This article is an opinion edition related to the Liberian society written by the operation team of the Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development, the organisation implementing the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Index, the SCORE Index. However, opinions expressed in this article are that of the authors and do not represent the positions of SeeD and that of its partners, notably the UNDP, PBF or the PBO and the Government of Liberia. The opinions do not represent the views of WACSI. For more information about SCORE Liberia findings:
Sixteen years after one of the most devastating civil wars in West Africa, Liberia has made impressive progress towards peace. However, despite the efforts, several obstacles stand on the way of the country to durable peace, stability and shared prosperity. Undeniably, one of the major obstacles facing the country is the issue of the disenfranchised and disconnected youth, infamously known as the “Zogos*”
Visitors of Broad Street, one of the busiest business areas of Monrovia and its surroundings including around the Palm Grove Cemetery will notice many of those young people in the street busy loading taxis, inviting private-owned vehicles to clean, begging, or simply starring abstractedly. It is apparent that many of them are suffering from under-nutrition and other diseases when some are living with handicaps. They would not hesitate to tell people who approach them that they feel they have been forgotten.
In fact, whereas current socio-economic situations draw a lot of uneducated young people in the street, many of the Zogos around Broad Street and its surrounding are ex-combatants and ex-child soldiers who were not rehabilitated after the war and found themselves in the street indulging in illicit and sometimes violence activities to make a living. According to Amnesty International (2004), after the Civil War in Liberia, about 21,000 child soldiers were identified. Across the counties where discussions were held during the calibration process of the Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (SCORE) Index, populations associated the Zogos with drug trafficking, pickpocketing, prostitutions and other criminal activities. In addition, 83.6% of the people surveyed identified the incomplete disarmament of ex-combatants as a risk factor in Liberia. This stresses the need for proper actions aimed at rehabilitating ex-combatants and reintegrating them into the Liberian society as constructive forces.
The issue is all the more disquieting as many of those ex-child soldiers have never learnt a qualifying trade and have grown to adult-hood with children born and raised in the same deprivation, hence perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty, insecurity and drug use. Moreover, owing to their past exposure to conflicts and mastery of arms, they could fall prey to armed groups fighting in other contexts. Reports by Human Rights Watch as reported by Reuters found that some Liberians fought during the 2010-2011 post-electoral war in Côte d’Ivoire.
It is apparent that the way forward for the Liberian society has to include strong policies and programs to rehabilitate and socialise the Zogos as a constructive force for the country’s economy. The Government of Liberia’s newly adopted Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, the PAPD, an ambitious 5-year development plan aimed at building a stronger and resilient Liberian society, has youth policies ascribed as a priority.
Youth development outcomes are very prominent in the PAPD with the document committing to “accelerate the process of transforming Liberia’s demographic dividend (its disproportionate youth population) into a potential driver of growth and transformation starting with expanding social inclusion through work and life skills opportunities…” The concretisation of this plan will surely contribute to reconvert these active youth as constructive forces for the Liberian economy. Achieving the effective socialisation of the “disconnected youth” in Liberia would require a comprehensive approach including psychological support, counseling and medical support in addition to training and reintegration in the society and a follow-up over a long period of time.