Giving Youth a Future is Key to Rebuilding Somalia


This collaborative piece is drafted by the Coordination Team.

After years of conflict and instability, impoverished Somalia faces a daunting list of development and security challenges. This arid country is vulnerable to famine and disease, the long coastline is a haven for pirates and the militant extremist group al-Shabab remains a potent threat. ”

But when speaking to recently, Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia Mohamed Omar Arteh said the most pressing issue of all for his country is addressing the needs of the youth.“The biggest development challenge that we have in Somalia? Everything is a challenge!” Mr Arteh told

“But I’ll be more specific and say that I think the biggest challenge is the youth.” Other contenders are high mortality rates, low literacy, refugee problems, political instability, violence, disease, lack of schools or often no schools at all.

In part it’s a matter of sheer numbers. There are a lot of young people in Somalia – best estimates suggest that over 60 % of the country’s near 11 million-strong population are 24 or under. Around 43% of the total population are under 14 years of age. This could be an advantage for Somalia’s reconstruction and development, but only if the youth issues are addressed properly.

Somalia needs huge investment in basic social services such as quality education and access to healthcare to meet the needs of this young population, and it can’t happen fast enough. A number of Somalia’s youths are disillusioned, making them susceptible to radicalization by the jihadi militant group al-Shabab. It’s no coincidence that al-Shabab means “The Youth” in Arabic. Others are dissatisfied to the extent that they risk their lives to embark on ‘Tahrib’, the perilous migrant journey to Europe.

It is often the country’s brightest hopes, those with university educations and career ambitions, who see Tahrib as their only way of securing a better future.

“Most of our educated and able ones are the ones that are dying in the sea,” said Mr Arteh, referring to the hundreds of Somalis who have died trying to cross the Mediterranean in rickety overcrowded boats. Mr Arteh says he welcomes the European Commission’s support in addressing migration and would like to see even more resources directed towards this issue.

The EU Trust Fund, created in 2015, aims to support African countries by addressing the root causes of instability and irregular migration.

The main EU Trust Fund programme in Somalia is called RE-INTEG, and aims to help Somali refugees return and reintegrate into Somalia. Worth €50 million, it funds a wide range of projects to strengthen the resilience of returnees, internally displaced persons and host communities by providing basic services in sectors such as health, water and sanitation, housing and property rights, and education.

It focuses on some of the main areas of return for refugees from Dadaab, namely Kismayo, Afmadow, Alanley, Baidoa, Mogadishu and Luuq.

It focuses on some of the main areas of return for refugees from Dadaab, namely Kismayo, Afmadow, Alanley, Baidoa, Mogadishu and Luuq.

Setting up from scratchThe European Commission has worked closely with Somalia following the peaceful handover of power to a new federal government in 2012, ending a protracted civil war. In the four years since then, Somalia has notched up huge advances, albeit from a low base, according to the European Union’s former Head of Delegation to Somalia, Michele Cervone d’Urso.“I think the biggest challenge of the past four years has been building a new Somalia almost from scratch,” said Mr Cervone.

“Setting up new states, new regional entities, developing the constitution and paving the way, for the first time, to elections.”.

Somalia is holding its first elections since the 1960s and though there will not be universal suffrage – elders and community representatives will select the members of the new Parliament and Upper House, rather than a popular vote – it is considered a huge step forward by donors, including the European Commission.

Addressing the needs of the country’s young population is a priority, said Mr Cervone, not least as a matter of national security. “If you look at, for example, al-Shabab, where it is able to attract a number of actors is amongst the youth. So we are targeting a significant amount of our development cooperation focusing on youth,” said Mr Cervone.

Our programmes are very wide-ranging. They go from education – we are the biggest donor in Somalia in education and have been very much involved in primary education – but now we are stepping up in vocational training,” giving youth the skills they need to find a job, according to Mr Cervone.

Investing in Education

The EU Delegation takes a sector wide approach aligned with the Ministry of Education’s strategic plan, according to Mohamed Sabul, Programme Manager for Education & Education Systems in the EU Delegation to Somalia. Besides supporting primary and secondary education, this means investing in teacher training, capacity development and technical and vocational education and training.

Each EU intervention is shaped to include the most vulnerable groups, one of which is in fact half the population: girls. As an example, it can be considered disrespectful for girls to eat in public, which is a challenge during the school day. It is also culturally difficult for a girl to be seen going to a toilet, so girls regularly miss school during their periods or drop out altogether. In response the EU piloted a ‘Girl Friendly Spaces’ scheme in 2010, introducing female-only study rooms to schools. As well as creating a place to study and eat, they have bathrooms girls can use discreetly. (See video here.)

“The lessons we’ve learned from this are that girls’ drop-out rate decreases when they have these facilities,” said Mr Sabul. “They have been successful in attracting and retaining girls; in fact gender parity has gone up from 0.7% in 2015 to 0.8% this year (where a score of 1 means total gender parity).”

