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Living together in peace by empowering youth in digital peacebuilding  

International Day of Living Together in Peace reminds us that conflict has an impact on people of all cultures, genders and generations. Canada and its international partners know that building sustainable peace starts by promoting diversity and empowering youth, as they are powerful contributors to change. Yet in this digital age, online misinformation, disinformation and hate speech contribute to increasingly complex peace and security challenges.

Promising start for youth digital peacebuilding activities in Ethiopia’s Afar, Somali and Oromia regions

In recent years, the number of people in Ethiopia accessing the Internet and using social media platforms as sources of information has increased significantly. Youth in urban areas are the prime users of online social media for sharing information. Yet misinformation, disinformation and hate speech on social media platforms have been identified as factors in multiple conflicts occurring in Ethiopia. Low levels of media and digital literacy among youth aid the spread of disinformation and misinformation which can easily aggravate conflict and instability.

In January and February 2023, Ethiopian youth participated in digital peacebuilding training sessions led by Mercy Corps’ Gender Equality and Conflict-Sensitive Approaches to Peacebuilding (GCAP) project. The training aimed to empower youth by giving them the tools to detect fake news and address social media drivers of conflict.

The GCAP team, together with its local digital peacebuilding partner Tikvah Ethiopia [hope of Ethiopia], provided a 4-day training of trainers on gender-sensitive digital peacebuilding in Semera, Afar Region. Participants included 16 members of youth peace groups (8 female and 8 male), who came from four woredas (districts). They were selected in coordination with government partners from the Peace and Security offices in the four woredas.

Goals of the training activities included:

Ripple effect for youth in community

At the end of the training, participants prepared an action plan to “cascade” (pass on) the training to more youths in their communities. The GCAP team in the Afar field office provided continuous technical, financial and logistical support and coaching during the training in close coordination with the regional and woreda Peace and Security office teams. Youth participants were also well equipped with a training manual developed by Mercy Corps in collaboration with Tikvah Ethiopia that had been translated into local languages.

A total of 80 youths from the four project woredas, with equal female and male representation, participated in the cascade training sessions.

Better equipped for countering dis- and misinformation

Weeks later, focus group discussions were conducted with two people from each woreda (4 females and 4 males) who had cascaded the training. They were selected based on their engagement in the cascade facilitation, activity on social media, positive leadership and facilitation skills.

In the discussion, all agreed that before the training they lacked the basic skills and knowledge required to responsibly use social media to mitigate harm and promote community cohesion and peacebuilding. They noted that the training enabled them to identify, and report dis- and misinformation and hate speech on various social media platforms before sharing and “liking” it. The participants also now understood ways social media can be used to foster peace and community cohesion. In addition, they reported the training helped them explore the impact of fake news, dis- and misinformation and hate speech in aggravating drivers of conflict and instability.

Peacebuilding cascade training participants from Chifra and Afambo woredas meet in Semera, Afar Region.

Award and recognition by Regional Peace and Security Bureau

To recognize the important efforts of these youth groups in raising awareness on gender-sensitive digital peacebuilding concepts, the Afar Regional Peace and Security Bureau awarded Samsung tablets and power banks to the focus group participants.

During the award ceremony, a representative from the Regional Peace and Security Bureau, explained that “in recent years the impact of digital platforms for peacebuilding, stability and community cohesion has significantly increased. Different groups and individuals may have their own interests in perpetrating misinformation, disinformation and hate speech on the digital platforms to meet their ambitions, and they usually target youths to spread their evil wishes. Therefore, digital literacy and capacity development on digital peacebuilding for youth in our region is one of the key areas that has not yet received adequate attention in peacebuilding, community cohesion and stabilization efforts. This is a new effort, and I want to thank the Mercy Corps GCAP team for all the good work and contributions for the regional peace, stability and community cohesion.”

Youth Peace and Gender Equality Champions awarded with tablets and power banks on the left and the Afar Region Peace and Security Bureau Deputy Head while making a closing speech for the participants.

Youth peace groups’ ambitions for a peaceful and inclusive future

All participants expressed great enthusiasm and willingness to bolster peacebuilding efforts and activities in their communities. Since the training, they have worked closely with the Peace and Security offices in their woredas to establish a network and positive relationship with the secondary school community to easily reach a greater number of people between 15 and 29 years of age in the secondary schools. Youth peace groups in Amibara Woreda have made remarkable progress and have even been given an office in one of the high schools.

In addition, participants of all genders mentioned that they supported and learned from each other, which displayed the value of inclusive discussions rather than those separated by gender.

Canada is proud to have supported the implementation of this project. By working with partners and investing in the leaders of tomorrow, we can build a more secure and peaceful world, one realized through inclusivity, integrity and reconciliation.

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