For More than a quarter of a century, the state of Somalia is experiencing a protracted conflict that has negatively impacted 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 the 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 the "forgotten generation" because this is the first generation since independence that is worse-off than their parents have been in regard to opportunities like education and employment. Somalia's prolonged conflict has rendered the youth in Somalia almost futureless.
The youth until recently have always had positive contributions to society. One understated contribution by Somali youth to the state of Somalia was independence. 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 due to their large number and enrolment into radical groups like Al-Shabaab to destabilize Somalia.
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 known 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, such as unemployment and underemployment.
The booming private sector currently does not exist in Somalia. This would have created employment opportunities needed by our youth today. The public sector employment opportunities are inadequate. To make matters worse, employment in the public sector largely depends on nepotism and tribalism rather than on merit. The unemployment rate for Somali youth aged between 14 to 29 years is at 67 percent, one of the highest rates in the world according to UNDP. This miserable situation has been exploited by rogue actors like Al-Shabaab to recruit the youth as destructive agents. Poverty has forced many of our youths to risk their lives in the Mediterranean sea.
Majority of Somali youth today want to leave the country to look for greener pastures, get employment opportunities, or run away from poverty. Some youth want to leave the country for a noble cause like attaining education since the quality of education in Somalia, especially higher education, is poor.
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.
Somalia is showing recovery. 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 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.
The multitude of challenges confronting our youth today have been relegated to secondary issues by the Somali political establishment which rather focuses on instigating political conflicts. 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. The government of Somalia must garner the necessary political will needed to address the multitude of challenges plaguing its youth today. 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 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. This will be a motivating factor to awaken the sleeping spirit 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 to encourage them to better their country.
By Mohamed Ahmed Afrah