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The dynamic role of youth in post-conflict reconstruction: Lessons from Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kosovo.

Schwartz, Stephanie
June 4, 2015

Source: (2008) Thesis submitted for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts. Wesleyan University.

“Now, I have been demobilized and I am with my family. It is good to be home, but I have nothing to do. I would like to study or work, but I have no money, there is no training and there is no work. I feel sad, because I feel unhelpful to my family. I am at home but I am worthless. During the day I try not to think of my life as a fighter, because it makes me cry, but sometimes I think maybe I should go back to the armed groups…”
John, 15, Democratic Republic of Congo
“I’m trying to join the Children’s Club so we can work together as children to help our community. We don’t have water or toilets here, and we don’t even have proper shelter to live in. So we’ll come together and help each other to help organizations promote our community.”
Hawa, 16, Sierra Leone Both John and Hawa served in armed groups during their country’s civil war. Yet, as each conflict moved towards resolution and the reconstruction processes began the transition from war to peace, John and Hawa embarked on distinctly different paths. Where John is contemplating going back to the armed forces, Hawa has a clear idea of how she can make a positive difference in her community. Both of these stories reflect the experiences of millions of other young people affected by armed conflict who must make choices that may decide how they will survive and succeed in the future. This thesis seeks to better understand the factors that influence these choices by answering the question:
“What causes some young people, like John, to consider returning to the life of a fighter, whereas others, like Hawa, choose to work and hope for a better future?” Despite the abundance of literature available on the role of youth in conflict, the effects of a large youth population during the post-conflict reconstruction period has been largely understudied. There remain significant gaps in our understandings of how the post-conflict reconstruction process affects young people, and the role youth play in determining the success of the reconstruction program. Most of the research on youth in conflict focuses on young men, suggesting that a large proportion of male youth will increase the likelihood of instability, but does not consider the youth population’s role in building peace. However, in examining the youth roles in modern conflicts, pigeonholing youth as a destabilizing population oversimplifies the evidence: while young people do participate in and help to incite conflict, there are a number of instances where young men and women became leaders in peace building movements and made significant contributions to the post-conflict reconstruction environment. As such, youth are not only important to examine as a potentially dangerous demographic, but the management of the youth transition from war to peace is integral to breaking the cycle of violence that leads to civil war and instability. As this population of young adults becomes the next generation to lead their countries, their experiences during the reconstruction period will affect their understandings of peace and conflict and therefore have the potential to alter the national trajectory towards reconciliation or reincitation. This potential incites two further questions:
“Can actions be taken in the reconstruction process to break the cycle of violence so that young people like John choose to remain in civilian society rather than taking up arms?
If so, what structures can be put in place so that the Hawa’s of the world can better contribute to their society?”
This thesis will attempt to answer these questions by examining three cases of modern post-conflict reconstruction. Through a thorough investigation of the impact of different actors’ policies and programs, this study attempts to draw comparisons across cases that experienced varying degrees of success with reconstruction in order to generate hypotheses that may guide future research regarding the role of youth in post-conflict reconstruction and the ability of reconstruction actors to facilitate the youth population’s war-to-peace transition.
The process of post-conflict reconstruction, and the youth demographic’s role within it, has become a particularly salient area of study for political science. Intrastate conflict is the dominant form of war in the modern era, and young people are increasingly involved in efforts to wage these civil wars. As such, in order to promote stability and maintain peace after civil wars it is especially important to understand how to make post-conflict reconstruction efforts as successful as possible while also addressing the needs of young people affected by conflict. Post-conflict reconstruction and nation building has been studied at length in modern scholarship6 and the process itself involves an exhaustive list of actors with the youth demographic representing just one factor within the broader context. However, the often-overlooked youth population does have the potential to impact, both positively and negatively, the prospects for durable peace in a post-conflict environment: where youth gangs in South Africa continue to destabilize the country and young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to recruit other youth to fight in armed forces, former youth combatants in Mozambique and Kosovo have contributed to community reconciliation and development projects and youth groups in Belfast have worked with local peace building organizations to promote social development in their communities. (Excerpt)


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