MOGADISHU, Somalia – In a recent TED Talk, Muhammad Ali paints a bleak picture of youth culture in his home country of Somalia. Nearly 70 percent of youths in Mogadishu suffer from unemployment. These youths–many of whom are college graduates–have dreams of success and prosperity, but there is a lack of real opportunity. Young people often find themselves in a state of waithood, a period of transition and emptiness that if left void, Ali warns, leads to gang membership, violence, and terrorism.
The link between unemployment and terrorism is not a new revelation. The theory of relative deprivation, originally coined in the early twentieth century, captures how a lack of perceived success translates into deviation. As Ted Robert Gurr states, “’Relative deprivation’ is the term… used to denote the tension that develops from a discrepancy between the “ought” and the “is” of collective value satisfaction, and that disposes men to violence.” It is the gap between expected and achieved welfare–not the absolute lack of welfare–that creates communal dissatisfaction and leads individuals to deviant behavior.
Thus, it is no surprise terrorists are often well educated. The description painted by J.P Azam matches that of Ali’s experience: “The emerging picture is that terrorists are men and women in their twenties with some post-secondary training, mostly in technical or engineering education.” With no satisfactory job opportunities, these young talented individuals take their skills elsewhere, such as the militant groups Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab.
To fight terrorism, Ali devotes his life work to giving youths an alternate choice: the path of entrepreneurship. He started the Iftiin Foundation, which “incubates businesses, social ventures and groundbreaking projects to encourage a culture of change and innovation among young leaders,” states their website. Ali inspires Somalian youth to identify new opportunities for business and social impact. One student, for example, recognized the need for fresh flowers in Mogadishu and began his own florist shop, the first the city has seen in decades. Instead of living the short life of a suicide bomber, this student now plans to construct a peace park in urban Mogadishu.
The Iftiin Foundation also partners with Generation Change, a United States Department of State initiative “dedicated to empowering and networking a new generation of innovative young leaders in Muslim communities around the world,” says the U.S. Department of State website. The program has 30 chapters worldwide and seeks to connect young people from all disciplines: from poets to activists, filmmakers to business owners. According to the group’s Facebook account, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared members of Generation Change “unofficial ambassadors on behalf of our country.”
Although headlines and front pages are filled with stories of violence, terror, and suffering, there is an answer to ending terrorism. According to Ali and his allies, that answer is entrepreneurship. Inspiring young people to take charge of their destinies can change a generation and the world–for the better.
– Mallory Thayer