Situating the role of youth in indigenous African Peacebuilding interventions: The question of spoilers versus menders

Isabella Osiemo is a doctoral candidate of clinical psychology at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-A) and an academician. Isabella is a professional in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and a Certified Professional Mediator with the High Court of Kenya. She is a member of Kenya Psychological Association (Kpsy.A), Kenya Universities Psychological and Counseling Association (KUPCA), Doctorate Association of Eastern Africa (DAEA) and Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb), East and Central Africa.


United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015) acknowledges that the world cannot attain meaningful peace without including the youth. This is critical in Africa where the youth who constitute the bulk of the continent’s population are involved in armed conflicts as perpetrators, victims and witnesses. Consequently, the youth suffer physical, cognitive and psychosocial impact of conflict, blurring their meaningful participation in peacebuilding processes. This article discusses indigenous African interventions aimed at conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration of youth involved in and affected by armed conflicts. Four areas are addressed, namely: introduction, youth, indigenous methods, and finally conclusion and recommendations. It was found that scholars frame youth involvement in armed conflicts as perpetrators, triggers and victims. However, there is an emerging trend which frames youth as peace-builders. Africans have a rich indigenous 

knowledge reservoir for conflict resolution, peacebuilding and psychosocial interventions. However, the application of these interventions is marginalised. This article therefore advocates for the revitalisation of these interventions in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and encourages psychological healing and social restoration for the youth amid ever increasing conflicts in Africa. The researcher recommends, as a way forward, the following: greater involvement of youth in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration through indigenous African interventions; research on and inclusion of indigenous African knowledge in our educational system; and integration of indigenous African interventions into police, legal, justice and psychosocial support systems and practices.

1. Introduction

1.1 Overview and context

In peacebuilding assignments, various actors are involved depending on the complexity of the situation. Among these key actors are the youth who constitute the main subject of interest addressed in this article. Hereinafter, the definition of youth is based upon age grouping which is the most common criterion for categorising young people among many key international community stakeholders (Marzo 2017). UNSCR 2250 (2015), which considers youth as persons aged 18–29 years, recognises variations in the definition of this population segment in different national and international areas.

Underpinning this article are the concepts of armed conflictspeacebuilding, and indigenous African peacebuilding interventions as they affect the youth. An armed conflict refers to any organised dispute that involves the use of weapons, violence, or force, whether within national borders or beyond them, and whether involving state actors or nongovernment entities (Kadir et al. 2018:2). Rebel groups and state forces are historically the most common actors, but increasingly, political and communal militias and unidentified armed groups dominate in Africa (Bello-Schünemann et al.2017:134). Taking cognisance of the preceding, it is evident that armed conflicts are gruesome, borderless and involve several actors who have to be involved if peacebuilding and healing are to be achieved.

This article is premised on the view that conflict resolution and psychosocial support mechanisms in traditional African society still have a place in peacebuilding and healing efforts involving the youth. This article, therefore, contributes to knowledge in these areas in three major ways. First, it situates youth in Africa as a key stakeholder in armed conflict situations, whether as perpetrator[1] or peace-builder[2]. It is therefore crucial that policy makers should understand the significance of involving the youth in conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts. This involvement is useful for developing and implementing youth-friendly policies and strategies for peacebuilding in Africa. Furthermore, it is relevant in the implementation, design and application of indigenous African psychosocial support systems for the youth involved in and affected by armed conflict – whether as perpetrators, victims or witnesses. Secondly, the article discusses the role of indigenous African interventions in peacebuilding and psychosocial therapy. Extrapolating from this, stakeholders involved in peacebuilding in Africa could (may) learn how to apply these interventions to the rapidly growing youth population on the continent. Finally, this article is useful to the youth in coming to understand their rightful role in peacebuilding and psychosocial interventions for healing and restoration within the contexts of African indigenous systems. This is useful not only for conflict resolution but also for using and sustaining relevant African cultural practices in peacebuilding and psychosocial support for those involved and affected by armed conflicts on the continent.

1.2 Background

Youth forms an important population segment that needs to be involved in peacebuilding efforts. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 16 advocates for peace by acknowledging the need to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ (UN General Assembly 2015:14). The participation of youth in peace processes helps achieve sustainable conflict resolution (Pratley 2011). This underpins the United Nations Security Council Resolution’s (UNSCR) 2250 on youth, peace and security (UN General Assembly 2015) which was unanimously adopted on 9th December 2015 and advocates for meaningful participation of youth in peace processes and dispute resolution.

The term indigenous, as posited by Twikirize and Spitzer (2019:8), refers to ‘distinct knowledge, practices and ways of living and doing that have their majority origin within specific local communities’. In this paper, the term reflects Africans’ deeply rooted cultural traditions and customs. Baya (2009) acknowledges that there are various indigenous African peacebuilding traditions. The indigenous African peacebuilding interventions[3] are rooted within the customs and traditions of Africa’s peoples (Alemie and Mandefro 2018). This paper adopted Baya’s (2009:27) definition of indigenous conflict management and resolution mechanisms as ‘community based, traditional or local, indigenous mediation, community based, conflict mitigation; grassroots approaches to peace.’ These conflict mechanisms have been used in traditional African societies over a considerable period of time dating back to the pre-colonial era (Ajayi and Buhari 2014). This is a reflection of the rich reservoir of African indigenous knowledge of resolving conflicts and peacebuilding.

Following the cue from UNSCR 2250, the African Union Commission (AUC) also adopted the African Youth Charter during its seventh ordinary session of the Assembly which was held in Banjul, The Gambia, on 2 July 2006. Article 17 of this charter recognises the important role of youth in promoting peace and the healing of physical and psychological scars that result from involvement in violence, armed conflict and war (AUC 2006). Article 17(g) advocates for member states to ‘take appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of young victims of armed conflict and war by providing access to education and skills development such as vocational training to resume social and economic life’ (AUC 2006:31).

Indigenous African conflict resolution and peacebuilding resources and institutions have existed for a long time, dating back centuries (Alemie and Mandefro 2018; Kpae 2018; Murithi 2009; Werner 2010). Despite this, they remain underutilised in Africa. This rationalises rethinking the use of indigenous African conflict resolution and peacebuilding approaches (Adhiambo 2014; Kpae 2018) at a time when conflicts are occurring in various African countries. Africans have indigenous peacebuilding traditions which are important in healing and reconciling the people (Murithi 2009). One of the objectives of The Nairobi Declaration on ‘Pan-African Youth Strategy on Learning for Sustainability’ by UNESCO (2013), was ‘to ensure that youth have a voice in policy and decision making from formulation to implementation so as to improve governance and leadership across all sectors and all levels and to empower youth by facilitating an enabling environment that fosters innovation, learning and knowledge-building for sustainable development’. This article, which is drawn from desk-based research of literature, argues that there is need to involve youth in conflict resolution within the framework of indigenous African interventions in peacebuilding. This paper seeks to explore the framing of youth in armed conflicts and peacebuilding in the literature reviewed; assess the relevance and mechanisms of indigenous African interventions in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration; and draw lessons so as to propose recommendations on the way forward.

