It is a commonly held idea – jobs keep young people from participating in violence. The thinking goes that if there are ample opportunities, people will choose not to fight. Trouble is, that is not actually the case. Lack of work doesn’t open the door to political violence, according to a new report by Mercy Corps.
The Oregon-based nongovernmental organization conducted research and interviews with young people in Afghanistan, Colombia and Somalia, countries experiencing varying levels of conflict. Participants said that it is their dissatisfaction with their respective governments that spur them to support or participate in violence. While programs aimed a providing job training and mental support do help, NGOs must go deeper into the fundamental issues of corruption and governance to create lasting change, says the report.
“We have to better understand why youth are drawn to these groups, and we have to be led by evidence of what works,” wrote Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer, in a blog post about the report. “To make armed groups less appealing, we must tailor programs to address the underlying sources of violence, not just the symptoms.”
Young people make up a significant portion of the population in Colombia, Somalia and Afghanistan. More than a quarter of the people living in both Afghanistan and Colombia were between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2013. Young people play a role in violent groups for each of the countries. Given their participation and the significant size, efforts are under way to keep them from the violence and to get those already involved out of the groups.
Mercy Corps say emerging evidence, confirmed by interviews it conducted in the middle of 2014, shows that there is little connection between employment and support for violent groups. Increases in income for Afghan youth were not associated with decreases in support for armed opposition groups, Mercy Corps found. It is a similar story in Somalia where there was no measurable connection between employment and support for political violence.
The things that drive young people to support or participate in violence go beyond jobs.
“Often you will hear people say joblessness is the biggest problem for the youth,” said a young Somali woman to Mercy Corps. “And unemployment is a major problem, but underneath that is hopelessness and a belief that there is no fairness. Young people get angry and frustrated and look for something to do.”
In addition to misunderstanding the problem itself, the solutions that are meant to improve employment are not necessarily accomplishing their primary goal. The report calls attention to northern Somalia’s Garowe Vocational Training Center. The internationally supported center teaches attendees mechanics and tailoring. When the students graduate they are armed with new skills and no jobs. One graduate from 2013 said that only two out of 22 students had jobs.
“It’s like giving someone a glass to drink, but there’s no water,” said one government official.
The good news is that the solutions to the problems are well-known. Programs have to incorporate a range of things from job training to governance reform to psycho-social support. But it is the current way development is done that stands in the way of actually doing all those things together, says the report.
Insecurity, staff turnover and short-term programs all contribute to quick fixes that do not deliver lasting change. The report specifically calls out “burn rate requirements,” whereby donors stipulate or encourage money is spent quickly as opposed to carefully and judiciously. Throw in a lack of coordination and programs that target individual issues, and the results are hollow.
The recommendations are in line with current development theories: make long-term investments that involve working in cooperation and addressing the root issues that contribute to the problem. Mercy Corps adds its own twist by including the need to carry out evaluations to see impacts, but the final recommendations are in line with what others have been saying.
“Under the best circumstances, meaningful change will take time. There are no fast fixes. In most fragile states, drivers of violence are systemic. Colombia has been gripped by conflict for 50 years and will require a generation to heal,” writes Keny-Guyer.
Now NGOs and donors have to figure out just what it takes to support and enable that meaningful change.