Mogadishu, 12 August 2014 - Seven out of every 10 Somalis are younger than 35, making Somalia one of the most youthful countries in the world. A protracted conflict, collapse of institutions and a lack of opportunities, however, mean that the potential of the country’s youth remains untapped and at risk of manipulation by extremist groups such as Al Shabaab.
Against this background, Somalia joins the rest of the world in marking International Youth Day, established by the UN General Assembly in 1999. The day is an annual celebration of the role of young men and women as essential partners in change, and an opportunity to raise awareness and draw attention to the challenges and hardships facing the world’s youth.
“Young people’s concerns and input needs to be taken to considerations because youth in Somalia have a stake,” says Abdikarim Abdi, a 16-year-old youth activist. “We want the government and the civil society to start engaging with and listening to young people.”
On a warm afternoon in downtown Mogadishu, members of Somalia’s National Youth Council sit around a conference table discussing unemployment. Presentation after presentation mulled over the situation in the country with speakers championing entrepreneurship as a key avenue for intervention.
“Young people cannot sit and wait for jobs. The solution is to try and become self-employed and contribute to society rather than feel helpless,” says Mohamed Hassan Mohamed, a member of the council.
Almost everyone is looking to the Somali government; its officials say they have a plan. Dr. Khalid Ali Omar, Somalia’s Minister of Youth and Sports says the youth agenda is a priority for the government.
“We are working to ensure that young people are agents of peace and progress. We know we need to invest in them because they are our future,” he says. “Previously we did not even have a Youth Policy but today we are adopting a policy to guide our engagement,” says Dr. Khalid adding that international agencies continue to support youth empowerment programs.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and UN partner agencies co-ordinate a series of youth-related programmes. UNSOM’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme is involved in ensuring many young people lured into combat by armed groups in the country are successfully reintegrated into society, where they can play a positive role.
As the government and its partners move ahead with their plans, young people are determined to be in the driver’s seat and shape their destiny. For Somalia’s youth, tomorrow’s promised dividends are being cultivated today.