Three Points towards an Effective IGAD Regional Youth Strategy

One of the most common challenges of youth focused policies is their technocratic approach to address the challenges of youth and young people. When technocratic approaches dominate, policies and strategies are loaded with the discourses of good governance and instrumentalise young people either as ‘dividend’ or ‘bulge’.[i] At the core of such policies lies an apolitical approach towards analysing either the nominal inclusion or structural exclusion/marginalisation of young people. The apolitical tone and content of youth focused policy frameworks enables setting stronger normative thresholds but paradoxically is ineffective in practically reshaping the lives of young people.

This essay aims to put forward the following three interrelated points towards the forthcoming regional youth strategy by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as indicated in the Regional Strategy 2016 -2020.

The Nexus between Youth Bulge and Armed Conflict

Youth in most developing countries are a demographically significant section of the population. Most see themselves as an outcast minority and they are treated that way, which has been a challenge to most developing countries. In the discourse on youth, the issue of the multifaceted exclusion of youth is routinely overshadowed by youth bulge concerns, which are illuminated by quantitative data and correlations, not the views of the youth. This has led to a tendency which views young people as an undifferentiated mass who lack the necessary conditions for transition from childhood to adulthood. The reality arguably is far more prosaic. Even in the most when desperate and humiliating circumstances, the majority of youth resist engaging in violence or remain more or less peaceful with only a small minority engaging in armed violence. This article is divided into three parts – a brief introduction, the correlation between youth bulge and armed conflict and a conclusion.

Time to Empower and Engage Youth on Countering Violent Extremism

Over the past two decades the violent extremism became an issue of discussion and emerged as a critical threat to many governments. The Horn of Africa has witnessed an increase in deadly terror attacks mainly affecting the people of Somalia and also targeting neighbouring countries.

Al-Shabab initially emerged as a component within the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which, in 2006, was engaged in a conflict with a coalition of warlords more formally known as the, ‘Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism’. It was in the aftermath of the defeat of the ICU and the involvement of the Ethiopian army in Somalia that allowed Al-Shabaab a golden opportunity to recruit youth using the lure of defending Somalia from the alleged Ethiopian invasion. Many youth both in Somalia and from the Somali diaspora were lured into the conflict and participated in the so called ‘holy war’ in the process strengthening the Al-Shabab and shoring up its legitimacy.

The absence of a consensus regarding terrorism and violent extremism, has not prevented violent extremism from emerging as a priority for decision-makers’ in East Africa and the Horn of Africa under the embryonic Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) approach. Violent extremism and conflict have generated immense suffering for the peoples of the Horn and poses an existential threat to the stability of states and governance in the Horn of Africa. Violent extremism may also exacerbate intra- and inter-religious tensions in the region. In this article, I will elaborate how youth empowerment and engagement will contribute the prevention and countering violent extremism in the region.

Why Youth? The Horn of Africa has an unprecedented number of young, vibrant, and energetic people who, although economically productive, have little to no power or say on issues of importance to them or their families.  The countries in the region has number of challenges in common including high rates of illiteracy and limited access to formal education and skills development, poverty and mass unemployment, youth migration, socioeconomic and political exclusion. The region also experienced bouts of inter-state and intra-state conflicts. In the Horn of Africa region countering youth radicalization and violent extremism have emerged as top priorities to stabilize the region and ensure peaceful co-existence of peoples in this region.

Beyond the Normative: Youth, Peace and Security

Personally, the youth discourse has held little to no interest to me nor has youth as an age group. It is, after all, just one more aspect of my identity reinforcing my marginality and exclusion from decision making. As far as marginalized identities go, youth in itself is a relatively new conceptual category, denoting the stage between childhood and adulthood but not really quite either; a period of ‘wait hood’ right before adulthood.  Each culture or region has its very own socio-cultural criteria to mark the transition from ‘waithood’ to adulthood. [i]

Estimates now show that by 2100, Africa will account for 3.2 billion of the projected 4 billion increase in the global population. The global working age population is projected to increase by an estimated 2.1 billion, compared to a net global increase of 2 billion over the same time frame.[ii] This transition has important socio-economic ramifications; making youth the new buzz word, along with ‘harnessing the demographic dividend’, ‘youth engagement’ and ‘investing in youth’ among others, making the growing young population a major agenda in the global peace and security discourse.