Young people will be crucial to ensuring sustainable peace in Rwanda, say activists. Image credit: Kigali Wire

The celebration of International Peace Day in Rwanda created an important opportunity for peacebuilders to meet and collaborate
It is becoming a customary practice to observe International Peace Day in Rwanda and on 21 September, Rwandans joined the rest of the world to celebrate the day. The main celebration took place at the Rwandan parliament and was organised by many peacebuilding organisations under the lead of Never Again Rwanda as well as the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of the Rwandan government. 

The celebration of the International Peace Day in Rwanda creates an important opportunity for peacebuilders to meet and collaborate. Individuals, as well as community-based, national and international organisations share experiences, learn from one another, join efforts and undertake practical acts related to building peace in society. 

This year, people of all ages came together in a spirit of hope and unity. They related their shared desire for a sustainable and promising future and reaffirmed their commitment to working for peace in their homes, communities and country. Given Rwanda’s turbulent and violent history, International Peace Day takes on particular meaning: citizens understand the immense value of peace and remember what a lack of peace looks like. 

Building blocks for peace

Youth are a bridge connecting the present generation to the next
The United Nations theme for this year’s Peace Day celebrations focused on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, calling the goals ‘Building Blocks for Peace’. Inspired by this, Rwanda formulated its own focus for discussions and innovation: ‘Building Blocks for Peace: The role of youth in promoting peace and sustainable development’. The guiding question of discussions: why are youth so important in the journey towards sustainable peace and development? 

In any context, youth are understood as a bridge that connects the present generation to the next one. If we want to pass peace to the next generation, we inevitably have to consider the role and involvement of the youth. To ensure sustainability, we have to ensure that youth participate in and own the peacebuilding process. 

But in Rwanda, the role of youth is particularly important. Rwanda has a young population, with a median age of just 18.7 years. It is also a country that has seen the impact of a youth mobilised for violence. The pre-genocide period was marked by massive recruitment and training of youth for militias. During the genocide, young people carried out vigorous acts of destruction.

The International Peace Day celebrations created a space to review the role of youth in Rwanda’s genocide and to highlight that if youth are trained in peace rather than violence, they can perform wonderful acts for the well-being of the country.  

Youth Parliamentarians exchange

The Peace Day celebration also provided the chance to test partnerships between governmental agencies, non-state actors and the UN. These partnerships showed the effectiveness of collaboration at national and district levels.

At the national level, the day was marked by a Youth-Parliamentarians Exchange. This is a platform where young peacebuilders from different districts of Rwanda meet with politicians, peacebuilding experts and UN representatives. They discuss achievements, challenges and opportunities as well as strategies to promote sustainable peace in their communities. This year discussion focused on contemporary issues that undermine peacebuilding processes such as violent extremism and terrorism, human trafficking, corruption, homicide, gender-based violence, drug abuse and genocide ideologies. 

Based on this exchange, youth committed themselves to become peace ambassadors, fight genocide ideologies, resist terrorism and violent extremism and join efforts to combat drug abuse. The participants called for the introduction of conflict resolution, peace studies and critical thinking at all levels of the Rwandan education system. They also noted the importance of collaboration amongst peacebuilders and the involvement of youth in peacebuilding initiatives at community and national levels.

Grassroots celebrations

Peacebuilders in Rwanda need to build on the momentum of the Peace Day celebration
Celebrations were bolstered by community initiatives throughout Rwanda. CARSA (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance) organised peace festivals in different schools in  Muhanga and Kamonyi districts, Southern Province. People trained in CARSA’s peace education programme led prayers, songs and poetry readings. They also shared the impact of the education programme, holding dialogue on involving communities in nonviolent conflict resolution and giving speeches on engaging youth in their role in building sustainable peace and development.

Never Again Rwanda organised both an art exhibition and an interesting discussion panel where peacebuilders discussed how the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can be applied in Rwanda and Great Lakes Region. The discussions explored the role of civil society organisations in building peace in Rwanda, the major challenges faced by civil society organisations involved in peacebuilding field and what are mitigation strategies, and what can be done to ensure peacebuilding organisations are collaborating for widespread impact. 

During the discussions, it was reiterated that promoting peace education should be one of the key strategies of building sustainable peace. The panel put forward the idea that this education should start at the family level, ensuring ideas about peace and conflict resolution are taught at a young age. 

Building momentum

The partnerships established during this year’s celebration of International Peace Day may be seen as a preliminary step towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Peacebuilders in Rwanda need to build the momentum of the Peace Day celebration and develop and reinforce partnerships between those involved in peacebuilding and sustainable development.