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This study investigates the role of youth in peacebuilding, and addresses the failure of states and existing research to recognise youths as political actors, which can result in their contribution to peacebuilding being ignored.



1. Introduction: Combatants, Troublemakers, Peacebuilders or What?

The youth question in conflict-affected and post-conflict societies has become policy relevant for several international organizations and donor agencies working in a range of fragile environments. Technical advisors on youth based programming, social advocacy, gender focused programmes, and health, education, employment, training and livelihoods are part and parcel of the development challenge facing the international community across Asia, Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East. The focus on youth stems largely from the demographic reality of youthful populations voicing their demands through both violent and non-violent means. The events across the Arab world and in Ukraine recently present important issues that face young people in today’s complex modern environments. To be a young person is not an easy thing anymore. Whether it is the United Kingdom, the United States of America, China, India, Turkey, Palestine, or in Nigeria, young people are facing challenges with respect to education, employment, housing, identity, political participation and social integration. But who are youth? Are they a homogeneous category with similar needs, or do they represent wide differences based on class, gender, ethnicity, religion and other forms of group specific affiliation?
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

2. Processes of Mobilization

Recent scholarship on youth participation in conflict can be categorized into five broad types. First, are studies that focus on the different processes of youth recruitment into conflict and the role of international humanitarian law, ethics, globalization and the media in defining this practice (Rosen, 2007; Hoffman, 2010; Lee-Koo, 2011). The second set of studies focus on the different processes through which youth are recruitment with a focus on displacement, coercion and socio-cultural explanations (Shepler, 2004; Hart, 2008a; 2008b; Beber and Blattman, 2013; Boyden and Berry, 2005; Peters, Richards and Vlassenroot, 2003). This literature does not distinguish between mobilization and recruitment as distinct sets of processes involving different types of actors, motivations and compulsions except a few which look more specifically at rebel group recruitment (Gates and Andvig, 2006). Third, there are a number of recent studies that focus on the ‘agents of mobilization’ and thereby emphasize the role of structural variables including patterns of land ownership, employment and labour relations in explaining youth participation in conflict tend to underplay the role of youth’s agency in conflict participation (Richards, 2005; Munive, 2010; Peters and Richards, 2011; Themnér, 2013; Carter, Maher and Neumann, 2014). Fourth, there are studies that focus more specifically on the agency of youth, with an emphasis on the different factors that encourage their voluntary enlistment in various armed groups (Shepler, 2004; Utas, 2005; Denov and Maclure, 2006; Denov, 2010; 2011).
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

3. Experiences of Reintegration

This chapter deals with the complex process of ensuring a safe and successful transition to civilian identity for ex-combatant youth, that most countries recovering from conflict are faced with. What steps need to be taken to enable youth formerly associated with fighting forces (YAFF) to find gainful livelihoods so that they become self-reliant, economically independent and socially acceptable as well as responsible citizens? Our purpose in this chapter is to: (1) underline the salience of approaching reintegration concepts and policies from a youth focus; (2) outline how ex-YAFF have tended to be approached in policies and approaches to reintegration and (3) problematize the conceptual expansion from individual to the community-based targeting in reintegration programmes. This threefold purpose is pursued in direct response to our previous research on children and youth and their experiences of conflict and post-conflict peace building. It is informed by an assertion of the fundamental need for privileging the voices and experiences of ex-YAFF as a group representing unique and distinct challenges for the study of reintegration both conceptually and in practice.
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

4. Reconciliation Challenges

One of the tragic ironies of civil conflict is that in the majority of instances, as part of a process towards securing a lasting and credible peace, people on all sides must eventually turn their attention towards learning to live together again. Victims, perpetrators and others in war-affected communities begin the formidable task of reconciling with one another, politically and interpersonally, re-framing and re-humanizing their opposite numbers, rebuilding trust and accountability and coming to terms with the legacies of the past. A major challenge for post-conflict societies and for the international and local specialists rendering their services is how to encourage this rebuilding of relationships. How can the abstract concept of reconciliation be made meaningful in post-conflict lived reality, especially when in the minds of many people discourses of reconciliation may seem futile, or at least be deeply contested? And how do we resource this work with appropriate theoretical and legal frameworks and with the other tools and mechanisms needed to facilitate reconciliation processes? More importantly, there is a need to focus on unique or specific challenges of reconciliation that are inherent to different conflict-affected groups such as women, displaced communities, combatants and youth. Therefore, the main objective of this chapter is to argue that youth face or create unique reconciliation challenges after war.
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

