Liberian president says youth unemployment a threat to peace

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Youth unemployment is a major threat to peace and security in Liberia which, unless addressed, could see the return of conflict to the West African country following a decade of peace, the president said.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

On a visit to Brussels to highlight the challenges facing fragile states, Presi-dent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said more needed to be done to help young Liberians affected by 14 years of on-off civil war that ended in 2003.

According to the United Nations, young people account for about 65 per cent of Liberia’s population of 4.1 million, and youth unemployment is estimated as high as 85 per cent.

“Peace and security in Liberia is still an issue because of the young unemployed, and until we can address that, there’s always hanging over us the chance that there may be a resumption of conflict,” she said during an interview with Reuters.

The high proportion of young people in Liberia is mirrored across many parts of Africa, and is often cited as a source of optimism for the continent’s future economic growth and development. But Sirleaf’s warning underscores the risk that Africa’s long-heralded “demographic dividend” could become a liability unless governments can create more jobs for their growing populations.

The issue is one that Sirleaf hopes to address as chairwoman of a high level panel set up to advise the African Development Bank on working with fragile states.

She called for a stronger focus on providing vocational and technical training for those whose educations had been sabotaged by years of conflict.

“These are the young people who were bypassed by an education,” she said. “We’ve got to give them the means whereby they can have a livelihood, whereby they can get their dignity back and support themselves.”

There is a need for a more aggressive approach to tackling issues such as youth unemployment and poor infrastructure within fragile states and regions, Sirleaf added.

The term fragile states refers to a group of about 50 countries characterised by weak governance and poverty, often as a result of violent conflict or other forms of political crisis.

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