By Mohamed Ahmed Afrah
For More than a quarter of a century the state of Somalia is experiencing a protracted conflict, this prolonged conflict which lasted for a generation now has negatively impacted all groups in Somalia’s population but one group’s impact stands above all with the exception of women and children, that group is Somali youth. The population of Somali youth is estimated at 70% of the general population of Somalia, two-thirds of them were born after the overthrow of Siad Barre government in 1991. This period marked the downward spiral, disintegration and collapse of the state of Somalia.
The current generation of Somali youth have been dubbed as the “forgotten generation”, this largely because this the first generation since independence that is worse-off then their parents have been, especially in regard to opportunities like education and employment, the personal impact endured or experienced by Somali youth in the various phases and stages of Somalia’s prolonged conflict is enormous, to say the least, the conflict has rendered the youth in Somalia almost futureless.
Throughout Somalia’s history the youth until recently (since 1991) have always had positive contributions to society, one understated contribution by Somali youth to the state of Somalia was independence by a small but brave thirteen individuals in a group called SYL (SOMALI YOUTH LEAGUE), today the value and image of Somali youth has plummeted to the ground, once viewed as freedom fighters today they are viewed as a burden and negative force to society. This is largely due to their large number and energy being used by rogue political actors and radical groups like Al-Shabaab (an Arabic word that translates in English as the youth) to destabilize Somalia, partaking these undesirable and destructive activities is not by choice but too many forgotten Somali youth it has unfortunately become a necessity.
State of hopelessness
Hope and optimism among Somali youth is a rare novelty, this is due to the fact that majority of Somali youth in their lifetime have only know about violence, poverty instability and insecurity, this negative experience has rendered the Somali youth totally hopeless, adding more to their misery is the multitude of the challenges that confront them today.
Unemployment and underemployment is part of life too much of Somalia’s youth. This is largely due to a lack of viable employment opportunities in the country. The booming private sector currently does not exist in Somalia which would at least cover the employment opportunities needed by our youth today and public sector employment opportunities are also inadequate too and to make matters worse employment in public sector largely depends on nepotism and tribalism rather than on merit.
The unemployment rate for Somali youth aged between 14 to 29 is at 67 percent, one the highest rates in the world according to UNDP. This miserable situation facing our youth today has been exploited by rogue actors like Al-Shabaab by using the youth as destructive agents. Furthermore, unemployment provides a fertile ground and makes this possible. Through propaganda and financial inducement, radical groups like Al Shabab have courted the Somali youth to take part in their devilish activities.
Somalia is among one of the poorest countries in the world, economic growth and development were almost nonexistent in the past quarter of a century due to prolonged conflict. This situation has brought about extreme poverty in which majority of Somali youth have been accustomed to in their lifetime. Poverty has forced many of our youths to take part in some undesirable activities like terrorism which has brought about painful experiences like the 14th October tragedy and it has also forced others to risk their lives in the Mediterranean sea.
Majority of Somali youth today want to leave the country for reasons mentioned above but basically to look for greener pastures. Be it employment opportunity or running away from poverty, some youth want to leave the country for a noble cause like attaining education since the quality of education in Somalia is poor, especially higher education. However, the rate at which the youth want to leave the country is alarming, current estimates are that out of the 70 percent of Somali youth – 60 percent of them have intentions to exit the country without any hesitation denying the country their energy and brains which it so desperately needs currently. Today Somalia is recovering from decades of political instability and strife, the recovery and rebuilding process requires the energy of our youth without them the process would almost be impossible.
Grim future ahead
The general picture which currently Somalia displays is one that shows recovery. In some cases progress such as development – for the first time in decades the government of Somalia is able to initiate projects, for instance, the new aviation control station in Mogadishu which saw Somalia gain back the control of its air traffic after decades of under foreign control. The return of relative normalcy has also encouraged many Somalis in the diaspora to return to their homeland and invest in it, but the recovery is unfortunately not fast based rather it’s low based.
The multitude of challenges confronting our youth today such as unemployment and poverty have been relegated to secondary issues by the Somali political establishment which rather focuses on instigating political conflicts. Resolving them as a primary issue because its profitable situation in which they stand to gain a lot from (money) and helping the needy Somali youth is an unattractive situation, hence the political establishment of Somalia abandoning their basic responsibility which is to cater the needs of their population.
Challenges such as youth unemployment seem to be a universal problem in the continent of Africa because a majority of the population are youth. There are however, other African countries are attempting to solve this menacing problem, in Kenya the National Youth Service – a government agency works to alleviate youth unemployment in both formal and informal sectors by providing the necessary skills needed for employment. The government of Somalia is not yet able to make any attempt at solving youth unemployment. Oftentimes their effort is limited to rhetoric only, although to be fair the Somali government currently lacks the resources to provide such services to their impoverished youth but any kind of attempt would go long way. The current situation in Somalia seems to project bleak or grim future to our already futureless youth
The government of Somalia must garner the necessary political will needed to address the multitude of challenges plaguing its youth today. By making primary the needs of the youth such as employment, it automatically solves problems that are almost existential threat in nature like Al-Shabaab whose existence has largely been dependent on the miserable situations which face the youth in Somalia today such as unemployment.
The current political setting in Somalia is based on tribalism, the youth seem to be underrepresented and their voice lost in the crowd. The political establishment must find in their wisdom to incorporate the youth in politics such that their voices can be heard and problems addressed. The youth today are less inclined to clan than the members of Somalia’s political establishment who are hell-bent on maintaining the status quo. The inclusion of youth in Somalia’s politics will inject new ideas that can drastically transform the beleaguered nation.
The youth can gain back their standing in the society and future in Somalia with the help of their government which has to only provide hope and that would be a motivating factor that awakens the sleeping spirits of the youth in Somalia. However, if the government is unable or unwilling to provide direction (politically or economically) then the onus is on the youth to realize that they are the bed rock or the backbone of their society and that should be a motivating factor which encourages them to better their country.
MOHAMED AHMED AFRAH