5. Liberia

There is a rich body of academic and policy literature that engages with the reasons for youth’s centrality in the Mano River conflicts that ravaged West Africa during the first decade of the twenty-first century. In the literature, marginalization of youth, inter-generational disparities and limited access to socio-economic and political power is often taken as a point of departure for explaining youth propensity to resort to violence (Richards, 1996; Utas, 2003; Peters, 2005; Denov and MacLure, 2006). Previous research on youth recruitment and mobilization offers a diverse set of reasons that underline the importance of children and young people’s role in this context. The main arguments in this literature are suggested in the following points. First, armed mobilization in Liberia was linked to patterns of labour relations before the conflict (Munive, 2011; Hoffman, 2011). Second, physical security was the main reason for young people’s participation in conflict (Bøås and Hatløy, 2008). Third, youth recruitment was voluntary to a large extent (Utas, 2003; Brøås and Hatløy, 2008) and finally, youth’s mobilization was linked to opportunities of empowerment and access to political power, leadership, clients and wives, to which youth had little or no access in the pre-war period (Utas, 2003; 2004). Our research agrees with these main arguments in the literature, it contributes to this body of knowledge by applying the recruitment and mobilization prisms developed earlier to specify the ways in which the different trajectories of youth involvement in the Liberian civil wars affected young people’s prospects and experiences of post-conflict reintegration.
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

6. Mindanao

The case of youth mobilization and reintegration into the Mindanao conflict offers the opportunity to present empirical findings about a different type of mobilization, reintegration and reconciliation scenario than is observed in the majority of cases that have dominated the literature on youth’s involvement in conflict and peacebuilding. In selecting an outlier case, we aim to advance core arguments about youth mobilization, reintegration and reconciliation in the following ways. First, within the context of jihadist, Islamist and terrorist movements, the issue of youth radicalization and recruitment of foreign fighters as evidenced in the case of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan provide strong justification for examining the specific motivations and trajectories of mobilization across a range of similar contexts. In our empirical studies of the conflict in Mindanao, Philippines, we find it to be an important case for understanding the role of identity, ideology and community in encouraging youth participation in conflict because of the important role played by the family and the community in youth mobilization, recruitment and reintegration. Second, this case also helps us to demonstrate the differences between recruitment and mobilization processes involving youth, by offering strong evidence of the role of ideology and community in youth mobilization.
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

7. The Positive Contributions of Youth to Peacebuilding

The DDR process for youth associated with fighting forces (YAFF) has thus far highlighted the newness and limiting nature of such programming which has only recently begun to focus on young people. It has also illuminated the need for a more nuanced and emancipatory approach which focuses on the specific needs of YAFF which are not present in ‘traditional’ DDR processes. In this sense as well, past programming has often been limited in scope and time while faced with budgetary restrictions. The issues of timeframe of implementation and the funding limitations of such programmes may also inhibit the ability of such undertakings to move beyond the short-term. This in turn creates spaces of separation and supports separate programming initiatives on programmes for economic, political and social (re)integration.
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder

8. Conclusions: Youth and Peacebuilding Outcomes

This book’s main objective was to provide a new conceptualization of the role of youth as referents of peace at all levels from national to local, as the pejorative notions of youth as security threats still dominate the literature and practice of peacebuilding and DDR. We have been particularly encouraged by the fact that in many conflict-affected environments, youth have been at the forefront in the creation of hope for their communities through their tremendously important work in peace-building and reconciliation. There is clearly a growing impetus amongst the youth to redefine their participation trajectories in peacebuilding, in which they often need to deal with a number of major socio-cultural, economic and political obstacles.
Alpaslan Özerdem, Sukanya Podder


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