Interview: Seven questions to Christian Achaleke, young leader from Cameroon
Christian Achaleke is a young culture of peace specialist from Cameroon and former coordinator of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassador Network (CYPAN). In this interview, he shares his personal story, the importance and role of youth in the culture of peace, and what remains to be done to make it sustainable.
2. In your own opinion, what concrete activities can be carried out in order to consolidate peace on the African continent?
For activities to be carried out to harness a culture of peace in Africa I am suggesting firstly engaging young people and women in this process. With women and young people at the forefront of this process, then activities like research are very important towards informing context and background of conflict, and also to be able to capture perspectives. Capacity building in the form of workshops and trainings are also strategic. It is also important to work around developing resources and financing for initiatives, especially at community levels, and also opportunities to experience sharing and pollination of ideas. All these are very key things and ideas towards building peace in the African continent.
3. What made you decide to become a peace activist?
My decision to become a peace activist was actually influenced by my personal experience. I grew up in a community that was plagued by a lot of violence, and as a young person, it was a way of life. At some point, I came to realise that violence leads us to nowhere, because in the course of this I lost some friends and acquaintances, some of them being stabbed and others thrown into jail. That was how through volunteering in civil society, I found a different perspective at life, which was around peace and helping communities to become better, and I started early using theatre to preach these core values within my community. That is how I found myself into this work since 2007, and since then it’s been a life changing experience, with a lot of inspiration.
4. What is the role of young people in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism?
The role of young people in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism, is a growing conversation, but as a young person who has been in this space and has been leading other young people, designing and implementing initiatives, I will say that our role has really been underestimated, because sometimes I feel that communities, leaders, institutions give a blind eye to what we are doing. But all of this is quick changing with UN Security Council resolutions on youth , peace and security.
Our role is very important, because we are the ones who suffer the most in times of conflict, we are also the most victimised in times of war and every other difficult moment. The need for this same group that has been trapped or plagued by this violence to respond to is more relevant, because; I have seen that, what makes us strategic is that we speak to our peers. Most often in my work, when I go to prisons, speaking to other young people who have committed crimes, they relate with me and see the reasons to become better. So I think that the role of young people firstly, the peer to peer conversation is very transformative and the fact that the same challenges our peers went through before resulting to violence is the same ones we are living but have not used violence, so sometimes, we are able to show them that; there are better ways of responding to the challenges that you face, and that is what we have been doing.
This is what makes our role very strategic because we have the abilities to convince our peers and develop solutions to the drivers of this conflict, because we make majority of the population in our countries across the world, though it vis not just about the number, but that zeal, burning passion, and ability to do things the way things are supposed to be done, is one of the things that guarantees how strategic young people are in building peace.
5. How to involve young people more in peace processes?
I think the UN Security Council Resolution 2419, has come to give more hope to the involvement of young people in peace processes, of which I personally was part of the process of development and consultations.
The way in which we in Cameroon have been working on this has been firstly, trying to demystify the whole perspective around peace processes; where there has been a lot of mystification and exclusion of young people, so we in Cameroon started by mobilising other stakeholders like the UNESCO Regional Office in Cameroon, the British High Commission, the Government etc., to inform them of how strategic it is to involve young people in the peace process. This was very inspiring because they bought the idea and we are working all this while towards building capacity which is a key challenge in the conversation of the peace process. Giving them necessary skills to involve in mediation and other components in the peace process, at the same time; our advocacy is strengthened to ensure that they have a safe space to involve in this process, considering that mediation and peace process had been made to be something of the old people, especially men only, excluding women.
We also focus around research, which is to be able to bring evidence, to guarantee and inform people around the role of young people and the need to create more space for them. For example, we came out with a publication; Opportunities and challenges for youth participation in youth processes in Cameroon. We were able to go deep, as this publication has been able to guide other conversations.
Another key project that we been working on, is providing young people with the opportunity to engage in local community peacebuilding and peace process initiatives; giving them guidance, mentorship and support. That is how I have been personally involved in this process at multi- level to ensure that at the level of the community, it resonates.
6. "Cultural and heritage diversity of Africa and its diasporas: firebrand of conflicts or breeding ground for peace?" What does this theme inspire you?
I think that the theme of culture, diversity and heritage are words that are very important to me as a Cameroonian, firstly because I am currently living in a country where, we are currently faced by violence conflict, because of the fact that our culture, diversity and diaspora were not harnessed properly. I have been able to see how it has led to violence, so this theme will be very important for a country like ours; Cameroon and other countries across the continent, where we are losing our core cultural values, our inheritance, with modernism coming not to compliment, but is instead used by other people to wipe away our cultural values and heritage, which should serve as a unifying rather than a dividing factor.
So I feel that, managing culture, heritage, diversity and our diaspora community is very important for peace and it is something that we have been trying to practice for a long time.