If Youth are given the Chance: Effects of Education and Civic Engagement on Somali Youth Support of Political Violence

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Understanding and addressing the root causes of conflict to promote long-term stability is a perennial focus of development programs, yet policymakers still struggle to find proven, effective solutions. Underlying this challenge is a dearth of evidence regarding violence-reduction approaches. 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.

Somalia faces many challenges and opportunities when it comes to violence reduction. Though the nation is striving to move beyond decades of unrest and violent conflict and toward stability and broad-based development, the security situation remains tenuous. The two truck bombs that exploded on October 14, 2017, killing more than 500 people in Mogadishu, highlight both how deadly armed opposition groups continue to be and Somalia’s continued vulnerability to violence. Armed groups have proven repeatedly how resilient they can be, constantly adapting to new threats— both internal and external—to ensure their own survival.

A steady source of resilience for armed opposition groups is a large pool of frustrated youth whom they can recruit and indoctrinate. 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. Evaluating the SYLI program provided an opportunity to better understand if and how improved access to formal secondary education and increased opportunities for civic engagement can reduce young Somalis’ support for armed groups and the use of violence to achieve political aims. 


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