A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
“The mind of a child that is traumatized repeatedly over an extended period of time, after having been violently disconnected from all significant family and social relationships, is a fragmented mind…. The adjustments that the child has had to make in his mind in order to cope and/or survive the reality of war situation, have caused him to adapt his behavior to less socially approved ways of handling situations.”
Children are sometimes forced to commit atrocities against their own family or neighbours. Such practices help ensure that the child is “stigmatized” and unable to return to his or her home community thus forcing them to remain in rebellion38. The child is forced to consider the rebel community as their community identity because the rebels will instil fear in them that people will kill them for what they did if they returned. But the abducted children have risked death and attempted escape to look for their families and relatives. Their resilience to return to the familiar environment of love and identity is a source of hope for their re-socializing into fully functioning and accepted people in society.
Child psychologists Garbarino and Kostelny39 have noted that “the human brain develops through the use that it is put”. It is no wonder that the behavior of children who have grown up in a war situation have been influenced negatively. As a result of war, some young people are alienated from the traditional lifestyles and livelihoods associated with a rural economy. For instance, when conflict in Bundibugyo district in Western Uganda came to an end, a number of young people refused to return with their parents to the rural villages and preferred life in the displaced person’s camps because of social amenities. The wars led to destruction of lives, livelihoods and social services, loss of economic opportunities and young people were victimized by widespread violence and conflict, which impacted on all dimensions of their lives. One of the common social ills is the increase in the numbers of women and child-headed households, and child-mothers.
Peace Efforts: Gaps and implications for youth
Africa and its institutions, including AU and IGAD, are increasingly engaged in conflict resolution, peace keeping and peace building efforts. Peace efforts in Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone and Angola are finally bearing fruit. But peace initiatives place high emphasis on political peace whilst failing to incorporate social peace and reconciliation. Social peace is about the need to rebuild relationships, restitution, compensation and reconciliation at community and national levels. Excluding the most affected persons like young people from political peace processes is disastrous to lasting peace.
Few peace treaties recognize the existence of child soldiers, or make provisions for
38 The issue of stigma and rejection are discussed in depth in the Burundi and Uganda case studies. Children in Danger: Coping with the Consequences of Community Violence by James Garbarino, Nancy Dubrow, and Kathleen Kostelny (Paperback - Aug 28 998) 39