The recent election of President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmaajo’ was most notable for the wide-ranging support he received from across the Somali population. Most colourful and obvious of this group were the Somali youth who were visible both as supporters and campaign contributors.
With the electoral success of President Farmaajo, expectations across the country are high and among the youth there is great expectations from his administration. The Somali youth make up about 75% of the total population and it is they who are both the future hope of their country and the current challenges it faces and often holds it back.
With such a young and vibrant population, which is increasingly more educated, Somalia ought to be socially and economically shining. The hopes of all nations are its population and, like in post-war Europe after 1945, the Somali youth have the potential to be able to turn their country towards a permanent path of peace, progress and prosperity. Having met Somali youth both at home and across the world, I am convinced they have this ambition at heart and for their country. However, the key shortcoming has been that they have never been given a real opportunity to make a difference by past administrations.
Many unsuccessful attempts have been made by past governments to engage with the youth for variety of reasons including security and economic development. The most recent of these were the Youth event on the side-lines of the last High Level Partnership Forum in Istanbul and the Youth conference in Mogadishu last year. While both were well intentioned, it is clear that due to lack of follow up on all sides the entire issue has been forgotten. It did not help that both of these events were held in looming shadows of the elections in Somalia which did bring forward a few young parliamentarians, including women. Now that the election is over we must urgently get back on track to prioritise the issue of youth.
During the elections, a great amount of effort was directed at gender empowerment and representation with great success which must be built on. However, like gender, the issue of youth is cross-cutting and must be addressed with the same commitment for Somalia’s stability and economic development.
For too long, the negative narrative of the young Somali suicide bomber and the lost ‘dhaqan-celis’ community residing in Somalia have dominated the public discourse. These unfortunately kept in the dark the needs, challenges and the successes of the vast majority of the Somali youth across the world who are trying their best to make a success of their futures in this most socio-economically challenging time internationally. Changing this narrative and supporting the Somali youth in Somalia requires firm government led but diverse multi-partner approach.
The key priority for President Farmaajo’s administration is to directly engage the youth through the Ministry of Youth and Sports and key stakeholders to device a youth policy with implementable and measurable objectives. Given the cross-cutting nature of this policy, all stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs and civil society, must commit to achieving these tangible outcomes with the most minimum of duplication and financial waste. We cannot undertake such progressive policies without a holistic coordinated international approach to Somalia from the international community, currently much of the emphasis and focus is on security and stability. However, much of long-term stability depends on timely opportunities for the youth across Somalia that meets their needs. This shift in focus will enable a coordinated approach to policy making that will pave the way for real outcomes and results.
More importantly, the Somali Youth must organise themselves to ensure they are represented nationally by a single organisation which is run democratically, recognised by the government and with national reach. In this endeavour, Somali youth organisations have in the past failed miserably and were and still are to some extent, sadly divided along tribal lines.
Given the weakness of Somali public institutions, the tribal nature of politics and the limited resources that exist to advance their welfare and priorities, Somali youth must become more politically active and socially included in their communities. Shouting from the side-lines on social media or grumbling in the coffee shops they can barely afford to sit in due to unemployment is no longer enough. Nor is ‘Tahriib’ a solution, because even if they did make it to Europe, they will be confronted by the same socio-economic challenges which is aggravated by a rising anti-immigration feeling.
The best solution to the Somali youth issue is to create the enabling environment that will facilitate their social inclusion and valuable contribution to their own lives, communities and country. The Somali government and all key stakeholders, including the youth, have a golden opportunity to benefit from the global focus on countering violent extremism and illegal migration through socio-economic developmental support offered by major donors including the EU, the UN and the international financial institutions.
The culture of ‘we value our youth but we cannot support them’ must end. Throughout the election process, the Somali youth demonstrated their capabilities and support for President Farmaajo. Now they are waiting for him to do the same for the common progress of their nation.
Sakariye Yusuf Hussein is a member of the Senior Management team of Global Somali Diaspora (GSD).
Sakariya100@hotmail.co.uk & @Iamzakariye (twitter)