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Remembering the legacy of Somali Youth League (SYL)

by Abdirazak Abdirahman
Saturday, May 16, 2015

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On this day of 15 May 1943, 13 young men with big dreams came together in a club in Mogadishu to establish the Somali Youth League aka (SYL) in order to emancipate Somali nation from the yoke of colonialism and as a result went down on the golden pages of history as liberators, warriors and founding fathers of motherland.

In the eyes of many, What these 13 young heroes were dreaming of (a sovereign Somalia) was a fantasy as their resource remained meager, their education level low and their managerial skills almost non-existent, however, what many Somalis and other in west hardly realized was the strong conviction for self-determination and the unity among the freedom loving people of Somalia.

Building on the goodwill and yearning for freedom among Somalis ,these young men ,united only by common conviction of liberty and self-determination(unlike many Somalis today),galvanized people behind them and finally led Somalia to independence from Britain and Italy.

Now this day has become a day we only celebrate and remember the good old days when Somali youth were the leaders of the society. What we frequently hear today is organizations formed with the same name (SYL) to keep alive the psychological nationalistic fervor and unforgettable legacy left behind by the thirteen young heroes of SYL. We also often sing on 15 May celebrations the Somali Youth League era songs for tribute and societal uplifting.

All of these celebrations will only last a few days and will be forgotten until the next May arrives and the same routine celebrations are carried out. However, most of us forget about the challenges currently faced by our youth which I would like to enlighten three of them in the following lines:

High unemployment rate

According to a UN report, unemployment rate for youth in Somalia is one of the highest in the world at 67% (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2012, P.20).  This high unemployment rate is a considerable loss of youth development potentiality that not only threatens economic progress, but also increases the risk of social unrest, violence and crime.

Because of the high unemployment rate youth became hopeless and fell easy prey for predatory warlords who brainwashed, exploited, manipulated and turned them into burning charcoal used for realizing the vested interests of the powerful few. The youth are used to commit crimes such as murder, rape, looting and kidnapping or becoming pirates while Hundreds of young Somalis are today dying in the sahara desert others are drowned at sea for seeking better life and job opportunities in far away countries. Every day when you turn on TVs you will see images of dead bodies of young Somalis lying on the beaches of the Mediterranean.  Others were killed and tortured in the sahara desert by a group of Libyan mercenaries headed by Magafe (a notorious human trafficker), while thousands have gone missing.

According to a research conducted by Mahbub (2014) on effects of unemployment on youth in Mogadishu, 77% of the youth respondents stated that high unemployment rate caused poor standards of living and huge dependency on parents who has no even the economical ability to cover the living costs. The research further stated that high unemployment rate caused the youth to illegally migrate overseas countries (44%), join piracy (9%) and commit crimes (30%).

Lack of confidence to the system

More than half of Somalia’s population is youth, with the majority born after the overthrow of the former central government in 1991. Hence, all of our youth never experienced to live under the government system and to abide by rules and regulations. To them everything they have seen was violence, civil war and chaos. 

What would have been a substitute for the youth to experience the governance and nationalism was the study of civics in our schools. Since there was no any public owned institution in Somalia, the private owned ones have replaced them and they have adopted different curriculums and syllabuses, which are copied from other countries and rarely gave practical knowledge to the students on matters of national importance such as the rights and duties of citizens. This destroyed our civilization, and resulted that the average youth who got the chance to learn left school knowing little about their country.

With nowhere else to turn to, these youth who were ignorant about their country and its value have been gravitated towards political conflicts of the country. If youth do not have ability to differentiate the right from the wrong, the badness from the goodness, then they become a tool of the ongoing problems. Most of gunmen who participate in the conflicts and the unnecessary wars going on the country today are youth majority.

 Lack of youth empowerment

Somali society traditionally believes that the Somali elderly (namely “oday dhaqamed” in the local language) can foretell the future of the country and can make a sound judgment of what is good for the country. If a young adult is in a better position or suggests a better solution of a problem compared to that of an elderly, usually the society will take and believe the suggestion of an elder even if it’s not the right one.

As a young adult, I was always told that I should never talk or suggest an idea when the elders are around. This in a way is good because it promotes respect to the elders, on the other hand, it will disempower the youth. We usually see our executives and the leaders of our country always consulting with the elders; however society seems to forget that the country’s future depends not only on its elderly, but its young alike.

Nowadays, in every Somali reconciliation conference, youth are either forgotten or few, mainly from diaspora, are invited. This is different compared to the gold history of Somali youth, where the founders of Somalia’s independence were all young adults. They successfully led the Somali nationalist movement for the liberation of all Somalis. They resisted the clan syndrome and won the hearts of the Somali society everywhere in Somalia.

We need to empower our youth who will be the country’s key to new vitality and hope. The country needs to encourage youth participation in community activities, reconciliations and make sure youth are connected to their communities for better engagement and direction other than the war. Moreover, the common belief is that a child whose behavior and attitude relate to its community as young person adopts lifelong civic affiliations and perspectives. As a society that has a lot at stake in regards of its youth, Somalia can’t afford to neglect plans to accommodate youth in order to partake of the future development and sustainability of the country.

The way forward:

I suggest the following as a step forward:

Tackling unemployment: as Somalia is moving ahead and prioritizing recovery, we must also look to the future and ensure that youth unemployment is also something we keep in our minds and think ways to resolve and gradually lower the high rate. Since the country is moving ahead; we need the Somali community to start investing the country, this will create more jobs in the private sector and will lower the high unemployment rate.

Civic education is the missing link of Somalia education system; private owned institutions should be adding their curriculum subjects that will teach the young adults history and geography of Somalia. This will make youth to believe in their country and become nationalists.

The authority in all levels needs to communicate, and set up forums for listening to the concerns and ideas of youth to stimulate change. Somali youth should be offered a voice in decision-making bodies to see an equitable country for all its populations. I especially encourage the voice of those local youth should be given priority instead of the diaspora. I have noticed even if the authority are about to listen the voice of the youth they take youth from diaspora as a sample.

Finally, Somalia's young population could be its greatest strength, but only if it tackles the challenges facing them. We may celebrate every year the anniversary of SYL formation and talk as well as give lectures about youth but all of these will never change our youth unless actions to support the youth to overcome all of the above stated and many other obstacles. Finding that youth’s unemployment is running up to twice or more than the adult rate and hearing youth’s disappointment, there is an issue that requires an action. It is time to change the future of our youth and to give opportunities to train youth more effectively and link them to work place and educate them to take roles of an active citizen.

Celebrations only will not help youth; as a result the authority in Somalia needs to have serious planning for youth and their future. I hope that we as a society, will stand together to advocate and encourage our youth, and help the authority to create coherent social policies as well as programs that cater for the needs of the youth and are beneficial to all of its citizens. 

Abdirazak Abdirahman
[email protected]

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