Curbing Dangers of West African Youth Bulge
Like much of the world, West Africa is facing a youth bulge. "With a current population of over 300 million, West Africa is faced with this dilemma of either benefitting from a huge population of which 60 percent is said to be below the age of 20, or pay the price of failure.
"The consequences of [this trend] have been the concurrent increase in the need to create employment, and satisfy higher demands for services such as education and health care and to stem rapid rural-urban migration. But leadership in the region has consistently failed to address the above-mentioned problems in the last fifty years-endemic system of corruption that is pervasive in the region is partly to blame.
"A few studies show that fully-blown carnage and violence (of the last two decades) that consumed different West African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria started as low intensity conflicts reflecting social disaffection towards governments' negligent development policies and including paying inadequate attention to the needs of younger people in the region.
"New programs are however being put in place by a few domestic and international organizations to curb the exposure and recruitment of youths into criminal activities that could generate and expand conflict in the region. For example, the Active Non-Violence and Conflict Transformation Program of youths in and around Monrovia (Liberia) are put together by West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP). It provides over 650 students and 450 community youth with opportunities for direct involvement in... conflict prevention and conflict management... There are plans to enlarge these kinds of programs throughout the region, to minimize or completely eliminate those conditions that attract youths to crimes capable of raising the specter of violence."
Implications from Institute for the Future:
Economist Paul Collier first analyzed the cost-benefit analysis of violence and found that when people earn more money from violence as opposed to peace, they will choose violence. As such, programs to provide alternative livelihoods for youth who are susceptible to joining violent profiteering movements is paramount to eliminating conflict in areas with large youth bulges. For many unemployed youth, being a paid soldier is, paradoxically, choosing life. Otherwise they may live full lives without consistent income or food, not to mention the ability to have a family and think positively about the future. Without the impoverished youth, many conflicts may not have the foot soldiers to carry on the fighting.
Sources:Center for Democracy and Development, Nov. 2010 pg. 11:
Paul Collier, “Economic Causes of Civil Conflict and Their Implications for Policy,” chapter 12 in Crocker, Hampson, and Aall, Leashing the Dogs of War