Remarks at a UN Security Council Debate on Peace and Security in Africa: Mobilizing the Youth Towards Silencing the Guns

Ambassador Kelly Craft
Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 2, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President. The turmoils of Africa are – or should be – the distress of the world. It is, thus, very right that this chamber considers and seeks to act on the most heart-breaking elements of these turmoils – the conspicuous entrapment, for it is nothing less than that, of its young people into the conflicts and violence of that continent.

Here at the United Nations, our countries are separated by geography, and distinguished by our various cultures, but we share a fundamental and inescapable commonality. We love, with the greatest love, our children.

So, it comes very home to me that when this council considers the plight of so many children in Africa, and through this campaign of “Silencing the Guns” seeks a much hoped for harvest of a better future for them, that I think, on a personal level, of my own grandchildren. My mind, right now, is filled with the thoughts of them. They may be at home, at soccer practice, or in their classrooms, both of them dreaming, and working towards, their futures.

Those thoughts brighten me. At the same time, I am saddened that it is not the same for every child in every country of the world. I am saddened that conflict and poverty leaves so many children open to spectacles of violence, and worse – that they are drawn into violence or conflict, even in some cases forcibly conscripted.

And so, it is that reflecting on the universal emotions that all parents share I bring to this particular campaign a real sense of urgency. The discussions on youth and violence are not abstract; they are not some airy policy. They strike to the very root of our humanity.

The United States lauds African efforts to reduce conflict through Agenda 2063 and the “Silencing the Guns” initiative for the betterment of Africa’s youth. Far too often, we discuss peace and security in Africa as a set of challenges, when what we really need to do is view this as an opportunity.

Why is that? It’s because 60 percent of Africa’s population – 750 million people – are under the age of 25, with a median age of just 20. Africa is brimming with potential – future leaders, artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. We – all of us – just need to find ways to unlock that potential.

Of course, African governments and regional bodies play a key role in achieving this goal. Nations can improve security by adhering to sanctions regimes that support peace and stability in the Central African Republic, the DRC, and South Sudan. We urge all UN Member States, and particularly the countries in the region, to uphold Resolutions 2454 and 2471. Preventing the illicit flow of weapons and restricting the travel of sanctioned individuals will promote long-term security.

African nations should always look for ways to include the voices of young people as they build their futures. Unfortunately, some leaders have demonstrated little willingness to do so. In recent years, South Sudan’s leaders have pursued policies that benefit a political elite rather than create the conditions in which young people can flourish.

The United States hopes a fragile peace agreement might improve conditions for South Sudan’s youth, encouraging them to exchange weapons for the tools that will help them build a safer and more prosperous country.

Regional and sub-regional organizations can act on their responsibility to aid young people by urging Africa’s leaders to consider their legacies. In turn, long-serving political leaders must respect constitutional limits on power, especially those that limit their terms in office.

Additionally, the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States should play a larger role in addressing the crisis in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. For years, the crisis has kept thousands of children out of school, and it threatens to spread across a region already beset by conflict. All parties ought to pay greater attention to this matter.

But the actions of governments and regional bodies aren’t enough. We must also develop the abilities and elevate the voices of Africa’s youth, which starts with moving beyond the flawed narrative that young people are only passive victims or active perpetrators in conflict areas.

In reality, young Africans like Aya, Hafsa and Victor, already play prominent roles standing up for their political rights, and for those of their fellow citizens.

I began my remarks by a reminder of our greatest commonality, one as old as time and deep as the human heart: the love for our children which feeds the hope for our children. I’m going to return to that. It is immoral to offer, and a blot on humanity not to intercept, an inheritance of violence.

What each person in this chamber feels for his or her own children should be a guide for what we attempt for the children of Africa. To protect and nurture a child is the most noble of all endeavors. It bypasses all our rivalries and all of our differences.

It is my country’s belief that when young people see a path to achieving personal dignity, when they sense or know they are needed – they find purpose. Purpose aligned with a sense of dignity, both lead to abandonment of violence, and the chance for success. Dignity banishes despair. Despair drives or seduces them to violence and its instruments. All before their lives have ever really begun.

I believe that every single child rescued from this hard world is a great achievement. To rescue many, if we work honestly and vigorously towards the goal of “Silencing the Guns,” will bring moral honor to this Assembly.

The United States already invests in the infrastructure of Africa and offers aid, however, there is ultimate infrastructure, a primary infrastructure—the children of Africa. If we reach to them and speak to them and point them to a star of hope and dignity, it will surpass any other contribution we may make.

In truth, this is what this Council is really here to do: invest in futures. Not to help a child is a matter of tears and shame.

Fellow Council members, Africa’s youth have a leading role to play in achieving the goals of Agenda 2063 – let all of us invest in the coolest generation, so that they might one day see a world in which the last gun has been silenced.

Thank you.