YouthCAN, Kigali

“If you could have any superhero powers, what would you choose?” Rarely, if ever, is the answer peace. Except for a select few organisations, peace almost appears to not be a goal in itself but rather a by-product of other processes.

The great thing about the potential of culture is also the very same thing that makes it dangerous. This is culture’s potential and ability to form society’s opinions about individual and group; conduct, beliefs and their underlying notions. As a cultural organisation the Newcastle Creative Network works with this potential of culture to formulate and perpetuate ideas and counter destructive normative ideas around difference. In harnessing the power of culture and its function in societal cohesion, we now realise the potential that cultural engagement has to prevent certain forms of violence from occurring, rather than reacting to the symptoms of violence after they have manifested themselves.

Two members of the Newcastle Creative Network attended the first Commonwealth YouthCAN innovation lab in Kigali, Rwanda, organised by the UK based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat, hosted from February 11-13th. The event brought together over 35 changemakers from around the region. YouthCAN, founded in June 2015 at the Youth CVE Summit in Oslo, Norway, is a global network that exists to ensure civil society efforts in countering violent extremism are the best they can be. The network now has well over 300 active members worldwide. The Commonwealth YouthCAN lab in Kigali, brought together youth-activists, creatives, athletes and social media representatives for counter-narrative training and content creation to push back against hate, extremism, and violence. This was the first of many labs being planned in 2016 for YouthCAN in Europe and the Commonwealth.

Since our return from Kigali we have been really reflecting on the potential, capacity, and the efficacy of our strategies and projects in combating and tackling youth engagement in the context and reach of the Newcastle Creative Network.

We were very excited that this meeting brought together youth advocates involved in aspects of civil society and peace building initiatives from many other African countries. We look forward to working together via the connections we have made through this network.

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We are extremely optimistic and excited to continue to work with the activists we met in Kigali and to be part of this network; this will come through in the kind of projects and people who work within the YouthCAN network. Countering and breaking down normative messages that encourage and spread violence will invariably minimise the destructive impact of violence on a given community.

We all have the same values and no human being is insignificant whether based on race or ethnicity. Violent disruption of entire communities based on ethno-nationalism as happened in the Rwanda Genocide offers valuable lessons to humanity. Post apartheid South Africa should draw valuable lessons from that unfortunate incident. As the ongoing student protests across the country attest, we need to ascribe one value for all human life and exploitative, unjust institutional models need to be challenged.