On July 17th, in the framework of its programme “Get to Know ECOWAS” which brought together 15 West African young leaders in Abuja from July 14th to July 18th, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung organised another of its Abuja debates to openly discuss the critical question of the role of youth in conflict in the region. A record number of135participants from civil society, academia, government institutions, the diplomatic corps, armed forces, ECOWAS and a large number of youths accepted our invitation and actively contributed to the debate.
The high turnout of the debate, the diversity of the audience and their active participation during the discussions have demonstrated how crucial the question of youth unemployment is in every country of the West African region. The panel selected for the event reflected the regional nature of the issue and allowed to combine experiences and perspectives from different countries amongst the ECOWAS community. Chaired by the moderator Mr. Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement, YIAGA), the panel was joined by Ms Cynthia Mbamalu (YIAGA), Dr. Nelson Magbagbeola (Director of Multilateral Surveillance in the Macro-Economic Policy Department at ECOWAS), Mr. Aderemi Ajibewa(Acting Director of Political Affairs and International Relations, ECOWAS Commission), and by two young representatives from the “Get to Know ECOWAS” Programme, namely Ms. Fanta Coumba Karembe(African Youth for Leadership and Action, Y.A.L.A., Mali) and Mr. George Dzeto Kwaku(Executive Director at Centre for Development, Research and Advocacy, CeDRA, Ghana). The event was launched with the welcoming address of Mr. Constantin Grund, resident representative of FES Benin, who highlighted the obstacles faced by the youth in the region in terms of unemployment and the risks these obstacles entail for security. It was followed by the input of a representative from the National Youth Service Corps of Nigeria, Mr. Lawrence Anaweokhai, who maintained his commitment to working towards the integration of the youth as a protection against violence.
The presence of three young panellists from different countries permitted to bring to the fore the challenges youths face to access employment in the whole region and to point out the root causes of these issues. Amongst the obstacles mentioned, the inadequate educational system, the lack of participation of the youth and the political will of the Heads of State were highlighted as contributing to the worsening of youth unemployment in the region. All panelists agreed on the need to promote youth employment to prevent young people from engaging in illegal and violent activities. Often, these activities appear as being the only solution for them to sustain their livelihood, therefore contributing to the insecurity of the region. Given the regional scope of the issue, the representatives from ECOWAS showed that several mechanisms in favour of youth employment and empowerment have been elaborated. The debate showed on one side officials talking about the mechanisms created to promote youth employment which were not always implemented at the national level and on the other side young people who have experienced the still-existing challenges of unemployment and who are proposing concrete solutions to the issue.
In conclusion, this debate proved that a key remedy to youth unemployment is to enhance youth participation in decision-making processes, especially when the decisions taken concern them. It is essential for ECOWAS to work closely with the youths to understand the challenges they face and to come up with effective solutions. The plethora of questions asked during the debate was a clear demonstration of the commitment of people – whether youths or adults – to find solutions to a problem which concerns about 40 per cent of the West African population and which, if not addressed, could have detrimental effects to the security of the whole region.