Youth Peace Building in Somalia - A partnership between crd & unicef

Somalia is a fragmented country that has suffered over twelve years of violent civil war. More than half the population of Somalia is under 18. The current generation of young people in Somalia have known conflict and hardship for most of their lives. Most are out of school, either illiterate or semi-literate, with little hope for the future. Many are displaced and have witnessed and sometimes participated in violence.

Humanitarian assistance has typically focused on meeting the survival needs of young children, while the youth/adolescent population has been overlooked. Yet adolescents are arguably at greatest risk in situations of armed conflict - exposed to forced recruitment and sexual violence, abuse and exploitation. They are frequently isolated and denied access to education and health care, without opportunities to develop their potential.

Yet in spite of overwhelming odds, these same young people have often demonstrated enormous resilience and capacity to survive. With adequate support, guidance and skills, they can provide the foundation for building peace and rebuilding lives and communities. Their participation in decision-making processes of concern to them - in particular where the future of their country and peace building is at stake - can empower them to be agents of positive change in their society.

Somali youth are fast becoming leaders in their devastated society, using youth groups to give voice to the concerns of their generation. More than 200 youth groups have been formed by young people in Somalia and, in many respects, these youth groups are the same as others around the world - they are places where youth get together to play sports, make music or just simply hang out with friends. However, they are unique in their focus on community development. Youth from these groups are promoting greater community awareness about issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), disarmament and HIV/AIDS. The youth in Somalia are moving forward and becoming leaders in one of the most challenging environments in the world.

Until now however, these young people have not been able to have their voices adequately heard in the process, nor to acquire the necessary information and skills to be able to contribute meaningfully to conflict prevention, conflict resolution and sustainable peace building. UNICEF and CRD (Center for Research and Dialogue) are working to help them develop as leaders and learn to articulate their concerns in a meaningful and powerful way. This project proposes the development of youth groups from two angles - training in peace building, mediation and advocacy.

The training in peace building and mediation will provide opportunities for a core group of youth leaders to strengthen their participation in the community-based peace process. The youth broadcasting initiative will give members of youth groups both skills in a progressive and exciting industry, but will also focus heavily on how they use those skills to advocate for a more peaceful society and for social change.

ISSUE - Somalia in conflict

Somalia continues to have a complex and volatile political, social and economic landscape. Over a decade after the collapse of the central government, the country remains beset by conflict and division, prone to drought, vulnerable to flood and presenting some of the worst Millennium Development Goal indicators in the world. The trend within the country is divergence, with some areas experiencing political development and economic recovery, while others continue to be plagued by crises and emergencies. Many among the population of 6.4 million struggle to meet their basic needs, particularly children, women and marginalised groups.

The basic causes contributing to the situation of children and women are three-fold. First, the majority of social services and formal infrastructure in the country has been destroyed by the years of civil war. Second, there is a void of technically qualified personnel to provide services and ensure that children's basic rights are fulfilled. Finally, the Somali population is widely dispersed, sparse and often mobile, making interventions complicated and limiting access for large segments of the population.

In addition, there are a number of underlying causes that hinder humanitarian and development efforts. Violence and armed conflict continue in large parts of the country, and the many peace processes by and on behalf of Somalis have so far failed to create a peaceful and unified environment. While relative stability exists in the Northwest zone of 'Somaliland'