By Martin K. N. Kollie
Young people account for about 65% of Liberia’s 4.4 million population. This means that Liberia has a youthful population that is capable of serving either as a driving force for economic growth and development or a risky channel of violence and insecurity. Creating employment, empowerment and educational opportunities for young Liberians is very crucial to sustaining peace and harmony as Liberia transitions politically in 2017.
Widespread youth unemployment in post-war Liberia is a serious challenge that requires the rapid and collective response of major stakeholders and global partners. The risk youth unemployment poses to Liberia is too high. State-actors and policymakers have no choice, but to work towards mitigating this existing crisis.
Taking concrete and aggressive steps toward addressing growing challenges confronting young Liberians is essential to cultivating socio-economic equality and political stability. Liberia was plagued by almost two (2) decades of civil unrest and anarchy due to socio-economic exclusion and political marginalization.
This led to thousands of young people taking up arms and ammunitions to protest against legitimate regimes. These youth were mostly used by politicians to perpetuate chaos and orchestrate hideous atrocities. This is what happens when idleness consumes a young and energetic generation without any set agenda. William E. Barrett said “Hunger is not the worst feature of unemployment; idleness is.”
Liberia had no reason to endure such a dark age if there was access to equal opportunities for young people. As a result of this national quagmire, we have a lot of ex-combatants who remain poverty-stricken and vulnerable to post-war trauma. Over 84,000 ex-combatants and dissidents of various warring factions who fought between 1989 and 2003 remain an integral part of our society since peace returned to Liberia in August 2003.
This is just a small component of those who lack access to jobs and social security. The reconciliation and reconstruction process of Liberia can never achieve its ultimate objectives when youth unemployment is at its peak. The nation is susceptible to degenerate into another shocking scene of bloodletting and butchery if swift and sustainable solutions to addressing youth issues are not derived.
Youth unemployment in Liberia is as high as 85% according to the United Nations. About 35 % of males and 42 % of females in youth category are detached from the job market in Liberia due to the lack of proper skills and training. These scaring statistics must provoke national leaders and partners to focus more on finding lasting remedy to youth issues.
The number of Liberians from age 15-35 years old who are available and willing to work, but without a job is too alarming. This is a warning sign to peace and security. Liberia will remain a fragile state until youth unemployment is adequately addressed. The impact of this nightmare (youth unemployment) on growth and development is excruciating.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), African youth in future decades will be the driving force for economic prosperity if the right policies and programs are implemented to create employment opportunities for them. This is so true and applies directly to Liberia. Liberia has not done enough to ensure productivity through job creation for young people. Moving beyond this ill-fated status requires intentional sacrifice and integrated national approach.
According to Liberia’s Labor Force Survey, 1.1 million Liberians (a quarter of the population) are part of the labor force in Liberia. Unfortunately, there are only 195,000 people who have paid jobs. This means that the other 850,000, which mainly comprises young people, are vulnerably employed or self-employed in the informal economy. They have no decent or profitable work.
Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all can only be achievable in Liberia by 2030 if youth development takes center stage in the development of public policies. Reducing poverty in Liberia starts with youth education and employment. Liberia’s road towards genuine recovery and rebuilding is anchored to youth empowerment.
The overriding success of Vision 2030 and the Agenda for Transformation (AfT) in Liberia must be intertwined with access to job opportunities for young people. In so far most Liberian youth are less busy and economically weak, the rate of hardship, drug abuse, gambling, prostitution, armed robbery and burglary will remain sky-scraping.
Post-conflict Liberia is yet to offer a concrete option or new deal to reducing entrenched poverty and depression across Liberia. The situation of youth unemployment especially in rural communities is disturbing. The government and its partners need to invest more resources into tertiary, technical and vocational education. This is a genuine approach to find lasting cure to Liberia’s economic woes.
Providing continuous business training and microloan to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as well as building a vibrant hub of an emerging business community that is youth-driven is vital to enhancing prosperity in Liberia. For Liberia to experience economic expansion, it needs to support a young generation whose vision is to create sustainable and decent jobs.
Liberia needs more young innovators and entrepreneurs who are passionate about driving inclusive CHANGE. Beyond this end, prioritizing youth issues through realistic and proactive investment should be a leading national agenda. National income and output will sharply increase in Liberia if youth employment is given immediate consideration.
The US$2.1 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Liberia which represents less than 0.01 percent of the world economy can rise steadily if policies and programs are put in place to guarantee youth literacy and preparedness. Liberia’s GDP per capita can increase above US$370.00 if there are more qualified and competent youth working in the job market. The export of goods and services (US$774.8 million in 2012) in Liberia can exceed imports (US$2.275 billion in 2012) if Liberia expands its local capacity and output through youth investment.
Reducing youth unemployment in post-conflict Liberia cannot be overstated and overlooked. The reality is that Liberian youth have become choiceless and powerless due to rising unemployment. The young generation of Liberians is thirsty for better livelihood and economic wellbeing. This generational aspiration is possible, but only through concrete action.
Author's Statement: Martin K. N. Kollie is a columnist, youth activist, student leader, and an emerging economist. He currently reads Economics with distinction at the University of Liberia and is a loyal stalwart of the Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org