Reconciliation, diversity and tolerance on the agenda at youth conference in Liberia

Young people have a key role in Liberia’s development, with more than half of the population consisting of people under 20. For the first time ever a national youth conference was carried out in late April, where current challenges for young people were discussed. The focus was on peace-building.

The conference took place in Paynesville, outside the Liberian capital Monrovia, and gathered more than 200 young people from all of Liberia’s 15 counties. The Liberian organization Accountability Lab organized the event, in co-operation with the Swedish Embassy and UN in Liberia. Earlier this year FBA hosted a meeting in Stockholm where some of the Liberian youth leaders prepared the conference together with representatives from civil society organizations from Sweden, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

One of the workshops focused on reconciliation, diversity and tolerance. 26-year old Jamaima Autie Kollie, who was among the participants, emphasizes that these questions are important as elections are approaching.

– I really liked how we discussed “the real thing”, and talked about challenges and tried to find solutions. If you are a Congo or a Bassa or a Kpelle, it does not matter – we have to be tolerant.

Jamaima Autie Kollie is engaged in a national network with young people, Young Ambassadors for Peace. She sees the conference as a great opportunity and has many thoughts on how to proceed with the work back in her home town Ganta – one of Liberia’s main cities placed on the border to Guinea.

– Instead of just waiting for something to happen, I feel we need to talk about the situation and about the problems, she says.

When Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf inaugurated the conference she pointed out that such a broad coalition of young women and men from different backgrounds who had travelled from the whole country is unique.

The planning has been ongoing for over a year. The idea to have a conference emerged in a breakfast club for Liberian youth leaders on the rise initiated by the former Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Lena Nordström. As one of the inspirational speakers at the conference she called attention to the youths’ inherent power, creativity and ability to think in new ways.

Lena Nordström is also one of Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s Special Representatives for inclusive peace processes and a member of the Swedish mediation network for women. FBA facilitates the mediation network, aimed at increasing the number of women that participate in peace processes, on behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Lisa Ljungström, Project Manager for FBA’s strategy assignment in Liberia, participated in the youth conference. She explains that the youths now have a common assignment to lead Liberia forward.
– Discussions resulted in several concrete suggestions on how young people can contribute to a positive development in Liberia.

Young people are one of the target groups identified in FBA’s strategy assignment in Liberia and support regarding issues about reconciliation and conflict prevention is a focus area. In addition, FBA has an assignment connected to the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. The resolution, adopted in 2015, stresses the representation of youth in decision making.

The dialogue with young people is important for many reasons. Active participation by youths is central when Liberia will hold elections in less than six months, both to include them in the democratic dialogue and to ensure that the elections can be performed without unrest.

Liberia has a violent history. The bloodstained civil war that went on for 14 years in total caused huge devastation and left the population with deep wounds. Since the peace agreement was signed in 2003 there have been great efforts to rebuild the country, with support from the international community. Liberia has come a long way, but much remains to deal with in order to make the country continue to develop in the right direction.

According to Lisa Ljungström peace-building is fundamental to reach a sustainable democratic development.
– The importance of acknowledging and strengthening the country’s future leadership cannot be overemphasized. The next generation of Liberians must be included in the creation of a mutual vision for the future, she says.

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