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.


About yipe
Yipe an acronym for the Youth Interactive Portal for Enterprise is an organization that assists entrepreneurs to start up and manage their small businesses.

One Response to Youth Disaffection: the elephant in the living room

  1. Katch up says:

    True, disillusionment is all over the place. If something was there to occupy our minds, perhaps we would not commit the crimes we do today. Well, in as much as there are limited opportunities, I’m yet to agree with some of the youth, though being one of them, on this front of “crime because of no chances.”

    Who really creates these opportunities that some of us wait for? People create them, isn’t it? Not aliens, not gods, not ghosts. Can we be these people? Do we have to wait for ready to use stuff? Are we as the youth beyond invention stage? If my father has a peice of land, why can’t I look to buy my own piece elsewhere, such that the inheritance will just be an addition to my personally acquired property? Do I have to bank my everything on an inheritance? Do I have to hunt that tongue of piece of land like it was life?

    Young people, not just in Africa but all over the world, need to consider themselves as “alone”. Lone mountain men and women out to discover, create, inspire, acquire and build. We are not children anymore to depend on our kin even when we can do better.

    When I read history book, even on events as recent as 1900s, I get very challenged by the age of some movers of things. People who left home, went and observed the world, fought against despair, marked their own territories and went back home on front pages of local dailies to tell tales, at an age when our mothers today still remind us to wear coats because it might be chilly in the evening!

    Fellow young men and women, we don’t need a clean world to survive. We can clean the dirty one we have and live.

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