This blog was first published on September 15, 2015 by Alexandre Marc, Chief Specialist for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence at the World Bank and author of the recently published book, “The Challenge of Stability and Security in West Africa. It is being re-posted this week to highlight the book’s launch event in Europe, at the Agence Française de Développement in Paris.
A few months ago, as I was walking through the streets of Bissau, the capital of Guinea Bissau, I reflected on what had happened to this country over the last 20 years. It had gone through a number of coups and a civil war; its economy had barely been diversified; electricity and water access was still a major issue. There was the city of Bissau on one side, where a semblance of services where provided, and the rest of the country on the other.
As Africa faces the potential for a demographic dividend, certain facts about Africa’s population offer cause for both excitement and concern.
“India has the maximum number of young people and these young people will enter the labor market in the next two decades.” These words by the World Bank’s Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer Sri Mulyani Indrawati at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology campus, Jaipur, on September 23, 2015, had all of us listening with rapt attention.
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Following prolonged conflict, it is often difficult to reestablish security and reduce crime and violence, especially among poor young men. In Liberia, development experts have been researching the most effective ways to support high-risk individuals, and they may have found an effective approach combining therapy with cash.
One of the most pressing concerns in post-conflict settings is how to help individuals transition back into a peaceful life. After a conflict has subsided, small arms are usually very common, local and national economies have been destroyed, and the emotional stress of the violence begins to take on new forms. Former soldiers, in particular, have trouble with the transition as they struggle with the pain and horror of what they experienced, and many do not remember how to participate in community life anymore. In response, the international development community often tries to “enable” these men by creating jobs for them. The theory is that if people are busy working they will not have the time or the inclination to commit crime.
However, simply providing jobs is rarely enough. The Network for Empowerment & Progressive Initiative (NEPI), an organization operating in Monrovia, Liberia, challenges this paradigm and seeks to support men formerly engaged in the country’s two civil wars by rehabilitating them through therapy.
Klubosumo Johnson Borh, the founder of NEPI, was as a Liberian teenager when he was recruited for Charles Taylor‘s infamously brutal rebel army. Borh was made a commander and oversaw soldiers who were even younger than he was. By the end of the conflict, which lasted from 1989 through 2003, nearly 10% of the population had been killed, and thousands of child soldiers were now grown men. Many of these men had trouble shaking the violent behaviors they had learned in war so Borh helped start NEPI in an effort to reform these and other troubled men.