Increasing access to secondary education and civic engagement opportunities pulled Somali youth away from supporting violent groups, according to an April 2018 Mercy Corps report, If Youth are Given the Chance.The report assesses the impact of these two common approaches for reducing youths’ level of support for armed violence.
Mercy Corps surveyed over 1,000 young people from violence-affected regions in Somalia -- Somaliland, South Central Somalia, and Puntland. The extremist militant group that acts as a proxy for Al-Qaeda in the volatile Horn of Africa, Al-Shabaab, has sustained a decade-long insurgency there by exploiting the fragility of the nation. The catastrophic aftermath of the recent Mogadishu Bombing (October 14, 2017) showcases Somalia’s vulnerability to violence. The report argues that there is a large pool of exacerbated youth in Somalia that is fresh for recruitment and susceptible to indoctrination.
Spearheaded by Mercy Corps, The Somali Youth Learners Initiative (SYLI) focused on increasing youths’ access to secondary education as well as offering Somali youth opportunities for civic engagement. A large portion of the report evaluates this program and illuminates how it reduced Somali youths’ support for armed groups. Additionally, the authors assess whether or not the benefits of these two types of interventions persist across different contexts.
The study found that the greatest reduction in youths’ support for armed groups occurs when secondary education, specifically one that transfers knowledge and skills needed for future employment, is combined with civic engagement opportunities that empower youth to positively contribute to their communities. Mercy Corps authors state “with some confidence” that this two-pronged approach is an important strategy to cauterize the flow of fresh recruits for armed opposition groups because it provides youths’ with attractive, alternative avenues for change.
Despite these positive findings, the report emphasizes the importance of addressing the underlying grievances that threaten long-term stability. In some contexts (South Central Somalia and Puntland), secondary education alone decreased support for violence. In other contexts (Somaliland), there was a reported increase in youths’ pessimism about livelihoods and dissatisfaction with government services. This indicates that the pre-existing level of violence in a community made a difference in the effectiveness of the programming. “SYLI-supported secondary education led to a significant reduction in support for political violence only in sites with relatively low levels of violence”. Thus, it is crucial that while implementing micro-level development programs, organizations simultaneously seek solutions to macro-level challenges.
Mercy Corps’s recommendations are not only applicable to Somalia but hold significant ramifications for similarly fragile and conflict-affected contexts as well. This report seeks to arm national and international organizations with a working design for effective youth programming.