Real jobs in fragile contexts

Reframing youth employment programming in Liberia and Sierra Leone

Youth unemployment in fragile contexts is increasingly highlighted as a security concern and therefore as a priority policy area.
The purpose of this report is to contribute to the hotly debated topic of youth unemployment from a peacebuilding perspective. There has been extensive policy engagement with employment, and the conversation has generated many useful diagnoses of the problem itself and suggestions for responses, from the theoretical to the technical. However, programming for youth in fragile settings remains characterised by inertia and is failing to consistently respond to contextual needs. Our objective is to understand why this might be the case.
Through field research in Liberia and Sierra Leone, we looked at how the youth employment issue is being framed, how it interacts with other dynamics in these countries, and what practical constraints exist to advancing the employment-as-peacebuilding agenda in an effective way. We argue that, despite the wealth of accrued knowledge, programming is not changing quickly or significantly enough because there has been a reluctance to talk about some of the more difficult challenges inherent in the youth unemployment question. This lack of progress is also related to the incentives (and disincentives) inherent in programming and the ways in which contextual factors interact with these issues – many of which can be politically sensitive and difficult to acknowledge. Therefore, the current basis of programming is one premised on misplaced expectations and unrealistic ‘hope for the best’ scenarios.
The report analyses several themes central to understanding the peace-related dynamics of employment programming: the framing of the (un)employment question in relation to the economy; the definition and role of youth; the politics and institutional dynamics surrounding the issue; and the nature of relationships between key stakeholders. Reflecting on these areas, three key findings emerged as follows.