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Investing in youth for future dividends

BY Liban Obsiye

Youth development is pivotal to Somalia’s march towards stability, progress and prosperity. President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud said this during the international Youth day this august. He emphasised that without empowering and offering them opportunities that will stimulate economic change in the society there could be no meaningful progress.

70 per cent of Somalia’s population is under 35 years. They represent one of the largest youth population compared to other countries. A vast majority of them are educated, ambitious and ready to take advantage of all the economic opportunities presented by the new dawn of peace.

The youths’ image and mind-set is transitioning alongside that of the country. The image of war-torn Somalia with the youth firing AK47 is shading off. They are embracing themselves as a national asset. They have confidence in their ability to exploit the country’s potential and drive it to prosperity. The workforce they present is magnetic to any investor.

Many of the youth are not waiting to be employed rather they have become innovative and ventured into entrepreneurship. They have taken successful stabs at the hospitality, transport and retail sectors. Others make a living as drivers, shoe shiners, sales representatives as well as street vendors.

Despite the successes the youth have enjoyed they also have to make do with a number of challenges. Somali, just like any other African society, is haunted by hierarchy.

“Every corridor of opportunity is crowded with grey-haired men who don’t want us to pass through,” observed the youth during a workshop concerning their economic opportunities. Claiming what is theirs in the socioeconomic and political ladder is going to be an uphill task but they note that they are up for the task. Micro-financing, vocational training, mentoring and impacting business skills will go a long way into empowering and widening the field for the youth. The government need to be proactive in coming up youth-centered policies that will prop them up while levelling the investment field for youth. Both the 1987 and the revised Somali Investment law currently before the Parliament provides incentives for those companies which act responsibly and put the nations human capital to effective use.

This should be used to encourage skills, innovation, knowledge transfer and employment for the youth who are capable of truly changing the economic landscape of the country. The government need to clean up economic ills such as monopoly so as to enable the youth to penetrate hither to fields considered the preserve of a chosen few.

Investment promotion strategies always highlight country’s labour force capability. The youth numbers coupled with the country’s enormous natural resources’ potential paint a bright economic future if the right formula is put in place.

Somali is alive to the fact that the traditional aid model cannot be relied upon to spearhead sustainable economic development. The country is wired to the alternative that a post conflict nation must create an enabling investment environment for all investors so that Somalia can be prosperous and gain economic independence. The nation has to flex its muscles and be psychologically tuned to the mentality that creating an enabling and attractive environment can take decades to mould and sustain. However as a country we should be encouraged by neighbouring Rwanda.

Maintaining peace, effective and efficient labour force, political good will and stability, enabling investment environment are come of the ingredients that Rwanda has used to position itself as one of the fastest growing economy in the region.

It should be noted a youth that is not empowered would lapse into drug use and trafficking, be easy targets for recruitment into terrorism and piracy among other social ills. Such engagements

by the youth normally lead to social unrest, political instability and ultimately armed conflicts.

The 70 per cent must be empowered because they are the country, they are the economy, and they are the future.

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