Creating good job opportunities at local level: a way to stop young people being attracted to terrorism

Employment & Income,Peace & Security,Sahel Watch26 Aug 2015Amagoin Keita

In her article on youth employment in Mali, Marije Balt argued that there is a definitely established and clear link between youth unemployment and criminal and terrorist actions in the north and the centre of Mali. Her article explains the issue very well. To deal with this issue in a meaningful way and resolve it in the long run, the local economic environment needs to be made more dynamic and offer more opportunities for youth employment. Most young people in urban and rural areas have a real desire to find a job and to work in order to be useful to their families and communities. The permanent lack of jobs at the local level pushes them to risk their lives, either trying to cross the sea or engaging with terrorist and criminal groups.

In Mali there seems to be too much focus on the efforts that the central government should put into direct job creation for young people. Recently, following this way of thinking, the Prime Minister Modibo Keita declared in his Policy Statement before the Parliament, that, by 2018, his Government will create 200,000 (two hundred thousand!) jobs for youngsters.1 In my view, given the context and the circumstances, this seems unrealistic and beyond the capacity of central government.

The government should be thinking of creating an enabling environment which will promote youth employment, instead of focusing on direct job creation. Such an environment should involve tax exemption for startups, and obliging financial institutions to only apply minimal interest rates on bank loans taken out by young entrepreneurs. In addition central government should also accelerate the process of decentralization and consider local governments as a main ally in creating an enabling environment for youth employment. This has not yet happened.

Currently the main trend of decentralization in Mali is to give more power to the regions. I am inclined to think that this regionalization is mostly intended to resolve the political issue of the Tuaregs and northern Mali by setting up stronger regional political bodies able to enter into, and develop, political dialogue with the central government and its multilateral and bilateral funding partners. Though it is important to have strong regional decentralized bodies such as regional governments/assemblies, this level of decision making still seems too far-removed from people at the grassroots and still too remote to be able to address their basic livelihood needs.

Deepening and accelerating the process of decentralization in Mali (the declared intent of the central government) would generate more job opportunities for young people. But, the emphasis needs to be on local government at the district level (‘communes’ in Mali). The communes are much closer to their citizens than regional administrations and, as such, are much more able to address the issue of youth unemployment. The majority of these millions of unemployed youngsters (in Mali, they represent 30% to 40% of the population of 15 million) would be happy to have jobs in their communities, not far from their parents, instead of what many of them now to choose to do: coming to Bamako and struggling to find a decent livelihood there or even risking their lives to get to the shores of Europe. These young people would be more than happy to take the opportunities given to them at local level (in their communes and communities) to work, to earn money honestly and to live decently in the social environment the know and love. This is actually what many of the extremist groups have understood and is why they have started offering jobs, on the condition that the recipients follow their ideology.

A real process of decentralization through local governments, focusing on economic development at the grassroots level and creating an enabling social, economic, political, cultural and secure local environment for the young people, would surely allow them to live and work locally and achieve their goals in life in their home communities. If the rural areas offered more opportunities for good jobs (in smallholder farming businesses or providing basic services such as solar energy, mobile phones, internet services, community radios, water pump maintenance, etc.), the idea of moving to the big cities such as Bamako, Mopti, Gao, Sikasso, Segou or Timbuktu in search of a hypothetically better life would lose much of its appeal.

1. Read the full speech (in French):