecessary loss of lives, combating extremism, dissuading religious, political and communal intolerance and “shaping peace together.”
The Sahel needs a robust “build back stronger” commitment as a guiding mission statement of hope, peace and prosperity advocated by Africa Union’s Agenda2063.
“Shaping peace together” remains our clarion call for the Sahel and Africa. —The author is the Regional Director of the UNFPA-West and Central African Regional Office.