"If Youth Are Given the Chance"
Effects of education and civic engagement on Somali youth support for political violence
Though an increasing number of empirical studies have focused on evaluating the impact of development programs on attitudes and behaviors related to violence (including Mercy Corps' research in Somaliland and Afghanistan), questions remain about the relative effectiveness of different types of interventions and about the conditions under which some interventions may or may not succeed in reducing violence. The motivation behind this research study is to help fill these knowledge gaps. In particular, this research seeks to test the impact of two common violence-reduction approaches—education and civic engagement—on youths' level of support for armed violence. By expanding our previous study from Somaliland to examine education, civic engagement, and political violence in South Central Somalia and Puntland, this study also allows us to understand whether the effects of the same education and civic engagement interventions persist across different contexts.
To promote stability, several youth development programs in Somalia seek to engage vulnerable youth and address their needs, including Mercy Corps' Somali Youth Learners Initiative (SYLI), which focused on increasing access to secondary education and civic engagement opportunities for youth. Data collection occurred between April and May 2017 and was carried out by a hired research firm. A total of 1,220 youth participated in the survey. Within each of the eight locations, in-school and out-of-school youth ages 15–24 years old were invited to take part in the survey at community centers and schools. Forty youth ages 18–30 years old were interviewed in four locations in South Central Somalia (Luuq and Belet Hawa in Gedo Province and Fanole and Farjano in Kismayo) during October–November 2017.
The interviews were conducted in Somali and moderated by the contracted research firm. Facilitators used an interview guide that incorporated semi-structured questions and storytelling components. From an impact evaluation that surveyed 1,220 young people in these two violence-affected regions of Somalia, we found that both SYLI-supported secondary education alone and SYLI-supported secondary education combined with civic engagement opportunities pulled Somali youth away from supporting violent groups. We also identified possible explanations for these reductions in support: both versions of the intervention led engaged youth to be more optimistic about their future job prospects and more confident in the use of nonviolent means to achieve change in their communities. These two significant pathways suggest that the SYLI program enabled youth to feel more capable of shaping their own futures and influencing their communities, which in turn may explain the reduced support for armed opposition groups that feed off young people's frustrations and feelings of disempowerment.