Somali youth: An invisible and disinherited population?


Books not Guns“It is the youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow… that are the aftermath of war”. (Herbert Hoover).

By Farhia Ali Abdi

Somalilandsun – Somalilandsun – Children and youth in some developing countries as we know live in areas torn apart by wars. Somalia’s children and young adults are the prime examples of that. Somalia’s conflict started in 1991 as a result of the fall of the central regime.

Since then, the children of Somalia were subjected to abuse, neglect, poverty and lack of education.

These children were recruited and encouraged to participate in the conflict as child soldiers. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) article (2012), titled “No Place for Children”: Child Recruitment, Forced Marriage, and Attacks on Schools in Somalia,” provided details of unlawful recruitment and other laws-of-war that violated children’s rights and implicated all parties to the conflict in Somalia since 2010.

The mentioned report was based on interviews with Somali children in refugee camps, as well as parents and teachers who had fled to neighboring countries (HRW 2012).

The political instability as stated and conflicts leave young people especially the vulnerable to adopt violence. In Somalia, the effect of wars and trauma inflicted on people are rarely talked about in any meaningful way. The invisibility of wars effect on victims, lead to assumption those affected, especially youth are somehow safe regardless of their involvement in the war. With these perceptions, youth’s lives are in many ways more profoundly affected than any other social segment in the Somalia’s conflict. Consequently, their special needs and potential contributions are frequently overlooked or ignored in Somali society. It is, therefore a wise social investment for society to create conducive environment in Somalia in which confidence is built-in youth for a prospects of a better future of the country.

What next Somali youthAccording to the 2007 World Development report published by the World Bank, there are 1.4 billion people worldwide aged between 12 and 24-years—1.3 billion of whom live in developing countries (WDR 2007). The increase in the number of youth as discussed above shows that, most working young people lack basic education and employment opportunities. It was estimated by UNICEF’s 2010 report that 2,000 to 3,000 children, as young as nine years of age are being used by multiple armed groups across Somalia, and that some schools are being used as recruitment centres (UNICEF 2010). The involvement of young people in the Somalia’s conflict created a generation of high illiteracy, unemployment and lack of hope for a better sustainable future of the country.

In the past, youth were treated as integral part of society, and therefore expected to play a greater role in its future. Youth have contributed in the quest for Somalia’s freedom in 1960, through determination and endurance that earned the country’s independence. Since, 1940s, youth noticeable Somali Youth League (SYL) worked tirelessly, and devoted their time and lives to the concept of Somali unity that transcended clan considerations. Today however, youth are invisible not because of inability to excel, but because of their own current society’s lack of acknowledgement of youth’s contribution to the county’s history and vision. In Somalia, children are valued as they are considered an asset or perhaps insurance for family and the society at large. For instance, parents and grandparents do take care of their children and in return children take the role of caregivers for their parents and grandparents as there are no social services to support families.

Where do youth stand in Somalia today?

Somali nation has turned to a state of anarchy after the collapse of its last central regime. This subsequently led to starvation, drought, fragmentations of land, and failure of statehood. The state of normalcy we strive for today did not treat youth as the most productive segments of Somali society. In short, the youth had been excluded and marginalized socially, politicallFrom Child Soldier to Terroristy and economically at all levels. After almost 22 years of war, millions of lives were lost; fifteen peace-building conferences conducted, and the country failed sustainable stability. A recent UNDP (2012)-Human Development Indicator (HDI) report cited Somalia is among the lowest in the world; economically, employment perspective and gender equality. Somalia was ranked second bottom in the world to Afghanistan with poor gender inequality. The report further notes that young Somali women end up “greatly disadvantaged in all spheres of life, a reality that hinders their rights and development, and perpetuates intergenerational cycles of gender inequality and the feminization of poverty” (UNDP 2012). This is a double jeopardy for young Somali women on top of the shared general youth invisibility.

The report was based on surveys conducted in more than 3,000 households in South Central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland. The report reveals that although the majority of Somali youth believe they have a right to be educated (82%) and a right to decent work (72%); they feel disemboweled by multiple structural barriers built into government and society at large. The report also shows that Somalia has over 70% of its population under the age of thirty with majority unemployed (UNDP 2012). This is given when considering the country has been in an internal civil war for twenty-two years and lacked collaborative social and political resolution for years. However, there is a general believe that as long as young people see themselves excluded socially, politically or economically, they are more likely to engage in an alternate survival tactic, including war. Good example is the report’s indication that majority of Somali youth do want to leave the country for better future somewhere else.