Girls’ performance in lessons has also improved, which Mr Sabul attributes to improved confidence, the effect of having a safe space in which to discuss issues and support each other.

So far the Girl Friendly Spaces have been rolled out across secondary schools, and have also been piloted in a few primary schools. “That’s the second lesson,” said Mr Sabul. “We need these facilities in primary schools, as girls are maturing earlier. And for that we need more resources.”

Under the 11th EDF National Indicative Programme the EU has committed € 59 million for education programmes throughout Somalia.

Another crucial factor is what goes on in the classroom. Boys and girls can share a classroom but cannot sit side by side, so classrooms are split down the middle, with boys’ desks on one side and girls’ on the other.

“We found that male teachers tend to interact more with the boys, less with the girls,” said Alix Wurdak, Programme Manager for Education and TVET in the EU Delegation to Somalia. “Female teachers on the other hand tend to engage equally with both sides of the classroom.”

Somalia’s regional governments have recognised the importance of female teachers, and the EU is supporting this through the sector-wide education programmes in Somalia. 30% of teacher trainees under these programmes are supposed to be female, though it can be a challenge to meet this quota. Retaining female teachers in the service is equally a challenge in the absence of predictable pay and with poor working conditions in rural schools.

“There’s no payroll from the government, so salaries are often through NGOs,” explained Mr Sabul. In addition, “rural schools can often be a harsh environment to teach in”, and many people still do not consider teaching to be an “acceptable” profession for a woman, according to Mr Sabul.

For families on the move, the education challenges are greater still. Much of the population are nomadic pastoralists travelling hundreds of kilometers through the Horn of Africa, crossing international frontiers with Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. The European Commission is working to ensure development programming takes this fluid movement of people and livestock resources into account.

“We are trying to work with pastoral communities across all of these countries,” said Mr Cervone. “We are very much focused on supporting the capacities of these [pastoral] communities…to respond to shocks.”

The EU supports alternative learning programmes for pastoral communities, which are flexible models allowing nomadic children to transition into permanent schools. These are delivered via mobile schools and ‘camel libraries’ – collections of books transported on camels’ backs.

“They have an itinerary, and depending on the pattern of rainfall, they move from location to location, at least three times a year,” explained Mr Sabul. “They are usually accompanied by a teacher or librarian.” So far there are nine of these camel libraries funded by the EU’s sector-wide education programme in Somaliland.


There is currently a substantial gap between young people’s skills and employers’ requirements. Even among those who have received vocational and technical education and training (TVET) in Somaliland and Puntland, only 27% of youth/employer combinations are a match by stated requirements, according to Mr Sabul. Meanwhile the unemployment rate for youth in Somalia is around 67%, according to the ILO’s 2013 Labour Force Survey for Somalia. Somali development and humanitarian indicators are among the lowest in the world and over 60% of youth have intentions to leave the country for better livelihood opportunities.

Following a pilot project on improving skills for livelihoods in Nugal in Puntland, the EU Delegation is planning to step up work on TVET next year. “TVET is one area where the work we and NGOs have done so far has been scattered – not harmonised, and project-based,” said Ms Wurdak. “We are planning a comprehensive revitalizing, with a systems-building approach.”

This will include improving the governance and management of TVET schools; setting up a National Qualification Framework with the government; improving teachers’ capacity and skills; and involving private companies early on in the development of training courses and curricula .

“We want to involve the private sector in labour market assessments,” said Ms Wurdak. “In Nugal, the Puntland government, TVET centre managers and university representatives, private-sector representatives and community business organisations have come together and established an Employment Promotion Working Group,” said Wurdak. “They meet on a regular basis to help link trainees with employers and to ensure that the skills provided in the TVET centres match those required by the employers.”

This approach will be taken up in other areas, according to Ms Wurdak. “From December, we’ll be looking at TVET for road infrastructure development and energy services, and will be partnering with national and private energy companies and road authorities across the country, so they can give input on the learning outcomes.” These are two labour-intensive sectors which could create substantial employment.

Other critical sectors to promote youth employment and social integration are sustainable natural resource management and inclusive economic development. Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa with much potential for the development of artisanal and commercial fishing and an existing trade in livestock, which are currently exported to the Gulf Region.

“We will continue to strive to promote opportunities for the Somali people and especially the youth, women and other vulnerable groups. The EU’s new initiative to address the root causes of piracy, to promote livelihoods for coastal communities through sustainable fisheries and livestock is a good example of this ambition. We are committed to help creating conditions for the Somali people to reconcile, to enjoy stability and to enjoy the future they deserve,” said Mrs Veronique Lorenzo, the European Union’s new Head of Delegation to Somalia.

There is a long way to go in terms of investment in services, education, TVET and job creation before Somalia’s youth will have the opportunities they need to thrive and to see their future in a stable Somalia. But the issue is now high on the international agenda, and small successes in pilot projects are showing a way forward for more inclusive education and employment.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


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