The term ‘peacebuilding’ was introduced by former United Nations Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his 1992 report entitled An Agenda for Peace. A supplement to this report defines peacebuilding as a range of activities meant to identify, and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace and avoid relapse into conflict (Boutros-Ghali 1995). Contributing to this, Amisi (2008:14) adds that when peace is defined in terms of healing, then peace represents ‘a dynamic process of being healed and healing rather than the absence of perpetual crisis and poverty.’ The foregoing point to the goal of peacebuilding as one of preventing and reducing the occurrence of a conflict, and the transformation and healing of all those involved in and affected by conflicts. This article is anchored within this framework and aims to act as a means for involving the youth in peacebuilding and recovery.

2. Theoretical frameworks

2.1 Social problem-solving theory

This study makes use of social problem-solving theory as this theory accepts that humans always encounter and experience problems and challenges and look for ways to solve those problems. This theory creates and makes use of systems and structures that can contribute and play a role in solving problems or conflicts within communities and individuals (Chang, Zurilla and Sanna 2004). Social problem-solving theory is a selfdirected cognitive process in which a group tries to identify possible solutions to certain problems in every life.

According to Chang, Zurilla and Sanna (2004), social problem-solving is a two-stage process involving problem-solving and solution- implementation. Problem-solving focuses on ways of getting a solution to a specific problem whilst solution implementation relates to carrying out the solutions in real problematic situations. According to Dostál (2015), people who encounter a problem should (must) also be motivated to work towards a solution and be ready to solve it. This is a situation where persons try to evaluate the problem and what causes the problem to find solutions. 

2.2 Social capital theory

Social capital is the relational resource embedded in personal ties that are useful for the development of individual communities. Social capital stands for a sense of goodwill that represents sympathy, trust, and forgiveness that engendered the fabric of social relations (Ahmed 2020). The theory of social capital is based on the notion of trust, norms and informal networks of social relations that are used to build on social norms, values, beliefs, trusts, obligations, relationships, networks, friends, memberships, civic engagement, information flows and institutions. These will further foster cooperation and collective activities for the shared welfares of the communities as well as contribute to their socioeconomic developments. It can be regarded as collective action in the base of social relations and shared norms, and trust that facilitates the relationship and cooperation of mutual benefits (Bhandari and Yasunobu 2009).

Bhandari and Yasunobu (2009) as cited from Coleman (1990) stated that social capital theory can be defined as a group of individuals sharing common features that are the aspect of social structure that enable certain actions of such individuals within that structure. The common features include obligations, expectations, trust, and information flow among the individuals. It is a production resource that facilitates the production and makes it possible to achieve certain ends that would be impossible in its absence. Social capital focuses on the structural relationship among the actors and it facilitates individual actions taken by the actors that form the basis of social capital. The efforts taken by the group members can be perceived as rational investments in social capital.

3. Youth

Africa has the youngest, largest and fastest growing population in the world. Although public perceptions of youth are a mix of opportunities and threats, it is almost always the case that popular narratives see them more as threats by virtue of the risk factors associated with the violent actions of a handful of youth. Such perceptions presume that young people are easily lured into participating in violent actions in contexts where widespread unemployment and socioeconomic vulnerabilities are on the rise. At different moments and in various circumstances, youth are victims, perpetrators and peace-builders (Del Felice and Wisler 2007). This article posits that this framing of youth portrays them as both spoilers and menders in peacebuilding. But Del Felice and Wisler (2007:2) emphasise that ‘youth are underestimated as positive agents of change and key actors in peace- building, both by policy-makers and academics.’ This points to inadequate inclusion of youth in peacebuilding efforts. As earlier elucidated, Africa continues to experience violent conflicts. This state of affairs implies that the application of modern conflict resolution mechanisms on the continent has not been successful in peacebuilding. Further, this suggests marginalisation of indigenous African conflict resolution mechanisms. Indeed, Adibo (2017) argues that, to some extent, the marginalisation of African indigenous conflict resolution practices contributes to unending violent conflicts experienced on the continent.

Citing Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), Bello-Schünemann et al. (2017) notes that in 2016, Africa accounted for more than a third of global conflicts. A majority of current armed conflicts on the continent occur in North Africa and the Sahel, West Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes region. This demonstrates the need for armed conflict resolution and peacebuilding in most regions in Africa. The youth are a majority and a vital resource in the population in Africa and should not be ignored in peacebuilding, healing and restoration efforts. Marzo (2017) reiterates this by arguing that due to their large numbers in the population, the youth need to be considered when planning for peacebuilding processes.

Perovic’s study investigated the understanding of youth across European countries in terms of the age definition. The author observed that youth is mostly defined as ‘the passage from a dependent childhood to independent adulthood’ (Perovic 2016:7) when young people are in transition between a world of rather secure development to a world of choice and risk. Referring to social status, the author describes youth as the group which is in a specific social position, and are not entitled to child benefits and protection anymore. But they do need additional care since they do not yet enjoy all the opportunities available to adults. The outcome of the study was that ‘common to all observed countries is that the period of youth is marked with the important life changes: milestone in education to job market transition, maintaining residential independence from the parental home, from being financially dependent to managing its own money’ Perovic 2016:7). The author correctly observes that age could be a useful definition, but is an insufficient indication to characterise the transition to adulthood. Even though age distinction has been considered as the prevailing approach in defining youth, the author suggests that social status and life situations should not be neglected as playing roles in the definition. For the purposes of this article, youth[4] represents persons aged 15–35 years, as considered in the AUC Youth Charter (2006).

Table 1 illustrates the variations in age brackets for youth from select countries in Africa.

Table 1: Variations in age brackets for youth

Age (years)Countries
12–30Nigeria and Swaziland
14–25Botswana and Mauritius
15–35Burundi, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania
18– –Kenya*
Source: Researcher’s compilation from various sources, 2019.

*    The age bracket considered in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya (Kenya Law Reports 2010). 

According to Nkurunziza (2015:15), youth are an essential constituency in all phases of peacebuilding. In most conflict situations, young people are both perpetrators and victims of violence and conflict. According to the ‘youth bulge theory’ this has implications for explaining the link between youth and conflict in Africa. Tsuma (2012:127) points out that youth bulge theory ‘is founded on the premise that there exists a strong correlation between countries prone to civil conflicts and those with burgeoning youthful populations.’ What really makes the situation worse is the high number of unemployed youths. With the existence of high numbers of youth in Africa, it is paramount for governments to sincerely engage youth not only in conflict resolution, but also in other gainful endeavours. In this regard, African countries cannot assume the unconditional support of youth in their peacebuilding efforts, whether they use traditional and/or modern approaches.

3.1 Youth as perpetrators and triggers of conflict and spoilers to peace

The framing of youth in armed conflicts assumes various dimensions. In this section, the article takes the view of ‘youth-in-conflict as perpetrators and triggers-of-conflict and ‘spoilers’ to peace processes’ (Pratley 2011: 30). Corroborating this, the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Working Group on Youth and Peace- building asserts that in conflict situations, young men are largely perceived as perpetrators whileyoung women are assumed to be primary victims of sexual and gender-based violence (Rogan 2016).

