Victor Ochen waves flags for SGD 16: Peace

A Prominent Youth Leader Calls for Calm as Xenophobic Tensions Rise in Africa

Ed note. In recent weeks there have been a wave of attacks in South Africa targeting foreign populations, including Nigerians living in South Africa. Youth groups are major drivers of this violence, but they can also be part of the solution says Ugandan youth leader Victor Ochen. In 2015, Ochen became the youngest African ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to empower youth as agents of peace and stability.  In this open letter, he calls for youth leaders across Africa to embrace non-violence. 

The last few weeks there have been reports of anti-immigrant marches and attacks on nationals of African countries in South Africa, with Nigerians specifically targeted. Amidst all this tension, there have been reported lootings and destructions of foreign owned properties. Some have called for retaliation on South African businesses and nationals in Nigeria.

We acknowledge and identify with the frustrations of young people across Africa. The indignity of unemployment, refugee and asylum situations, structural inequality, inherited grievances, cycles of violence, and poverty puts a heavy burden on our young generation.

The feeling of being excluded or targeted – more often than not – results in violent reprisals. Yet some youth choose to exercise a higher level of restraint and look for alternative non-violent methods to address their frustrations.

The use of violence by young people in pursuit of their needs will only foster mistrust, become a destabilizing force and create avenues for radicalization. It will provide a route to instability that will tear-apart our African identity, unity, and prosperity.

We appeal to the youth across the continent and globally to re-direct our energies toward protecting Africa’s future. We can extinguish the flames of bitter identity-conflicts. Most of Africans migrate within the African borders. Most African countries are welcoming to Africans and recognize our shared identity and history. Perhaps you are going through unpleasant experiences? But resorting to using migrants as scapegoats, xenophobia, racism, and tribalism have no justification.

The fact that this is an era of people on the move, and many young people will leave their homes to go elsewhere, and this might exert new pressures but we should not lose our humanity. History and our current realities show what hate and violence can bring, just like our shared experiences show what we have achieved when we worked together.

We must unite as African Youth and call on all African governments, regional bodies, and the United Nations to implement early response to the growing concerns and voices of discontent across the continent. Africa is the youngest continent on the planet and we must have the right policies in place to manage expectations and not ignore the early signs of strife. With alarming famine, ever-growing refugee crises and unemployment, many young people will move across borders in search for safety.

After years of African Youth Initiative Network’s (AYINET) engaging young people around the continent, we find that their dreams, concerns and challenges are the same. They want leadership that understands and responds to their needs. Peacebuilding and stability is a job for all of us and at such times steadfast leadership is much needed.

Together we chant unity and wave the banner for peace and justice in Africa.


Victor Ochen is the Executive Director of African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), a Global Advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Gender, Forced Displacement and Protection and 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.