Somalia’s Youth Dying in Search of Work

By Shire Salaad-In April of this year, about 500 immigrant lives were lost in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the United Nations. More than half of those who died were young Somalis trying to reach Europeas Reuters reported. Similarly, in 2013, a boat carrying more than 500 Somalis and Eritreans capsized off the cost of Lampedusa in Italy drowning more than 200 passengers. All were looking for better lives and jobs. Majority of these youths were immigrating because of lack of employment in Somalia.

Seventy percent of Somalis living in Somalia are unemployed according to the World Bank data, and majority of those are the youth. There is no doubt that this joblessness, among other things, has induced the Somali youth to risk their lives in the high seas in search for better lives and employment.

The question is what can be done to create jobs to lower unemployment in Somalia in order to slow the number of Somalia’s youth dying in search of work?

The biggest employers in Somalia today are the governmental institutions funded by international donors. However, these jobs are mostly given on the basis of “who-you-know” as long as you can produce some sort of certification or a degree regardless of its legitimacy. This unfair hiring system has discouraged many youths of staying in Somalia. To tackle this widespread nepotism the system of hiring has to become merit based one.

To facilitate this shift, the Somalia government (including its regional governments) should establish a ministry or high-level independent governmental entity, which shall do all the hiring for the government for all the positions in the civil service. This shift will hinder or at least slow hiring people based on “who-you-know.” Also it will allow many unemployed but have the right education and training to get the jobs they deserve, which will increase productivity and also build-up the national moral by giving those disgruntled and disenfranchised youths hope and reason to stay.

To ease this extreme unemployment burden in an industrial level, the government should attract light and labor intensive manufacturing companies around the world to increase the number of low skill oriented jobs in the country. The government should provide incentives such as accelerated paper work, land lease, loans, and partnerships to attract these companies.

Furthermore, to create creative and skilled workforce, the national and the regional governments, nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions should focus skill transfer and financial and business literacy, and build startup incubators near educational centers. These measures will enable the young to gain skills and knowledge of financial and business literacy, which will enable young skilled entrepreneurs to start their own businesses generating employment right away.

Surprisingly, Somalia has no retirement age (it use to) so constituting one will help the youth; for example, asking the sixty years olds to retire. This will increase the number of younger people employed, but also since the average lifespan of a Somali living in Somalia is estimated to be 55-years, asking someone to retire at the age of sixty makes some sense. This also does not mean the sixty-year-olds are useless: they can take consulting and mentoring roles in the government or in the private sector as part-time advisers or volunteers.

Moreover, since large part of secondary and university graduates struggle to find jobs for years, the government should look opportunities for them to advance their studies away. This can be done in two ways: the government giving scholarships to send them abroad, which is unlikely to happen given the government’s dependency on foreign aid. Nevertheless, the government can ask for other countries to sponsor Somali students. This entails in the future more skilled and highly educated workers coming back to Somalia increasing the possibility of a sustaining economic growth.

In addition, the schooling years of the youth in the country should be extended to slow the number of youths seeking employment after school: the more they are in school the greater the possibility of them not looking for a job or risking their lives immigrating to Europe. Also, the government shall require at least one year of military service after secondary school to teach the youth some useful skills and delay them from seeking employment right away.

These measures are short-term solutions for prevalent unemployment in Somalia to slow the large influx of Somalia’s youth risking their lives in the seas. In order Somalia to sustain a continues growth of employment, these short measures will require continues investment in the pillars of a developing economy such as investing in its infrastructure and its governing institutions to make the country attractive for all types of investors, especially for the Somali youth. #

Shire Salaad is the interim-director of Jubbaland Institute for Economic Development. A nonprofit organization in Jubbaland region, Somalia: shiresalaad@gmail.com / office@jifed.org

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