Therefore, this article discusses the concept of youth as perpetrators in armed conflicts in Africa. UNSCR 2250 (2015) also acknowledges that there is an increase in the radicalisation of youth in the direction of violence and violent extremism[5] and this threatens peacebuilding efforts. Youth involvement in conflicts in Africa’s violent wars and armed conflicts is evident. For instance, in the South Sudan conflict, youth have been involved as perpetrators through their membership as militia, armed groups and rebel leaders (Oluoch 2019). The militias, The Sudan Armed Forces started a serious crackdown against rebel groups that were opposed to the government and were supported by the Janjaweed, a militia armed group. This caused more than 300 000 deaths and three million forced displacements.

A review of the Rwanda 1994 genocide by the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1994) reported the killing of more than 800 000 civilians, primarily Tutsi. The militia whose composition included youth, the Interahamwe (those who attack together) and Impuzamugambi (those who have the same goal), played a central role in the genocide. The genocide was further fuelled by radio broadcasts which encouraged Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbours, who were referred to as ‘cockroaches’ that needed to be exterminated. As many as 2 000 000 Rwandans, both Tutsi and Hutu fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but returned to Rwanda in 1997 after the genocide.

In Sierra Leone, youth were engaged as armed combatants in civil war (Pratley 2011). Jang (2012) states that there is no clear explanation about why of the 8 466 children documented as missing between 1991 and 2002, 4 448 were reported missing in 1999 alone. Jang (2012) further states that this could be attributed to the Revolutionary United Front’s (RUF) ‘Operation No Living Thing’ when thousands of civilians in Freetown were raped and murdered. Jang (2012) attributes insurgence of majority of the RUF militia who were made up of uneducated and unemployed youth, which saw as many as 300 civilians executed.

During the last decade, Kenya has witnessed an increase in various conflicts pertaining to ‘political and election-related violence, radicalisation and violent extremism, inter-ethnic and inter-communal clashes, pastoralist violence, and state-led violence (Ismail, 2017:2). In the 2007/2008 Post-Election Violence (PEV) in Kenya, youth formed part of the tribal militia and equipped gangs that engaged in violent raids in various parts of the country (Forti and Maina, 2012). Militia groups were formed for tribal protection in Kenya included, inter alia, the Kisii tribe (Sungusungu)Kikuyu (Mungiki), Sabaot (Land Defense Forces (SLDF) and the Kaya (Bombo Raiders). The violence saw over 1 000 dead and up to 500 000 internally displaced persons (Truth, Justice and Reconciliation commission of Kenya 2013).

The above examples illustrate the participation of youth in armed conflicts as perpetrators of violence. Pratley (2011:36) explains that the youth as triggers-of-conflict dimension ‘differs from youth-asperpetrators constructions as it is typically situated outside armed conflict.’ Youth as triggers-of-conflict dimension is supported by youth bulge theory which considers youth as contributors to social and economic instability in their communities. At the heart of this theory are extraordinarily large numbers of youth in proportion to the adult population in a country or region. However, it is not just that these numbers cause trouble. The causes derive rather from underpinning factors/issues such as increasing unemployment, alienation and discontentment with the political system. These factors make youth easy targets for recruits to armed violence (Pratley 2011).

Youth-as-spoilers to peace is a recent construction in conflict literature (Pratley 2011). It is anchored in the spoiler theory which regard ‘spoilers’ to peace as ‘elites who are party to conflict and decide whether to cooperate with peace processes or contribute to conflict based on cost-benefit analyses that consider structural and situational capacities’ (Pratley 2011:43). Thus, the author considers youth as latent spoilers to peace. This is based on Greenhill and Major’s (2006:9–10) argument that youth are ‘determined but weak actors who would oppose the implementation of a peace accord, if only they had the material wherewithal to do so.’ Therefore, youth-as-spoilers may thwart peace processes as ‘they may be incentivised to disrupt peace-making processes when low opportunity costs issues remain, such as lack of access to political and economic structures’ (Pratley 2011:43).

From the foregoing, it is evident that the youth played a role in conflict fuelled by either not being gainfully engaged, over inequitable resources distribution, or being recruited by already established militias for support of a particular cause. It is not shown, however, empirically, how many youths are involved in conflict but instead, the studies concentrated on the roles the youth played in conflict situations.

3.2 Youth as victims in armed conflicts

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD (2011:16) acknowledges that ‘young people are frequently the victims of violence – boys and young men are most at risk of conflict-related death and homicide; girls and young women are increasingly at risk of sexual violence, especially in situations of armed conflict.’ This is a view supported by Pratley (2011) who recognises ‘youth-as-victims’ construction in conflict situations. As victims, the youth in conflict situations suffer a great deal as they are traumatised, can lose their lives and even that of kin and friends (OECD 2011; Pratley 2011). Ultimately this affects the personal and social development of the youth (Marzo 2017). Focusing on children, Kadir et al. (2018:142) summarised the impact of armed conflicts as follows:

The direct effects of conflict include death, physical and psychological trauma, and displacement. Indirect effects are related to a large number of factors, including inadequate and unsafe living conditions, environmental hazards, caregiver mental health, separation from family, displacement-related health risks, and the destruction of health, public health, education, and economic infrastructure.

Although the work by Kadir et al. (2018) focuses on children, youth too are likely to suffer from the same effects of armed conflicts. This calls for psychosocial support mechanisms to help cope with the suffering of those involved in armed conflicts. 

3.3 ‘Youth-as-peace-builders’ construct in conflict situations

The previous sections have demonstrated the framing of youth from a negative and suffering perspectives. As Pratley (2011) acknowledges, the discourse on youth can also be constructed positively as peace-builders. In constructing ‘youth-as-peace-builders’, we recognise youth as ‘agents who contribute positively during and after periods of conflict’ (Pratley 2011:45). 

Del Felice and Wisler (2007) posit that youth are peace-builders and therefore an important demographic in peacebuilding.

Youth need to be considered when planning for peacebuilding processes due to their large numbers in the population (Marzo 2017) and a sizeable number out of school. Such processes could provide learners with useful experiences for peacebuilding (Chakraborty 2016). In addition, youth could easily be mobilised by traditional/tribal leaders to engage in conflict and violent actions as noted in some African countries (personal observation). These assertions further underpin the unquestionable role of youth in peacebuilding (Del Felice and Wisler 2007). Young people’s ample (or noteworthy or impressive) courage is useful in peacebuilding processes as it can propel them towards fulfilling what they believe in, that is, a belief that peace is necessary (Del Felice and Wisler 2007). In view of the preceding viewpoints, there is need for involving youth in indigenous African interventions in peacebuilding and healing.

