Sima Bahous is the Director of the Bureau for Arab States at the United Nations Development Programme.
28 Sep 2012
For decades the world has heard only bad news from Somalia. Lawlessness, famine, piracy, and conflict have shaped our global view of this small, Horn of Africa country. The recent slaying of a member of Somalia’s new parliament underscores the severity of its challenges.
Beyond the headlines, though, Somalia shows tremendous promise—it is strategically located, it has a promising agricultural sector, and recent estimates show that it may have a good deal of oil as well. But a better future will be driven neither by its location nor its natural resources: It will be driven by the country’s people—and Somalia’s hopeful youth hold the key.
UNDP is today releasing its Somalia Human Development Report 2012, which focuses on the enormous potential that lies in empowering Somali youth to become an engine of peace-building and development in this country of stark contrasts.
Today, 73 percent of Somalis are under 30, making theirs one of the world’s youngest countries. Typically, young people in conflict or post-conflict zones are viewed as either victims or aggressors, and indeed for decades Somali youth have known more than their fair share of violence and despair. Many young Somalis have never set foot in a schoolhouse— and still fewer can remember a functioning state.
But the Arab Spring reminds us that youth can be a driving force for hope, and the UNDP Report sheds light on the fact that despite the challenges they face, young Somalis are standing up in their own ways to build a better future for themselves, their communities, and their country.
Across Somalia, youth organizations have become more active in promoting peace and stability. Many youths are much better educated than the previous generation, and girls are catching up with boys in literacy. Their appetite for mainstream economic activity is strong. Some 80 percent of young Somalis are hopeful about the future.
Last month Somalia reached a turning point with the election of a new president. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has pledged to build a representative national government and prioritize peace-building, job creation, and economic recovery for all Somalis.
UNDP is working with the new government, civil society, and international partners to ensure that youth are at the center of national and local plans for peace and development.
Talk to us: How can we ensure peace and prosperity in Somalia?