Young innovators determined to make peace a reality in the Great Lakes region
February 1, 2024
Having long been plagued by instability, conflict, and war, the people of the Great Lakes region remain steadfast in their pursuit of peace. With this objective in mind, young people from Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi met for three days in Kigali from 11 to 13 December for a workshop organised by Interpeace and its local partners, namely Pole Institute and Action pour la Paix et la Concorde (APC) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Centre d’Alerte et de Prévention des Conflits (CENAP) in Burundi, Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle (VJN) and Never Again Rwanda in Rwanda. This workshop was part of the ‘Cross-border Dialogue and Youth Empowerment for Peace in the Great Lakes Region’ programme. The aim was to exchange ideas on peace initiatives led by young innovators and peace fellows supported by the programme.
The workshop served as a platform to discuss peacebuilding efforts in the region and to pay tribute to the contributions of young people to build peace through their various initiatives in their respective countries.
In the DRC, young people have established the MUUNGANO spaces and the TUUNGANE KWA AMANI initiatives in the provinces of North and South Kivu, respectively, within schools, universities, and communities.
To promote peaceful cohabitation between refugees and the host communities in Uganda, young innovators use football to stimulate and facilitate socialisation and exchange between these two groups.
The J’IBUNTU initiative, launched by young people in Burundi, aims to promote socio-economic resilience in their communities. These young people are leveraging new information and communication technologies and setting up discussion platforms on social networks to reach a larger audience.
In Rwanda, young innovators are campaigning for mental health and entrepreneurship for peace through the AMANI YOUTH EXPO initiative. Their main target focus is training, informing, and raising awareness of these issues among young people.
Convinced that peace is possible and to sustain the impact of their initiatives in the Great Lakes region, these young innovators are calling on everyone to take up the message of peacebuilding. They insist, however, on the support and active commitment of decision-makers to achieve lasting peace in the region, using their slogan: “So come around the fire, around the fire of peace.”
Representing the European Union at the workshop, Uwe Wissenbach, head of the political section of the delegation to Rwanda, recalled the coalition’s efforts in peacebuilding and commended youth-led peacebuilding initiatives. “Resolving conflicts takes time and a lot of energy. The important thing is to get peaceful exchanges of ideas going so that we can build a future together. So, I listened very carefully to the various contributions of young people from different countries. Their initiatives are commendable,” said Wissenbach.
Dominique Habimana, representative of the Swiss Development Cooperation at the workshop, emphasised, “Young people are the hope not only of tomorrow but also of today. Tomorrow starts today. They have the energy to rise to the challenges. Our role must be to support them so that they can play their part effectively.”
Paul Rukesha, Director General for Communication and Partnerships at the Rwandan Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement (MINUBUMWE) was the guest of honour at the conference and called on young people to work together to combat hate speech. “We encourage young people to unite, to have love and to avoid all forms of discrimination,” he said.
Since its launch, the ‘Cross-border Dialogue and Youth Empowerment for Peace in the Great Lakes Region’ programme, with financial support from the European Union and the Swiss Development Cooperation, has brought remarkable changes.
Its main achievements include 30 young innovators and 120 peace fellows trained and mentored to become actors for peace in their respective countries and communities; five innovative peace-building initiatives developed by young people, technically and financially supported by the programme; 19 intergenerational and intercultural dialogues and seven political dialogues organised, facilitating a safe space for young people and elders to discuss and promote a culture of dialogue to overcome prejudice and stereotypes; two cross-border peace festivals in Burundi and Rwanda, reaching 821 participants; and a Great Lakes Youth Peace Summit held in Burundi in March 2023, which provided a space for young people to exchange views with each other, with elders and with policy-makers on the challenges facing the new generation, as well as the opportunities to fully play their crucial role in the peace and development process.