My name is Hafsa Ahmed, born and bred in an area of Nairobi, Kenya known as Eastleigh. Eastleigh is a place that made me who I am today. Predominantly inhabited by both Kenyan Somalis and immigrants from Somalia, it has been baptized "Little Mogadishu”. The streets are adorned with skyscrapers, and in front of the malls, you will find colourful umbrellas with street vendors selling their wares.
It’s also an area with high levels of poverty and crime. It was here that I developed a passion for community service in particular peacebuilding in communities often prone to conflicts and violence. I have been an Life & Peace Institute (LPI) moderator using the Sustained Dialogue approach in my community - a methodology to promote long-term changes in attitudes and raise the level of tolerance in societies. for past two years and it has been a journey full of adventure exploring life.
This has been a year of many firsts for me but one I cannot forget is on 2nd October, 2019 I had a rare opportunity to address the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in a session organized by South Africa to discuss the African Union (AU) flagship project- ‘Silencing The Guns In Africa by 2020’ - and the role of young people in achieving this goal. It was a unique opportunity for me to share my perspective and experience with a global audience. Peacebuilding in Eastleigh is both simple and complex, and extremely effective in building bridges between young people from different backgrounds, as well as between the broader community and state actors. Through dialogue, we are able to overcome our stereotypes of one another and use non-violent approaches to reduce or prevent urban violence. We have been able to reinforce that youth are not the problem but part of the solution and can play a constructive role in the community, when empowered to join hands in building safer cities. And this was the message I wanted to share to the UNSC.
I could not contain my emotions when the LPI contacted me and made me aware of the possibility that I will be briefing the UNSC. Initially I was confused and had a rush of questions- “what was expected of me? What should I say?” I rushed to do some research to understand the mandate of UNSC and the AU’s Silencing the Guns initiative, and then met with Hannah- LPI’s Director of Global Policy- to start the process of drafting my remarks.
On the D-day I wore my Sunday best, and went to the LPI office earlier to rehearse and prepare for the briefing session. I cannot express my appreciation with words for the support that I got from for both Hannah and Jody- LPI’s Director of Programs. They made me very comfortable and feel valued.
Bless up! Around 3pm we left the office to head to the UN Office in Nairobi where I was to virtually brief the council. During my rehearsal, Hannah asked me the genre of music that I liked and I said reggae, she asked my favorite reggae song and I replied ‘three little birds’ by Bob Marley. When we were about to start the briefing, Hannah surprised me by playing my favorite song, I started singing along moving and that instantly increased my dopamine which made me euphoric - I felt like I could do anything! It was priceless for me!
The session was opened by the Ambassador of South Africa. Two other briefers – Ms Bience Gawanas, the Special Advisor of the Secretary General on Africa and Ms Aya Chebbi, the AU’s Youth Envoy- delivered their speeches and then it was my moment! I introduced myself and shared a brief story of my background, what lead me to be a peacebuilder, my role as an LPI Sustainable Dialogue moderator and how Sustainable Dialogue impacted our community. I ended off with giving three recommendation that, if implemented, will make Silencing the Guns by 2020 a reality. Allow me to share it with you:
To the UN:
1. Create opportunity for more and diverse young people to engage in high-level UN processes involving key decision- makers including the UNSC. Having young people as the experts here is a testament to how the Council is living up to the intention of UN Security Council Resolution 2419 to have youth representatives to brief during these sessions. Having said that, I’d like to urge the Council (and the UN system in general) to explore innovative ways of engaging with young people. I welcome a visit of the Council to Eastleigh for you to see first-hand the work of many young people who are not a threat nor a problem but part of the solutions that you are seeking in this Council.
To the AU:
2. Given that the AU flagship projects are also at the centre of today’s debate, I’d like to urge the AU to continue to strengthen its recent efforts on the Youth4Peace Program. We are encouraged by the continental leadership on this agenda, but the outreach must be intensified so that more young people across Africa can be engaged-including youth who are most marginalized from these policy conversations, yet in most need of knowing and employing this agenda, I also see critical role for the AU in supporting member states to integrate the youth, peace and security agenda in national youth policies and development plans and creating spaces for member states and diverse young people to jointly exchange on best practices foe how to best operationalize the UN Security Council Resolution 2250 In a way that truly has the potential to reach places like Eastleigh.
To the member states:
3. I’d like to urge to develop a proactive, forward-looking, youth policies that catalyse young people’s positive leadership for peace rather than seeking to contain them. We, the young people, can contribute to positive change in our communities and many of us already are. Recognize this and provide us the space to define and shape the agenda, and then work with us to implement the policies in ways that build trust between government, security actors and the young people that you are meant to serve and protect.
After my briefing, I shared the news on Twitter and I received countless appreciations from other youth who felt I spoke on their behalf diligently. I also received accolades from my Member of Parliament -HON. Yusuf Hassan-, other organizations and the Ambassador of South Africa to the United Nations.
My story was shared on a community owned blog and it expanded my network. I was invited for different community and regional forums on youth peace and security. Later that month, I am attending a dinner gala at the Swedish Ambassador’s residence on Youth Peace and Security and women peacebuilders in Kenya.
In life every new experience comes with its lessons. Through the experience of briefing the UNSC and sharing it with my friends, I became very cognizant of the fact that many youth are not well versed with these global institutions and processes, or don’t see how it relates or affects them. I realized through this though that these global institutions do offer a unique platform to share messages and generate attention. Because of this, I now intend to reach out to my community to organize forums for youth to learn about the global policy process and actors involved, and how these processes can have an impact on the day to day life of the youth and the community.
Life is a journey. We don’t know where it will take us but one thing I am certain of is that I am destined for a blissful journey where I will touch lives and leave this planet better than I found it.