4. Indigenous methods

4.1 Overview

This section presents a critical review of the literature about indigenous African interventions. The section describes the mechanisms and relevance of such interventions, and their roles in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration – with a focus on youth as stakeholders. The section draws on discussions from past studies on indigenous African conflict resolution mechanisms which are geared towards not only peacebuilding with youth involvement, but also healing and reconciliation of others involved in and affected by conflict. This is pertinent for psychological healing and social restoration among the youth who are involved in and affected by armed conflict. Communal fights in Africa can be resolved through indigenous conflict resolution mechanisms. Baya (2009) posits that:

For a successful conflict resolution, resources should be targeted at mobilising home-grown solutions to home-felt conflict. A more focused appreciation of the existence of indigenous conflict resolution resources and mechanisms in African countries could help in saving lives and reduce social strife.

4.2 Mechanisms of indigenous African interventions in conflict resolutions

Africans have a rich indigenous reservoir that can be utilised in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and psychosocial interventions for healing and restoration of resiliency among the youth affected by armed conflict. The need for such local interventions emanates from the recognition that proposals from the West are based on contexts that may not be similar to those in Africa (Twikirize and Spitzer 2019). To these authors, there are noticeable differences between Africa and the Western world in terms of culture, social, economic, political and spiritual realities. But African youth can be important local drivers and agents of change in their societies. For instance, in Kenya communal conflicts arise from contestation over access to resources, ranging from pastoral land, livestock raiding to water which trigger inter-communal violence. (Ritchie and Ord 2017). Ritchie and Ord (2017) opine that developing a youth space recognised by the community gives the youth a sense of belonging. They advise recognition of the youth through financial and technical support and, most importantly, recognition of the youth as peace agents of the State with support from their communities. Another example of involving the youth in peacebuilding is found with the Pokot and the Marakwet tribes of Kenya. The youth are engaged in activities that symbolise peace (Elfversson 2016). The youth compose songs on the benefits of education after which the parents allow them to go to school as a way of maintaining peace. Therefore, what may work in the West may not necessarily yield the same results in Africa. This situation demands ‘home grown’ or local solutions for the conflict situations in Africa.

Muigua (2017), Adhiambo (2014) and Ajayi and Buhari (2014) explored indigenous approaches to peacebuilding, ,some of which are methods of indigenous African interventions for conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Some of these methods resemble modern day alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that include negotiation, mediation and reconciliation (Muigua 2017). For example, in Northern Somalia, also known as Somaliland, traditional leadership institutions and methods for resolving disputes were used to bring together the clans and create a legislature and government. By drawing upon Somali tradition and combining these traditional structures with modern institutions of governance like the parliament, Somaliland, with its capital in Hergesia, has succeeded in maintaining a degree of relative peace and stability. Some writers have argued that Somaliland might be the first genuine African nation state because it was created using indigenous cultural norms of governance. In this sense, it emerged from the efforts and desire of Somali clans to unify into a state.

Ajayi and Buhari (2014:151) and Muigua (2017) acknowledge that indigenous African conflict resolution mechanisms include among others: negotiation, adjudication, reconciliation and mediation. The authors add that these mechanisms which pre-exist the advent of colonialism in Africa were geared towards peaceful coexistence within communities. Focusing on Kenya’s nearly 42 tribes, Muigua (2017) states that each one of them had its own conflict management mechanisms which were considered effective and are recognised by the present government. This recognition makes these conflict resolution mechanisms legitimate in Kenya. Indigenous African peacebuilding mechanisms are increasingly being applied in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda[6], Somaliland, and Uganda.[7]  Another example of a strategy of reconciliation is the conflict between the Pokot and the Turkana of Kenya. Kibe’s (2020) study revealed that lack of equitable distribution of natural resources was the ‘missing link’, … hence the cause of the conflict between the two tribes. To bridge the gap, the Shalom-SCCRR (Shalom Centre for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation) implemented a multi-stakeholder approach. The approach involved the natural resource management committees, opinions of grass-root leaders, local chiefs, village elders, women and youth leaders, religious leaders and national police reservists. The stakeholders are implementing the structures; and the stakes are high that this will solve the long-standing conflict for long-term benefits of the communities. Consequent to the above information, this article focuses on negotiation, mediation and arbitration. Negotiation refers to the ‘process in which parties in a conflict agree to talk it out and manage the conflict jointly. Negotiation combines conflicting positions into joint agreements and is a voluntary process where the parties do map out the future of their relationships’ (Adhiambo 2014:39). Negotiation as a peacebuilding mechanism is pervasive in African societies and is based on traditional belief systems (Adibo 2017). According to Ajayi and Buhari (2014:151), negotiation seeks to ‘harmonize the interests of the parties concerned.’ For instance, Ajayi and Buhari (2014) note that in the traditional Yoruba[8] society, peace negotiation involved individuals who had done a wrong to others apologising to the entire community. The apology was channelled through elders, compound heads, and chiefs of high calibre in the Yoruba society.

Indigenous Africans handled conflict in a rather fascinating manner. They applied negotiation, bargaining, dialogue, mediation, conciliation, collective personhood, adjudication, etc. (Ademowo 2016). Modern day United States-championed Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is regarded by many scholars as ‘African Dispute Resolution’, as they are initiatives based on African experiences. A very good example is the Ubuntu conflict resolution style of the Bantu family among South Africans. Its philosophy is based on a collective responsibility among human beings to live for common benefit. Among other examples are the Adzo, Cofono and the House of Palaver (Ademowo 2016). The Luo, Kipsigis and the Kisii of Kenya, live in Sondu area, a cosmopolitan region with Sondu town as their business center. The main bone of contention among these tribes is competition for political gains in Sondu area because politics has been along ethnic lines. To mitigate the conflict, the trio organise sporting tournaments as a coping strategy in promoting coexistence among the youths and to restore peace and bring about reconciliation. Intermarriages, and intercultural activities like attending funerals, weddings and circumcision ceremonies strengthen their interaction and relationships (Odongo 2009).

To a large extent, these intercultural activities lead to groups becoming indistinguishable from one another – which creates a sense of belonging. Kariuki’s (2009) study on the mechanisms used by the Giriama of the Coastal region of Kenya revealed that they had two strategies of solving disputes, especially when they wanted to establish the truth where a conflict of accounts occurred. Psychological and physical methods were used, involving fire and poison ordeals as coercive approaches to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. First (the psychological phase) the suspects were allowed to see the fire and poison in order to frighten them into confession without being taken through the entire process. Second, (the physical) the litigants were asked to choose to go through the whole process and be burnt and/or take the poison (physical). The ordeal by poison made the individual sick while the ordeal by fire made the blistered the guilty individual. The accuser and the accused often went to the ordeal function together; but at times the accused, in order to prove innocence, went alone. Disputants were not forced to attend, but non-attendance was viewed as an admission of guilt. The council of elders often operated as one judicial body, prescribing ordeals and oracles to determine who to blame, and then imposing and enforcing penalties. This approach seemed helpful to the elders considering that they were not paid, it was therefore not costly. Adhiambo (2014) argues that mediation is a continuation of negotiation and involves a third party (mediator) who comes into play when negotiating partners reach a deadlock. Corroborating this, Ajayi and Buhari (2014:149) add that ‘mediation is an old method of conflict management surrounded by secrecy. It involves non-coercive intervention of the mediator(s), called third party either to reduce or … go beyond or bring conflict to peaceful settlement.’

