In July 2006, The African Youth Charter (AYC) was endorsed and adopted by the African Union Head of States and Governments in Banjul, The Gambia. The Charter spells out a strategic framework advocating and making provisions for youth empowerment and development at national, regional and continental levels. The AYC objective is “to strengthen, reinforce and consolidate efforts to empower young people through meaningful youth participation and equal partnership in driving Africa’s development agenda”. In addition, the AYC establishes rights, freedoms and duties of youth in Africa. Uganda is one of the signatories to the AYC and has made some noticeable strides towards youth empowerment at some levels of governance.
Currently, Uganda is host to one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world, most of whom are youth. It has been argued on several fronts by some scholars that this is both a blessing and a burden for the host country. Considering Uganda’s favourable refugee laws and policies, refugees can freely move, gain employment, cultivate land and attend schools. This is advantageous to both the refugees and the country. Ideally, refugees should be able to improve their conditions of living whilst contributing to the socio-economic development of the country. However, there are many challenges and problems faced by refugee youths in their settlement camps. These include high rates of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment among others. Despite their vibrancy, energy and willingness to work, most refugee youths remain largely idle, creating time for mischief and other illicit activities. For instance, the media has reported increased rates of crime, violence and other anti-social behaviour perpetrated by youths. For Example on June 17 2018, an altercation broke out in Rhino Camp, a refugee camp in Northern Uganda, between two youths watching a football game, leaving four people dead, scores injured and displacing mothers and their children.
Even with theirincreasing numbers in Uganda, refugee youth voices have been largely ignored in deliberations about challenges and problems faced by the mainstream youths in the country, yet arguably, their plight are similar though with different experiences. Refugee youths live and experience more difficult conditions whether in or outside settlement camps. These dire conditions expose them to the risk of engaging in crime and other serious violent activities as an attempt to meet some of their basic needs, hence threatening peaceful co-existence and development of their host communities. Some go as far as joining terrorists and other violent extremist groups and carry out attacks against their host nation. However, refugee youth can also be resourceful to their host state. According to Abdishakur Hassan-Kayd (2016), “young people are a major human resource for development, often acting as key agents for social change, economic growth and innovation.” He further submits that “their imagination, ideals, energy and vision are essential for the future prosperity and stability of the Horn [of Africa]”. The actual risk is that once disengaged, disempowered and neglected, youths regardless of status (whether refugees or not), can act as agents, drivers and perpetrators of insecurity and subsequent underdevelopment of a community. However, the reverse is also true, they can become peace and development ambassadors when empowered and engaged in all angles of governance in a country.
Since the AYC also imposes duties on young people in Africa, it is high time that refugee youths be empowered, engaged, consulted, given instruments of influence, roles, duties and responsibilities and be held accountable for their decisions, actions and inactions. This is important because of the high rate of youth participation in wars and other violent conflicts that cause [their] displacement in the first place. Once actively engaged and consulted in national programmes like peace building, youths will be able to witness and possibly realise the destructive consequences of their participation in the violent activities and aid transitional justice processes. Consequently, there will be limited room for unproductive blame game. Though there have been some peace building programmes carried out by World Vision, UNICEF, UNCHR and other organizations in some refugee settlement camps for example in Adjumani, more peace building programmes need to be carried out in all other districts with refugee settlement camps, especially targeting youths as key and active participants in the programmes. Including as top priority the silent voices and plight of refugee youths by the Government and other partner organizations will enable Uganda’s refugee youths meaningfully contribute to peace and socio-economic development of the country and continent, thereby shaping their future, a future that lies between the corridors of an all empowered and responsibility driven refugee youth groups participating in an inclusive development and governance partnership.
By Daniel Adyera
Y4P Fellow 2019
African Youth Charter: Available at: https://www.africayouth.org/frameworks/african-youth-charter/
Hassan-kayd, Abdishakur. (2016). The Role of the youth empowerment and engagement in countering violent extremism and terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Delphi method survey, Future Generations Graduate School.