A VOICE FOR PEACE, A SHINING STAR FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IN NORTHERN TOGO
By: Atiewin Mbillah-Lawson
Weeks after Togo recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020, Azizi Sedou noticed a deterioration in the relationship between youth and authorities in and around Cinkassé town in Togo’s Savanes region.
“There was tension because the civilians did not understand why they had to close down their businesses or stay indoors,” he recalls.
Preventive measures to curb the spread of the virus—including the banning of mass gatherings, the closing of markets and businesses, and border closures—had started to take a toll on the economic and social well-being of the population as attempts to resist or enforce these orders often resulted in violent confrontations between security agencies and youth.
The frequent clashes concerned Azizi—he was often called on to intervene on behalf of the youth to resolve these conflicts and saw first-hand how the situation negatively affected social cohesion.
“Everyone was afraid that the situation would escalate,” he admitted.
Since his return to Cinkassé after graduating with a degree in human resource management from the university in Lomé, Azizi had become a respected youth leader in his community. In addition to his activism to calm tensions between youth and authorities, he was also an advocate for the inclusion of and non-discrimination against persons living with disabilities. As a child, Aziz survived polio, but left him unable to use his legs. However, this did not stop him from pursuing his dreams of providing others with disabilities the same opportunities he was given.
“I noticed that people with disabilities were discriminated against, and so as one of the few disabled university graduates, I wanted to change that narrative,” Aziz notes.
Azizi’s activism secured him a spot as one of 120 youth representatives to receive training on preventing violent extremism, peacebuilding, social cohesion, and early warning, a USAID/OTI initiative facilitated by Timbuktu Institute and organized by Togo’s National Youth Council.
After the first training, Azizi was again selected, alongside 19 other promising youth leaders, to participate in an advanced advocacy and conflict-sensitive communication session. “After the training is when I became a spokesperson for the youth, irrespective of their abilities, I understood what was meant by violent extremism, how the ongoing conflicts made our community vulnerable, and how to prevent violent extremism,” explains Azizi, who now goes from house to house to sensitize his peers and his community about the need for social cohesion, early warning and preventing violent extremism.
Azizi and his peers from the training have engaged more than 1,000 men, women, and youth across Togo’s Savanes Region and continue to reach more residents. As a result of these engagements, there has been an improvement in the relationship between the authorities and youth, observed by greater collaboration between both parties for information sharing and providing security updates.
“My dream is of Cinkassé where everyone is at peace, where there is this social cohesion, there are no prejudices based on ethnicities, social standing or disability,” Azizi concludes.