Perovic (2016) carried out an analytical study whose objective was to serve as a mapping document and evidence- based support to the Working Group of the Council of Europe aimed at preparing the recommendations on youth work. Based on desk research, the country reports on youth policies deposited with the European Knowledge Centre on Youth Policy (EKCYP) were examined. The outcome of this study was that all the covered countries except Cyprus have national youth policies in the form of strategic or other programme documents, or in the form of laws. This finding supports the notion that the youth are included in the national policy agenda. For instance, Perovic’s (2016) study revealed that ‘out of 198 countries, 122 countries (62%) in 2014 had a national youth policy, compared to 99 (50%) in 2013’ (Youth Policy Press 2014:8). Based in his findings and a comparative perspective, the author attempts to provide evidence-based comprehensive facts and policy figures on youth across all Europe.

Similarly, in Rwanda, the government is making use of the traditional justice and reconciliation system known as gacaca, which might enable it to try and judge some of those who are accused of having been among the perpetrators of the genocide in 1994. The interesting lesson to learn from this gacaca system is that it is largely organised on the basis of local youth involvement. The local youth is involved in encouraging the perpetrators to acknowledge what they have done; and the victims are involved in determining what reparations need to be made so that the perpetrator can be re-integrated into the Rwandese Youth. There have been criticisms of the way that gacaca tribunals have been implemented. This is bound to happen because the use of indigenous traditional approaches to administer justice in a modern nation state is uncharted ground.

Njeru’s (2010) study discusses the delicate place of youth in Southern Sudan and argues that war and peace benefit the youth in many ways. In peacetime, the youth provide the reservoir of any country’s energy to grapple with its present circumstances and future challenges. On the contrary and to the disadvantage of the youth, in times of conflict, they are disadvantaged. A case in point, the Janjaweed militiamen of Darfur, comprised mainly of youth, was revamped with support from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Over the last 16 years, the Janjaweed have occupied the lands of some of the ethnic members who have been chased from their homeland. They rape and kill with impunity due to a lack of political will by authorities to prosecute them for these crimes committed (Oluoch, 2019). This, benefits the authorities who have the youth at their beckoning but the youth have no autonomy (personal opinion).

Apart from the forceful conscription into conflicts, young people are also forced into conflict by circumstances emanating from the government’s failure to create enabling environments for empowerment of the young people. Njeru (2010) notes that Africa has excess youths without access to schooling or gainful employment, ready to heed the call to bear arms for spurious ideological or ethnic reasons. Such youths are easily off-loaded on any viable militia or government for use in violence.

In South Africa, Olowu (2018) carried out an assessment of Indigenous Approaches to Conflict Resolution in Africa. The main purpose of the study was to do an assessment on the role of indigenous conflict resolution initiatives and their significance in cases where state machinery is inadequate, inaccessible or unavailable. The study revealed that practices among the Barolong people have often constructively dealt with conflicts so that social life, livelihoods and communal harmony can continue or be restored. The study results revealed that though the Barolong customary conflict resolution models may have some limitations, it nonetheless has the potential to productively resolve local conflicts, especially in remote areas where state machinery is inadequate, inaccessible or unavailable. Ndegwa (2018) also emphasises the role of youth in achieving sustainable peace and development in South Africa. Ndegwa (2018) states that the youth voiced their frustrations in the ‘#rhodesmustfall, #feesmustfall campaigns’ and is a clear example of the youth-led movements’ ability to change the current status quo. The inclusion of youth in decision-making processes is critical for sustainable peace and development.

In West Africa Sub region, Enaifoghe (2018) sought to find out what intervention and peacebuilding mechanisms the states used in mediating peace, peacebuilding, resolving states conflicts and how to strengthen democracy in West Africa, apart from ECOWAS – AU interventions mechanisms in peacebuilding and resolving states conflicts. This aimed at strengthening democracy in Côte d’Ivoire, as a case study in West Africa. The study findings showed that the implementation of the Contrivance and the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance by ECOWAS were better prepared to meet challenges related to peace and security in the region. Enaifoghe (2018) concluded and recommended that organisations who mediate peace in any conflict zone must first understand the cause of the conflict, involve the youth and thereafter timely intervene, and take common positions in applying different mechanisms to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts with active participation of the youth.

In Nigeria, Ademowo and Nuhu (2017) did a study on Indigenous Knowledge and Conflict Management in Africa: A Study of Proverb Use in Conflict Management among Hausas of Northern Nigeria. This case study examined the place of indigenous knowledge in conflict management and peacebuilding, focussing on the Hausa speaking people of Northern Nigeria. The paper argues that traditional knowledge is intrinsically valuable as they are veritable tools in maintaining peace and peaceful coexistence among the people. Nigeria has implemented the UNSCR 2250 (2015) by establishing an inter-agency working group on youth and peacebuilding. In Kenya, Oriedo, Ntamushobara and Renne (2018) carried out a study on The role of the youth in peacebuilding between the Maasai community and the in-migrant communities in Kajiado North Sub-County. The purpose of the study was to uncover reasons preventing youth from spearheading peacebuilding. The study used both qualitative and quantitative research design. The study findings revealed that there were no trainings carried out on the conflict management with the youth. The findings of the study pinpoint a clear depiction of failed attempts by both community leaders and political leaders to solve conflicts especially in the pastoralists’ communities.

In traditional African societies, the mediators who are respected and trustworthy elders were drawn from the communities or societies of the parties involved in the conflict (Ajayi and Buhari 2014). The roles of the mediators included ‘pressurizing, making recommendations, giving assessments, conveying suggestions on behalf of the parties, emphasizing relevant norms and rules, envisaging the situation if an agreement is not reached, or repeating of the agreement already attained’ (Brock-Utne 2001:11). According to Muigua (2017), a majority of Kenyan communities have practiced mediation over time Kpae (2018) notes that traditional leaders are involved in conflicts between communities especially when conflicts occur. They undertake mediation and appeal to all to maintain peace. Those who violate this call are cautioned by the paramount rule (ruler or chief) of the community, or asked to pay a fine required by the particular community. Once the mediation process is completed, the chiefs of the communities in conflict ask their gods to help them maintain the peace. In addition, peace consultative committees would be set up under the headship of the community paramount ruler to help mediate conflicts in warring communities. For instance, the Sierra Leone Parliament has twelve seats reserved for the paramount chiefs, who represent traditional regional issues such as local conflict management of those regions not represented by political parties.

