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Monday, 4 January 2010

Youth Disaffection: the elephant in the living room

This week both online and offline conversations have been revolving around Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23 year old engineering student who was apprehended as he tried to detonate explosives he carried onto a Christmas day transatlantic flight into Detroit.
However, Abdulmutallab somehow does not fit the stereotypical profile of a terrorist for most. The young man is highly educated and in fact was raised in a well to do family - his father is a prominent banker and former Nigerian Minister. As a Financial Times article says:

"Other Africans, from Comoros, Kenya and Somalia, who have been involved in al-Qaeda activities, have come from humbler backgrounds. But Mr Abdulmutallab was born into Nigeria’s elite, and there is little in his African background to suggest he was a terrorist in the making".
So the question many have been bandying about is why on earth would this young man feel that he had nothing to loose and everything to gain by not only killing himself, but also taking down 278 lives with him?

Yes, Osama Bin Laden hails from a wealthy Saudi family but he is the kingpin of Al Qaeda. The actual foot soldiers have tended to be not as well educated or rich. Towards the end of 2009, stories in the media said that the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab was recruiting Kenyan youth. However, unlike Abdulmutallab, these youth come from an environment of abject poverty coupled with high rates of youth unemployment. They are the ones with nothing to loose and everything to gain.

A young person, say during Kenya’s post election violence period would probably think twice about setting fire to someone’s else’s property if they had assets of their own. However, as is the case in Kibera in early 2008, they not only burnt homes where they lived; they burned down shops where they bought their food; and they also burned down the petrol station where they bought kerosene to cook their food from the shops. In short these disaffected youth had nothing to loose, and everything to gain.

Like Abdulmutallab, there is a new face of disaffected youth emerging. These are the ones who though being graduates, have no jobs or alternative opportunities to create meaningful and sustainable livelihoods. These are the white collar car-jackers and hostage takers demanding ransoms for well known kidnapped personalities.

Before it may have been easy to ignore poor youth that take to the streets and engage in crime. However, the number of disaffected youth is coalescing across social and economic divides so much so that the carpet can no longer cover the elephant of youth disaffection in the living room.

1 comment:

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