In many instances, young people have played key roles in initiating change and reforms that speak to the society as a whole, not only to their generation. Somalia needs to support its youth, not only for the sake of better future and sustainable developments, but because the country owes the youth its own existence.

Somali society became very comfortable with the concept that Somali elderly men can foretell the future of the country and can make a sound judgment of what is good for the country. However, society seems to forget that the country’s future depends not only on its elderly, but its young alike. Somalia needs to harness the full potential of its youthfull boys and girls whom will be the country’s key to new vitality and hope. The country needs to encourage youth participation in community activities and be connected to their communities for better engagement and direction other than the war. Moreover, the common belief is that a child whose behavior and attitude relate to its community as young person adopts lifelong civic affiliations and perspectives. As a society that has a lot at stake in regards of its youth, Somalia can’t afford to neglect plans to accommodate youth and to partake of the future development and sustainability of the country.

How can society and government promote and include youth in policy development?

There is a potential danger when youth lack directions and hope as it was observed in the United Nations Secretary General’s 2001(Kofi Annan) report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict, which stated:

“Young people with limited education and few employment opportunities often provide fertile recruiting ground for parties to a conflict. Their lack of hope for the future can fuel disaffection with society and make them susceptible to the blandishments of those who advocate armed conflict”(UN, 2001)

In Somalia, the future moral, social, and political challenge, will be to see whether the country can mobilize the energy, creativity, and vision of youth in pursuit of peace and development successfully. Young people traditionally provide a groundswell for change. This could be realized whether in positive change or negatively in form of destructions as currently observed. Many youth do not see a connection between politics and their daily realities, but this does not mean that they are not interested in their futures. A process of building trust may be initiated when young population has increased access to the decision-making process. The access to decision-making process could be encouraged with better communication skills, dissemination of knowledge about their communities and effective leadership at the grass-root community-level.

I am positive that such activities empower youth to be more creative and flourish within the institutional framework of public and private sectors. For example, recent events, such as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the United States or the mass rallies of the Arab world, young people have been jolted into action to respond to their diminished opportunities and unfulfilled aspirations. The mentioned UNDP report also contains a Youth Charter, developed by youth representatives from Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia, with inputs from a wider group within Somalia and in the diaspora. The Somali youth gave their voice, which says, “We, the youth of Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia, acknowledge that we are the present and future of the nation… and are a strong force that can propel the country forward to improve overall human development, and address the challenges facing the Somali youth today”( UNDP 2012). They urged the government and society to build institutions and national coherent youth polities that are well-integrated in the national policies and programs. Thus, the question that the Somali society need to ask it selves is, what is being done to include youth in the national stage and process of building a viable future of Somalia.

The way forward:

This article suggests the following recommendation as a step forward to youth empowerment:

• Building and improving all levels of institutions to provide training and education for youth in Somalia. This is needed in our society, so that young people are educated more thoroughly and in ways that benefit them and the country’s social and economic development.

• The all levels of the federal, regional and local governments in Somalia are required to create good jobs and efficient mechanisms to connect people with those jobs. This will ensure that young are deeply integrated into the fabric of their society and share equitably in all its resources and in the benefits they confer.

• The governments need to communicate, and set up forums for listening to the concerns and ideas of youth to stimulate change. Somali youth should be offered a voice in decision-making bodies to see an equitable country for all its populations.

• There is a need for proper institutions that prepare families and communities for the return of their children, helping them to cope emotionally, and financial, and to respond to former child soldier’s needs, including protection from re-recruitment, and rehabilitation

• Finally, it is very important that institutions, policymakers, and society as a whole not to only listen but also respect to what young people are saying; and not to ignore the issues that are affecting their lives.

As a society, Somalis’ are compliant when they talk about youth, but are eager to ignore or reject the subject when it comes to action. Knowing youth’s unemployment is running up to twice the adult rate and hearing youth’s disappointment, there is a pressing issue that requires an immediate action. It is time to seize this opportunity to train youth more effectively and link them to workplace culture and educate to assume roles of an active citizen. The government in Somalia needs to have serious planning for youth and their future. It’s my hope that we as a society, will stand together to advocate, encourage our youth, and help the county’s governance to create coherent social policies as well as programs that cater for and are beneficial to all its citizens.