restricted access Chapter 7: Embracing the Margins: Working with Youth amid War and Insecurity
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101 The growing size of a young generation among the general population in the Muslim world will magnify existing regime failures to find solutions to socio-economic and political problems. In the coming decades, these failures are certain to hasten the moment of regime crisis, causing eventual collapse in many cases with unknown consequences. — Graham E. Fuller, The Youth Crisis in Middle Eastern Society1 RONALDO” WAS A four-year veteran of Liberia’s civil war. He was first abducted in 2000 by Charles Taylor’s army at the age of twelve years. His captors took him to a military camp, where he found many of his friends already there. They immediately warned him that “you have to be brave to survive.” His subsequent bravery caught his general’s eye, and Ronaldo soon became the general’s houseboy and prize trainee. Ronaldo escaped but was later recaptured, eventually returning to his role in the general’s service. Once, when the general left their upcountry military base for consultations with Taylor in the capital, he made Ronaldo base commander in his stead. Soon thereafter, Ronaldo’s military superiors ordered him to retreat to Monrovia with 3,600 soldiers and civilians under his command. The retreat lasted seventeen days and was labeled “Operation Dust to Dust” and “Man Moving, Man Dropping.” These two names were employed to remind those under his command that “if anyone says, ‘I’m tired, I can’t make it,’ you kill them.” After reaching Monrovia, Ronaldo was immediately returned to the war front. He was fourteen years old at the time.2 Embracing the Margins: Working with Youth amid War and Insecurity MARC SOMMERS 7 “ 07-1375-3 ch7 3/30/07 1:33 PM Page 101 Why have commanders been able to unlock the astounding resilience and potential of youth like Ronaldo while most governments and international institutions have not? It is an unfortunate irony of the current era that armed groups tend to value the versatility and resourcefulness of youth while civilian societies marginalize them. From suicide bombers and spies to field commanders and frontline warriors, there seems to be no end to what everyounger boys and girls can do in the service of war and political violence. At the same time, the social role of youth within war-affected states seems to be narrowing. Many are undereducated and migrating to cities and appear to be unemployed. There are also more of them in poor and unstable regions of Africa and the Middle East, where it often seems that nations do not know what to do with their own young people while armed groups keep discovering new ways to make use of them. These twin perceptions of youth—of their expanding utility to armed groups and of their limited utility to civilian societies—have conspired to create an image of young people as menaces to their own communities. It is an image that has been promoted by some proponents of the “youth bulge,” who view the rise in the proportion of young people in society, and their migration to urban areas, as a security threat. The post–September 11, 2001, world has further promoted the image of disaffected youth from certain areas of the world as potential terrorists. Although there is no question that growing proportions of youth in unstable societies should be a priority concern, government and international policies may unintentionally be making the youth challenge worse. Youth are seen as dangerous in part because governments and international actors have misunderstood them and set youth priorities aside. Viewing young people through the youth bulge lens, moreover, can inaccurately fuel fearful connections between youth in certain areas of the world and terrorism. This chapter argues that the perceived threat of youth to society is distorted and must be reassessed. It situates the youth bulge thesis in context, considers current policies that may be further marginalizing youth, reviews the central tenets of programming for marginalized youth, and concludes with recommendations aimed at reversing counterproductive policies and positively engaging youth to advance new policy directions. The Youth Bulge in Context We are promoting fear of the very people whom we should be positively partnering with: disadvantaged youth in poor and unstable nations. Though this 102 MARC SOMMERS 07-1375-3 ch7 3/30/07 1:33 PM Page 102 Working with Youth amid War and Insecurity 103 fear can inspire harmful assumptions about young people and promote misguided policy responses, it is also partly based on demographic evidence...


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