This issue is relevant for Puntland (northeastern Somalia), and Somalia at large. A survey conducted in 2014 has revealed the sheer proportion of youth in the country. The United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with the federal state found that 81% of the Somalis are under the age 35 years. That will represent over three quarter of the 12 million people in the country as of that year according to the study. The overall unemployment rate for this age bracket stands at over 67%. Although, there is no reliable census data as a result of the chaos that engulfed the country for the last 2 ½ decades, it is also estimated that barely 37% of the country’s population is literate. At face value, these figures might seem simple statistics but they can be deeply unsettling.
So, why does this have to matter to you, and the people in power? . Essentially, the fate of the state depends a great deal on the extent to which these social metrics receive a close attention, and become a priority policy agenda. The impact of such an important number of unemployed and largely illiterate youth on questions of peace and economic development can be dramatic and a long-term time bomb, that will come around sooner or later. As a matter of fact, it will be wishful to hope for peace to endure, without actively engaging with youth and offering them opportunities and participation in decision-making in an impartial manner and based on their merit.
To illustrate, here are three reasons why more youth in decision-making can foreshadow the much needed peace and economic development in the state.
For starters, the more immediate and incidental implication of this youth bulge is what it means for peace and national security. The manifestation of this particular phenomenon has been evident in Puntland and in Somalia as a whole in the recent past. Starting from the collapse of the state to mid-2000s, an important chunk of our youth have been succumbed to the service of the lords of war in their ignominious effort to carve up the country into the infamous green lines based on clan allegiance. For the subsequent 10 years, many more were further exploited and abused by armed groups and criminal cartels, from piracy to groups committed to ideological warfare and extra territorial loyalty. It has been an unfortunate situation where youth have been employed as pawns to advance the goals of the elite to access power and quench their selfish greed. Those that didn’t participate as warfighters were inevitably condemned to desperation, if they ever survived from brute violence, resorting to a deadly crossing of distant oceans in search of survival. According to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, the median age of the international Somali migrants in 2015 was 27 years, an age that stayed nearly stable for the last 15 years. The adverse role of youth in peace was highly consequential in this this period for the country, and we paid a high price that should undoubtedly be a lesson to inform peace-building initiatives in Somalia.
Second, Puntland depends largely on its active population for much needed political and economic development. In a country whose average life expectancy is 57 years, this above mentioned age bracket is where innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity should emanate from, if the conditions are right. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that, against all odds, a significant number of Somali youth have forged ahead to get higher studies in the last decade. Many schooled overseas and returned to participate in the efforts of healing the country’s problems and have a genuine concern to move it forward. They have sought to educate by opening private universities and schools and are eager to start up new businesses and enterprises. They also happen to be connected to a global society more than ever. The energy and enthusiasm is enormous in this youth as recently illustrated by the political engagement and social activism of Mohamed Abdirahman Jamac, Rooble Dahir and their like on various social forums in the state. In the light of that audacity to effect change, one cannot help but mention how the youth has turned the tables in the recent election in Mogadishu for good, and how genuinely that act reflected the hopes of the masses in the country. This potential of the youth is a timely opportunity that if seized well, and prioritized can have a sizeable contribution to the economic and social development of the state.
Lastly, the youth has arguably more stakes in what lies ahead comparative to the power-hungry elites that marked the political history of the country in the last decades. They have a sincere concern about their future and the place in which their children will grow up. Most of them have been brought up under the shadows of anarchy and have bitterly tasted the conditions that prevail when disorder and war ensues – and as a result, they learnt the wisdom of peaceful change within, not without. They know they can be both the force for good or for evil as required. In my personal experience, somali youth is less tribal contrary to the conventional wisdom and hardly carry any historical grievances based on clan affiliation. They tend more to be more unitary, more hopeful, and are likely to transcend petty interests and politics of particular identity groups, clans or political elites. In short, they want change.
In conclusion, it is widely recognized that youth participation in decision-making is crucial for not only guaranteeing national security and peace, but also developing states. UN Security Council has passed resolution 2250 in 2015 calling for this precise point, encouraging member states to ‘Increase Representation of Youth in Decision-Making at All Levels’. It is, therefore, a high time to take concrete and measurable policy actions to give youth a large representation in decision-making so that they can shape the future of the state and the country as a whole and realize the aspiration of the common people. This will require going beyond workshops and youth empowerment discourse, and consider them as the indispensable human capital of the country, without which we are doomed to repeat the past
Abdalla Hussein is an opinion writer based in Kenya.