Arbitration is another traditional means of resolving conflicts. According to Adhiambo (2014:40), arbitration ‘involves an adjudication procedure by which disputants agree to submit a dispute to Judges or arbitrators of their choice who render a legally binding decision in the form of a majority vote.’ In African societies, arbitration can involve parties to a conflict taking their matter before a local chief’s court. In such courts, the arbitration may be done directly by the chief himself, or through his elders or arbitrators selected by the warring parties (Okrah 2003). The decision of the arbitrator is considered final and binding to the parties involved in the conflict and failure to abide by it leads to sanctions (Adhiambo 2014; Okrah 2003).

Adjudication of conflicts in the indigenous African society involves inviting parties concerned to a meeting usually held in the compound or house of the family head or other head or palace court (Ajayi and Buhari 2014). The traditional adjudicatory processes emphasise reconciliation aimed at restoring peace. In these adjudication processes, the principle of ‘give and take’ is applied so that concessions are made. And once the warring parties were ready to reach comprise, a feast was organised as a confirmation. This shows the essence of adjudication as a mutual agreement and a means of healing for those involved in conflicts.

It is therefore evident that traditional African conflict resolution and peacebuilding mechanisms have a place in today’s world. However, youth on the continent are not fully aware of these traditional solutions to peacebuilding. Forti and Maina (2012:62) point out that ‘in Kenya, it is evident that modernisation has watered down this relationship: many Kenyan youth are unaware of traditional social structures but are instead conversant with, and faithful to, modern trends.’ There exist many reasons that justify the need to consider and use indigenous African conflict resolution and peacebuilding mechanisms on the continent. Such peacebuilding interventions can reduce the thrust of drivers that fuel conflicts at the local level and provide long term local solutions to such conflicts.

4.3 Relevance of indigenous African interventions in conflict resolution and problems for implementation.

Indigenous African interventions to conflicts and peacebuilding have several advantages. These interventions cater for inclusion and participation as solutions to conflicts and are arrived at through consensus (Baya 2009; Kpae 2018). Indeed, the indigenous African interventions advocate for the principles of reciprocity, inclusivity and a sense of shared destiny between people in conflict and peace-making (Alemie and Mandefro 2018; Amisi 2008). The interventions involve the locals at communities and this creates legitimacy for the resultant solutions (Alemie and Mandefro 2018). The indigenous African conflict resolution and peacebuilding interventions are rooted within the cultural systems of the people, hence are more easily understood than the Western court system (Alemie and Mandefro 2018).

Furthermore, traditional African mechanisms speed up and cost less in resolving conflicts and in peacebuilding (Alemie and Mandefro 2018; Kpae, 2018). Lastly, traditional African conflict resolution and peacebuilding methods overcome the illiteracy barriers and afford accessibility to those rural locations where courts are not easily accessible (Alemie and Mandefro 2018). This is of relevance in Africa where access to justice through the court system is hampered by high poverty levels, and the fact that the majority of the people reside in those rural areas.

Whether as perpetrators and triggers of conflict and spoilers to peace or as victims or witnesses to conflicts, the youth undergo psychosocial challenges. The relevance of indigenous African psychosocial interventions to healing are reiterated by Adibo (2017:5) who argues that ‘importing wholesale Euro-American counselling practices to be used in African settings, while ignoring healing counselling practices that originate from the continent, does not constitute holistic healing.’ Using the case of the ethnic group of Acholi in Uganda, Adibo (2017) advocates for indigenous African interventions for healing and reintegration. Such indigenous psychologies take the local priorities into consideration, for instance how young people perceive psychosocial problems.

East Africa youth consulted for this present study identified some factors that they consider to be militating against their effective contributions to peace and security. These were broadly categorised into internal and external factors (UNDP 2019). The internal challenges included limited motivation, gender inequality, age difference and limited technical capacities and skills. With regard to limited motivation, many young people get involved in activism purposefully, and tend to be manipulated by politicians and community leaders – especially when their activities have gained them significant levels of public recognition and influence. Invariably, their sense of purpose becomes diluted as they become more politicised and politically oriented. This reason was highlighted as a critical factor in explaining why many youth groups are dissolved due to excessive politicisation.

It has been proven that countries with high levels of gender inequality are more likely to be involved in intra and interstate conflict and resort to violence to resolve conflict (UNDP 2019). Some female members of youth groups testified that when a female officer is promoted in the organisation, jealousy starts building up and accusations of sexual relationship/affairs become rampant, especially from the male group members. Such internal dynamics do not augur well for the sustainability of youth organisations (Cursi 2017). With regard to age difference, the majority of youth in regions in Africa which are prone to conflicts suffer setbacks in education and social life. This is in regard to delayed completion of diplomas and entry and acquiring of university degrees. Lastly, youth groups consulted and identified their limited capacities and skills in peacebuilding as an impediment to the programmatic design of impactful and sustainable peace and security interventions but also access to financial support from donor agencies.

The common external challenges youth groups in Africa identify relate to the lack of critical positive momentum; the ever-changing nature and focus of normative frameworks or institutional policies; limited involvement of youth in mediation process and the excessive politicisation of the same process; and growing mistrust between the state and youth, especially by those who consider youth interventions as threats to their supremacy; excessive fixation with ‘celebrity’ peace advocacy; the existence of a plethora of ‘youth brokers’ without any clear constituency; youth apathy in advocacy processes; competition over limited resources; the paucity of trauma-sensitive components in on-going interventions; tribal profiling and targeting of youth; resistance by stakeholders especially national/community authorities and disputing parties; and limited outreach to targeted population.

The lack of critical positive momentum manifests in what youth groups describe as the limited or outright lack of political and financial interventions by government on issues that directly concern young people. Many youth initiatives in Africa are not only low-keyed in terms of their budget and spread, but they also take place infrequently because of funding constraints and limited political buy-in from government and other critical stakeholders in the region. This invariably makes youth groups function below optimum level and also diminish their exposure to the kind of transformative leadership opportunities they require to contribute meaningfully to society. The absence of such opportunities is also partly responsible for why young people are less inclined to join peace and solidarity movements and would rather join street gangs and engage in riots and demonstrations that threaten law and order.

Another challenge is the impact of stereotypes which are fuelling mistrust among youth and youth-led groups in the region. There are several levels of such mistrust: between youth groups and government; between youth groups and development actors, including intergovernmental organisations; and between youth and national or international CSOs/NGOs. By the very nature of their mandate, youth groups working on human rights, accountability and democracy are particularly vulnerable to the authoritarian excesses of the state and state institutions since they tend to engage in activities that call out or put governments on the spot. This partly explains why government sometimes labels them as collaborators or traitors if they work with certain NGOs accused of working or spying for foreign governments. Either way, the dilemma is that certain youth groups have to navigate and are constrained by complex relationships with government and non-governmental development actors that are central in delivering a wide range of services such as humanitarian assistance.

Closely linked to the above is mistrust that exists within the rank-and-file of youth groups, mostly fuelled by stiff competition over funding and technical support. As in the case with other groups, especially within the civil society and NGO field, unhealthy rivalry and competition between and among youth groups could easily become a stumbling block in the quest for effective coordination and collaboration in delivering a common agenda and activities linked to peace and security. Further, young Africans have identified current gaps in the strategies for peace advocacy, wherein substantial attention and resources are committed to engage influential stakeholders and celebrities to raise awareness on specific or broad peacebuilding issues.

