Peace and Social Justice

Youth and Conflict in Somalia

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Many Somali youth have known nothing but conflict and hardship for most of their lives, especially in south central. Where can you search for hope when all you have ever known is conflict, poverty, loss and displacement? This is the profound question facing Somalia’s lost generation. Somalia’s young population could be its greatest strength, but only if it tackles the sky-high unemployment and economic disenfranchisement. More than half of Somalia’s population is under 18, with the majority born after the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, the pivotal event that sent the country spiraling into a deeper anarchy.

Somali people are facing a post-conflict dilemma: prioritizing recovery when the peace objective prevails over the economic development objective. Yet at the heart of the nation building we must look to the future and ensure that youth unemployment is also on the agenda.

According to Humanitarian agencies, as a group, youth are more vulnerable to social, economic and political exclusion than older age cohorts who are relatively better protected by the economy, social policy and customs. Somali youth face multiple structural barriers built into the family, organizations, local government and society at large. At the family and community level, barriers are shaped by gender, identity, class, sexual orientation, age, family, community, education and ability. Powerlessness comes from institutions, such as through dis-empowering laws, and from a lack of individual and collective resources.

The majority of youth in Somalia are not equipped with the knowledge necessary to be fully involved as active participants in their communities. And they are silenced and tokenized because they are young. Other forms of oppression, such as gender discrimination, may operate alongside ageism, making it a struggle for youth to simply survive, much less assert their identity. While youth in south central Somalia face steeper obstacles than youth in the post-conflict northern areas, both confront similar challenges relating to the different dimensions of exclusion, including poor education, a lack of access to livelihoods and no outlet for political participation.

“…strategies to empower youth and local communities to work towards resolving conflict and increase civil society participation in conflict resolution and peace building should be key areas of work”

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