By Tazoacha Francis (Download the PDF version)
The youths of any nation can be both a productive or destructive force depending on which side of the spectrum that society optimizes. They are the epitome of hope and the future of a nation and deserve to be encouraged and streamlined towards galvanizing their role in nation-building and sustainable development through an integrated approach. Youth would play very important roles in the advancement of their societies if they are given the least opportunity to do so and could ruin a society if they are alienated. Policymakers around the world have not yet attuned themselves to this compelling rhetoric which demands investing increasing attention to the youth as a way of engineering their role in shaping their societies. Almost half of the world’s population has been estimated to fall into the youth bracket. And with unemployment figures remaining extremely high, frustrating young people represent a ticking time bomb in the developing world . Saddled with this reality, we can see the young generation playing a major role in the on-going conflict in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon. This is because the productive side of the spectrum has not been properly harnessed compelling them to pick up arms to fight and against the state of Cameroon to facilitate the restoration of the statehood of Southern Cameroon.
The socio-political issues in and about the Anglophone regions of Cameroon have been a matter of contention throughout the post-colonial periods. The long-standing grievances among the Anglophones population in the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon have been caused by the Post-Foumban disequilibrium resulting in power dialectics which has created restive forces of marginalization, social exclusion, alienation, assimilation, and loss of identity of Anglophones in their union with French Cameroon, made visible particularly in the educational and legal systems by the Francophone-dominated government. This situation led to widespread protests in September and October 2017 and has since then escalated from a peaceful demonstration which was met with a heavy crackdown from the government soldiers in 2017 to a scourge-earth arm conflict between reactionary and revolutionary forces . This has transformed into an armed conflict that is increasingly supported by the population in the Anglophone regions to gain independence from Cameroun (French Cameroon) as the independent Federal Republic of Ambazonia. As a result of the escalation of this conflict, many youths have been immensely radicalized and they have picked up arms to fight and die for their independence.
Research has proven that youth participation in armed conflict has several implications and emotional links (United Nations, 2013). It is from this light that youth in the SW and NW regions of Cameroon can be seen as the main actors of the armed conflict that is going on in the two regions since 2017. These youth in the conflict zones are both the agents of violence as well as their victims. When the conflict erupted, they became exposed and vulnerable to armed or political recruitment and exploitation
Despite a surge in the youthful demography in Cameroon as well as around the world, current international mechanisms do not sufficiently address the specific place in peace and security in war and poverty affected areas. Sixty percent of Cameroonians are below the age of 25 (World Factbook 2020); and they are uniquely vulnerable to recruitment into armed conflict. Thousands of them are associated with state and non-state armed groups.
Youth in conflict resolution efforts
The lives and experiences of young people are more intricate than generally exposed and youth can play many roles within fragile and conflict settings, including perpetrators, victims, and peacemakers. Empowering youth is essential for conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding efforts (Hübner et al. 2016). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2250 recognizes the roles of youth in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and urges to increase the representation of youth in the decision-making processes at all levels (UNSC, 2015). Furthermore, the UN/World Bank study: Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches in Preventing Violent Conflict also recognizes the importance of youth in the prevention of violent conflict . Multiple factors have led policy-makers to closely look at the relationship between youth and violence; which is exactly the case in Cameroon. They include unemployment, youth growing population, youth alienation, intergenerational inequalities, and the exclusion of youth in economic and political life. The slogan that politicians and policy-makers in Cameroon have had is that “youth are leaders of tomorrow” and as such, they have always side-lined the youth in every political sphere – the slogan that has always been an illusion with a tomorrow that is never insight.
From that perspective, if the government of Cameroon can tap into this reservoir of bubbling energy looking for a dissipation outlet to invigorate the economic sphere, it will contribute to greater economic growth and sustainable development. This better economic advancement and development will mitigate civil unrest, and increase social cohesion and personal levels of happiness and life satisfaction. In addition, youth are inspired to take part in political violence by various factors which include a sense of futility, frustration, and anger that come with discernment of injustices. The Anglophone youths have always felt that their francophone counterparts have always been favored by the government in all spheres of life. That is why find a reason to sympathize with the revolutionary/separatists leaders. Furthermore, isolated development approaches including educational/ vocational training projects not linked to any meaningful employment opportunities in the job market had equally created expectations that cannot be fulfilled, aggravating the perceptions of injustices and frustration. In addition, poor governance practices such as corruption, a culture of acceptance of violence perpetrated by the law and enforcement officers as a means of resolving a crisis, availability of weapons, and widespread use of drugs have been some of the myriads of factors have motivated youth to be easily lured to armed conflicts. Studies further suggest that youth’s motivations to join armed groups extend beyond more practical needs of employment or having an income, to a broader frustration with the rigidity of intergovernmental social structures, frustrated aspiration for social and economic mobility, discrimination, and unmet needs for recognition.
In order for the government of Cameroon as well as other governments of conflict-affected countries to galvanize the youth into mitigating conflicts and building peace in their respective societies, the following recommendations need to be taken to consideration:
- There is the need for the government of Cameroon to guarantee formal and informal education for young people, channeling their power and energy into learning and sustainable development;
- Acknowledge and include young people as stakeholders in the process of peace and security building, bearing in mind that they have been both affected by conflict and they are the key to the progress of the nation;
- The government should eliminate the catalyst of conflict, including those related to common challenges such as youth unemployment and political exclusion;
- The government should include people’s education and social cohesion in the educational curriculum beginning from elementary school.
- Furthermore, policymakers should deem it very necessary to include youth in the decision-making processes in the country thus preparing them for the taking over of the mantle of the country in a more participatory approach; and
- Strengthen democratic governance with more effective public accountability in all sectors and in all institutions in the country where everybody will be equal before the law.
The active engagement of youth in a society or community has a strong bearing on their leadership potential and their possible role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The contention between the youth and the old has been that, the old do not want to cede power to the youth in order for them to define and shape their future. The rigidity lies in the profound intolerance of youth, their desire to strive for more, their readiness to be seen as responsible and capable, and the structural barriers to their social mobility. Independence from others and responsibility for others, such as taking care of a family or household, can be seen as defining markers of pre-requisites of social adulthood. In this sense, dependency, exclusion, and social or political marginalization become prominent sources of the social contest. At the same time, it should be recognized that such societal dynamics, challenges, and opportunities vary across different cultural contexts in Cameroon in particular, and Africa as a whole.