The approach of engaging international celebrities as peace advocates is becoming more popular and expensive, especially since doing so only brings momentary excitement for young people attending the mega concerts. They insist that local change can only come when such opportunities are created and channelled to harness and showcase the talent and creativity of local/national celebrities who are themselves popular national icons worthy of emulation by the youth, and who understand the peculiarities of their country and the region. Finally, the youth frown upon the proliferation of ‘youth brokers,’ that is, people who claim to be credible interlocutors on behalf of youth but are in reality only furthering their individual narrow and self-interests. The existence of too many intermediaries when it comes to youth affairs, according to them, often meant that the roles and contributions of legitimate youth groups are routinely side-lined and ignored.

5. Critique of theoretical frameworks

Human beings are prone to conflicts because it is a product of coexistence of individuals of different personalities. Conflict also indicates differences of opinion, misrepresentations, discrepancies, and bitterness prevailing in a particular ‘organisation/society or between individuals. But this is different from ‘armed conflict,’ which ‘is the resort to use of force and armed violence in pursuit of incompatible and particular interest and goals’ (Francis 2012b).

When analysing dispute/conflict one should approach it through the ‘categories of conflicts’, because no single solution would fix all disagreements. Social scientists, practitioners and analysts have espoused myriad theories as the root causes of conflicts/disputes. This means that there is no single, unified and complete explanation to the causes of conflicts. Theories on the causes of conflicts/disputes are said to fall into five categories (Sacramento 2013). These include data disputes which perceive conflict as revolving around or being created by information (or misinformation, lack of information or unfamiliar information); structural disputes that occur within or between institutions and or bureaucracies (the struggle of social factions hostile to each other); Value disputes which are caused by a clash of ideas or belief systems, for instance, issues arising from values tied to communism and capitalism or entrenched moral belief; Relationship disputes which are very common among human beings or organisations where there are clashes in behaviour or commercial relationships; and Behavioural disputes that are caused by clashes in habits, behaviour, custom and or culture (Sacramento 2013).

Other theories about the causes of conflicts include unbearable longlasting moral difference, such as fundamental moral, religious and personal values that cannot be changed easily (Pearce and Littlejohn 1997), and issues of justice such as when people believe that they are being treated unjustly or unfairly. Yet, others include rights-based grievances such as when one person or group of people makes a demand on another group and it is rejected particularly when they advance their claim as rights (Glendon 1993). For others, the causes of conflict are unmet or unfulfilled human needs such as basic needs for food, water, and shelter as well as complex needs such as safety, security, self-esteem, and personal fulfilment (Burton 1990). There are also identity issues such as when a group feels that their sense of self is under threat (Fiol et al. 2009). The grievance theory (Collier and Hoeffler 2000) also offers explanations as to the causes of conflict between groups. They identify three types of causes: hatred between groups; political exclusion; and vengeance (Maphosa et al. 2014). 

Another theory on conflict is economic theory, which states that poverty and unemployment could lead to political protest, civil unrest or rebellion (Collier 2006). However, rebellion, like ‘armed conflict’, is a different matter as it requires financial backing, and thus, a more serious conflict. Another theory which identifies itself as Relative Deprivation Theory focuses on economic inequality (Ojendal, Leonardsson, and Lundqvist 2017). This type of conflict occurs when people perceive that there is a huge gap in what they are getting now and what they used to get; and that may fuel tensions among people and lead to discontent (Connolly and Powers 2018). This review on the causes of conflict may not be complete without mentioning Marxist theory of rebellion. This theory hinges on the proposition that market crises could create revolts among the peasant and their masters (employers of labour) who exploit them (Hove and Harris 2019). This is a kind of class conflict because the poor youth working class is being exploited by the factory owners (employers of labour). The fact remains that prolonged exploitation may lead to revolution or violence.

Some scholars seem to agree that youth groups of people fight together because they perceive themselves as being members of a common culture, ethnic or religious group. And they may be in conflict with others to preserve their cultural identity (Tamai 2017).

6. Critical review

Reviewing the general literature about indigenous African interventions in youth peacebuilding reveals a lack of research about the active role of youths in peacebuilding processes – with a dearth of empirical results. However, a large body of empirical evidence reveals psychological impacts of war and violence on youth in terms of, among others, anxiety, depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), aggression and hostility (Betancourt, Borisova and Rubin-Smith 2008). Supporting this, Betancourt et al. (2013) acknowledge that people exposed to armed conflicts experience social and psychological challenges long after the conflicts are over. These challenges occur during and after conflicts, also appearing during peacebuilding. Given that Africa has a rich indigenous knowledge reservoir, this knowledge needs to be used in providing psychosocial interventions for healing and restoration of resiliency among youth affected by armed conflict in Africa. The chances and capacities of indigenous methods in peacebuilding are yet to be explored in many different conflict settings.

The attempts to conceptualise indigenous African interventions in youth conflict resolutions clearly lack empirical evidence as researchers’ ideas about youth peacebuilding are based on a very limited number of peace programs. Also, international research shows a regional bias: the reviewed literature does not focus on indigenous interventions in Africa. It is questionable if such research can be applied to other contexts, such as the ethno- political conflict in Africa. Another main weakness is that the literature mostly ignores programs in which youth re integrated and act together with adults or elders. The researchers mostly assess peace programs in which youth are the only actors (e.g. youth organisations, youth clubs). They therefore neglect the question of how young people can be involved in adult-led peace programs, in which they work side by side with adults and elders.

Use of indigenous mechanisms to prevent and resolve conflicts have a long history in societies the world over (Alemie and Mandefro 2018; Spitzer and Twikirize 2019). Mechanisms for indigenous African conflict resolution have a place in today’s conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts on the continent. Ajayi and Buhari (2014:153) state that ‘each people, race, or identity group have their own ways of doing things especially as they concern conflict resolution.’ Indigenous mechanisms for conflict resolution, peacebuilding and psychosocial support mechanisms are grounded in the cultural norms and values of the various ethnic groups in Africa (Alemie and Mandefro 2018).

When colonialists came to Africa they adulterated and, in some cases, wiped out the traditional African methods of conflict resolution (Forti and Maina 2012; Spitzer and Twikirize 2019). This suggests that there is need to revitalise the application of indigenous African interventions for conflict resolution, peacebuilding and psychosocial support for youth involved in and affected by armed conflicts on the continent. In this article, it is argued that the youth, though the majority in Africa, are not fully aware of their local indigenous knowledge. In addition, the youth have been influenced by modern conflict resolution, peacebuilding and psychosocial therapy strategies. This has alienated them from the indigenous African interventions which are in line with our cultures.

7. Lessons, recommendations and conclusion

7.1 Lessons

Our indigenous African interventions of conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration have been marginalised. The marginalisation is due to the importation of Western-based mechanisms which have not been successful on the continent.

