BLOG: The fifth wave of terrorism – The youth, unemployed and ill prepared

At our annual meeting on Dec 6th, I addressed the issues pertaining to the next terrorism threat, which is the Youth countries like Africa, Middle East and LATAM. In the locations I just mentioned, more people aged between 15 and 24 live in the world today than ever before in human history, and that age bracket is likely to grow steadily for the next generation or more. That is a steep comparison with an aging Europe.

Those young people are born and raised in the world’s most volatile and conflict-prone regions, which are also among the most fertile recruiting grounds for transnational terrorist groups. The ways and the social, political, cultural framework under which these young people transition into adulthood has severe implications not only to their own societies and future, but most importantly to the overall security situation for the decades to come. Very few seem to have realized that we have the unique opportunity to shape our future realities by addressing the youth of today, who are either our future partners or our future enemies.

In reality, instead of grasping the opportunity to converse with these age groups in those countries, they are dealt with as if they were an overwhelming hinderance. Poverty, unemployment, disease, corruption, criminality, substance abuse, lack of legitimate means, instability and volatility prevent those young people from actualizing their potential and instead lead them to radicalization, violence and crime. In Egypt, for example, more than half the labor force is younger than age 30. An equal proportion of the 167 million inhabitants of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, are between the ages of 15 and 34. In countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia, and Uganda, more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25. In Mali, more than half of the population is under the age of 18. Where are these young people headed? Do they get a chance to aspire to something better, or a short life riddled with poverty and conflict is all they get?

Countries and governments sometimes lack the capacity to educate, sustain, and offer sufficient social services and opportunities to those rapidly growing populations. We have operated in these locations for years and we see -first hand- these so called youthful states, being ill-equipped to address high fertility, urban growth, unemployment, corruption and crime. They are actually ignoring a situation so volatile that can threaten their peaceful existence in decades to come!

It is evident that without work now, or some good future prospects, these young people resort to migration within and beyond country borders, sometimes stirring social unrest and straining host governments’ ability to accommodate their basic needs. For these young people, their mounting frustration risks sending them into the willing arms of extremist groups, either in their communities or on-line. Once radicalized, they lose their sense of identity and their moral and ethical framework becomes assimilated into a hate rhetoric.

I can state from my past military experience as well as my current role that we can see on the ground in real time the impact of the youth boom on global security. And to their credit, they have been among the most articulate voices warning against relying disproportionately on military solutions to combat extremism, just look at social media, of go to a restaurant or get your hair cut, or take a taxi, listen to what is being said.

When our companies such as Al Thuraya Consultancy or ICESERVE24 come into contact with recruits who became attracted to extremist groups or a terrorist narrative, even gangs or militia, it becomes painfully obvious that they do not join for ideological reasons they join because they sorely need an income and a sense of belonging. Far too many of them would do almost anything to survive.

The Problem: 

We expected those youth will migrate (which has started) somewhere else or potentially join terrorist organizations. So, from a risk security perspective, we think it’s imperative that we address the African and LATAM situation, because it can potentially be a hot bed for terrorists in the future, and that is based on ground truth as well as based on facts and data.

Can governments seize the opportunity to influence tectonic social shifts that will impact global peace and prosperity for decades (are they even willing to do so?)?

We see that Developing countries need help meeting the basic needs of their growing youth populations, which are insufficiently prepared for the 21st century economy. In many countries, that means providing schooling for the large numbers of children who are not even attending primary through secondary school as well as capacity building.

Education and building capacity:

Solving that complex challenge also includes preparing enough skilled teachers to help their students learn. From our side of the spectrum, Al Thuraya Academy feels that developing countries also need help aligning educational institutions with the labor market, something we have started to do in MENA and LATAM. People in general albeit, ex-military, young and women need help growing and expanding enterprises to help them become engines of employment — instead of expanding the ranks of job-seekers. Moreover, a sad reality is that employment is not the only thing that can save a life from being wasted in a terrorist group or a criminal gang. The biggest driver towards violence is injustice and marginalization that many young people feel when they witness corruption, preferential treatment for elites, and distant, seemingly ineffective government.

Traditional tools of human development – education, job training and other supportive services, remain essential to giving young people opportunities and the tools to avoid involvement in violent extremism. But they’re not enough. Such intervention like capacity building is what Al Thuraya Academy provides. An opportunity for them to engage productively in their communities and, ideally, contribute to ensuring a just and reliable governance. As for the many youth-led movements that already exist to counter violence and create positive change, many would benefit from support to help them further scale up their impact and reach a wider audience strengthening their positive focus.

I am not here to dictate a program for governments, I am simply saying that to be effective means that we, as business owners and providers, must engage developing countries, vendors and business partners to help overcome corruption and fragility, strengthen democratic institutions, and limit harsh military and police enforcement approaches for countering extremism. After all, these strategies are often counterproductive and creating even more sympathetic ears to an extremist rhetoric.

We collectively need to change the course of the next wave of Terrorism Threat; we need to follow a different path. That begins with understanding the immense impact of the youth boom and finding ways to tap its potential and promise. The future is here and is growing up besides us.