Youth are not aware of indigenous African peacebuilding interventions and this calls upon a rethink of how they can be educated on these interventions.

Peacebuilding is key in the attainment of sustainable development and peace world over and in Africa in particular as it is widely prone to wars and armed conflicts.

African societies have rich approaches to conflict resolution and peacebuilding such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration and adjudication. All these approaches are people-centred and in sync with modern peacebuilding methods. Therefore, they should be integrated within our African conflict resolution and peacebuilding approaches.

In formulating and implementing, indigenous African interventions for peacebuilding and healing for those involved and affected by armed conflicts, we must appreciate that there are cultural differences. Therefore, these interventions cannot be applied across the entire continent of Africa, but rather we must consider interventions tailored to various countries and communities within each African state.

Youth are a majority in our population in Africa. Africa cannot ignore them in peacebuilding, healing and restoration efforts. Youth are considered as victims and witnesses to conflicts, perpetrators, triggers, spoilers and menders in peacebuilding processes. It is high time we rethink, after long- term exclusion, their place in our societies.

As we endeavour to resolve conflicts on the African continent and seek to attain peace, we must strive to heal and restore those involved in and affected by armed conflicts. As Africans we must not wait for the West to prescribe solutions to our own conflict situations. We must be proactive in promoting and using our own cultural practices towards peacebuilding, healing and restoration. These must work alongside the Western approaches to peacebuilding.

7.2 Recommendations

As a way forward, this article proposes and discusses several recommendations towards youth integration in our indigenous African interventions for conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration.

Research on indigenous African interventions for conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration should be enhanced. Once research on these indigenous interventions is effected, then the findings should be disseminated – using approaches that befit our African circumstances where the majority are illiterate, economically deprived, and reside in rural areas From the research, the documentation should highlight the positive attributes of our indigenous African knowledge for conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration. The research should identify those persons who can best engage as peace-builders. Therefore, through research, Africans must endeavour to formulate their own home-grown solutions anchored in indigenous African interventions. For success, it is imperative that a bottom-up approach involve the class of people considered disadvantaged. The implication of this first recommendation is that we must have a research agenda geared toward indigenous African knowledge systems.

This article recommends that the youth be given opportunities in peacebuilding as a means of achieving a sustainable resolution to the unending conflicts. Strategies should be formulated to economically empower the youth by providing employment opportunities. Without economic empowerment and independence, youth in Africa will continue to be exploited and easily recruited into armed groups.

This researcher recommends a re-evaluation of the potential contribution of indigenous African mechanisms to conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration. African mechanisms should incorporate indigenous knowledge into its formal and informal educational curricula. Building on the foregoing information, there is also an urgent need to address and discard African cultural practices, such as cattle rustling that perpetuate armed conflicts. There is a great urgency to implement innovative indigenous knowledge mechanisms for the present and future generations. Indeed, documentation of the indigenous oral knowledge is a must. Efforts should be made towards creating youth awareness of conflict and peacebuilding mechanisms. Further, there is need to use cultural diversity as Africans to resolve conflicts, build peace, heal and restore those involved in and affected by armed conflicts. Education must motivate the desire and tolerance necessary to accommodate African cultural diversity. Besides the formal education in schools, colleges and universities, there is a need to conduct workshops that focus on processes of empowering local groups in managing conflict. 

In this regard, integration of indigenous African interventions to conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration within the formal police, legal and justice systems[9] as well as psychosocial support systems should be given priority. This suggests operating a hybrid system. This calls for training elders on modern judicial systems and human rights as well as psychosocial therapies so that they can incorporate them in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration. It also involves training the police, formal legal and justice practitioners on traditional interventions for conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing, restoration as well as psychosocial work.

As we endeavour to implement the foregoing proposals, we should adopt a holistic approach to conflict resolution, peacebuilding, healing and restoration involving concerted efforts by state and non-state actors in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth-focused conflict resolution and peacebuilding programs. The external actors to peacebuilding in Africa should acknowledge the significance of the indigenous conflict resolution, healing and restoration interventions by incorporating them in the interventions.

Peacebuilding policies and conflict resolution must be sensitive to local and regional conflict dynamics, particularly when intervention measures and strategies are designed and implemented. Meaningful conflict transformation requires ‘bottom-up’ approaches that give prominence to traditional peacebuilding processes. Cultural resources and spaces such as the arts, sports, education, literature, shrines, and creative technological evolutions work directly to change relationships and alter negative stereotypes, beliefs, and attitudes. Indigenous communities are best placed to identify conflict causes, risks and potential solutions, and to provide feedback on the impact of peacebuilding interventions on conflict dynamics. The development of policy on conflict intervention strategies should therefore be informed by community grassroots-level consultations. Indigenous communities must be involved in both the drafting and implementation of these intervention strategies. Failure to do so implies that intervention strategies risk aggravating tensions and increasing the prospect of violent conflict.

7.3 Conclusion

This article demonstrates the relevance of and need to revitalise indigenous African interventions for conflict resolution, peacebuilding, psychological healing and social restoration among the youth affected by armed conflict. We need to have a hybrid intervention approach integrating both indigenous African and Western- style mechanisms for peacebuilding and healing for the youth affected. Interventions targeting youth on the continent should be practical, home-grown and conceptualised in ways that will fit into our indigenous African knowledge systems and culture. Africa should decide what works for it and strike a balance between our traditional peace- building, healing and restoration mechanisms and modern-age interventions from the West. As a people we need to understand and overturn popular framing of youth as perpetrators, triggers of conflict and spoilers to peace to reconstruct them as peace-builders without whom we cannot have peace. The youth need to be educated, mentored and involved in using indigenous African knowledge systems which do offer peacebuilding through negotiation, mediation, arbitration and adjudication.


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[1] Denotes youth as spoilers to peace and peacebuilding.

[2] Represents youth as menders in the peacebuilding process.

[3]      Used synonymously with local and traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution and peacebuilding as well as indigenous conflict management and resolution mechanisms.

[4] This article uses youth and young people synonymously.

[5]  Some of the violent extremist groups include Al-Shabaab based in Somalia and Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

[6]      Gacaca refers to ‘an informal conflict settlement arrangement at the grassroots level in Rwanda’ (Spitzer and Twikirize 2019:257).

[7]      Mato Oput denotes ‘a conflict resolution and reconciliation ritual among the ethnic group of the Acholi in Northern Uganda’ (Spitzer and Twikirize 2019:257). Mato Oputin Acholi vernacular means ‘drinking the herb of the Oput tree’.

[8]      One of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria.

[9]      For instance, the Constitution of Kenya (Kenya Law Reports 2010) in Article 67(2) provides for use of traditional mechanisms in land conflicts. Arbitration Act, Cap.49 and Civil Procedure Act, Laws of Kenya have provisions dealing with both mediation and arbitration.


Isabella Osiemo
Professional in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and a Certified Professional Mediator with the High Court of Kenya
Florence Maranga
PHD student at Kisii University
Ruthie Chepkoech Rono
Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and Professor of Psychology at USIU-A