Democracy, safety, and diaspora: the Ambassador’s trip to Somalia and Somaliland

Between the 25-29th of February, the Dutch Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work visited Somalia and Somaliland. Here, he spoke with, and listened to, local youth and diplomats in a series of events. Amongst others: the graduation ceremony of the first cohort of the Somaliland Democracy Academy; in conversation with Dutch-Somali diaspora; and in meetings with local Ministers.

Jurriaan Middelhoff in Somalia
The Ambassador in conversation with youth in a local Youth Centre.

Somalia and Somaliland: the Challenges and the Opportunities

Somalia, just like almost any other African country, has a youth population of well over 70%. It has a lively and communicative Dutch-Somali diaspora, whom establish companies and economic opportunities in response to the challenges facing the country. The potential role of youth in Somalia is significant, but it’s also evident that some mayor challenges persist.

For example, education and work opportunities for youth are prominent concerns in Somalia. Access to quality education remains limited due to conflict, displacement, and inadequate infrastructure; affecting rural and conflict-affected regions the most. As such, over 66% of the youth population is unable to get proper and inclusive education.

Lack of education leads to disproportionately high youth unemployment rates, which are currently estimated at 80%. Meaningful employment in the countries’ current situation is hard to come by, which contributes to the economic instability and social unrest in the region.

Many turn to the informal economy, engaging in activities such as small-scale trade and agriculture, which, while providing income, lack security and opportunities for skill development. Still, it’s undeniable that the potential of youth in Somalia is promising, which was also reflected in the Ambassadors’ trip.

Safe Spaces for Youth

The trip started in Hargeisa where the Ambassador met with different young people, youth-led civil society organizations, and a youth-umbrella organization. The excitement to support youth-led organizations was remarkable, as well as the willingness to engage youth voices in policy making.

Still, in order to engage with these voices, they need to be taken seriously; which is still one of the problems that youth faces. To let their voice be heard, it was told, more safe spaces needed to be provided to allow for collective strategy and action.

One of these safe spaces was actually inaugurated during the trip by the Ambassador together with the Minister of Youth and Sports of Somaliland. The Berbera Youth Centre in the port-town of Berbera was subject of this particular inauguration and part of the wider Dalbile Youth Initiative. This UNFPA-led initiative has financed 101 startups, supported four youth-led social enterprise grants, and now established 3 youth centers which provide vocational and literacy skills, health care and leisure activities to 1200 youth. 

Sharing a meal during one of the visits in Hargeisa.

Supporting Democracy

Another exciting event was the graduation ceremony of the first cohort of the Somaliland Democracy Academy. Here, the Ambassador had the opportunity to congratulate the graduates and converse with them on democracy and meaningful political participation for youth.

The Democracy Academy, an initiative realized through the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, brings the participant closer to political decision-makers and elders, enlarging their network and expanding their knowledge. Through networking and linking events, the participants are enabled to share their ideas on policy and legislation, giving the elders and decision-makers a valuable insight into youth perspectives.

Jurriaan Middelhoff in Somalia
The Ambassador giving a speech during the graduation ceremony of the Somaliland Democracy Academy.

Dutch-Somali Diaspora Voices

As indicated earlier, the relation between the Netherlands and Somalia is good. This is partly due to an active and vocal Dutch-Somali diaspora in the Netherlands and a lively Dutch-Somali business community in Somalia.

The Dutch-Somali diaspora have been a strong ally in the work that the Netherlands has been doing across Somalia. Collaborating with the diaspora presents an invaluable opportunity to leverage their expertise, networks, and resources in addressing youth unemployment and fostering sustainable economic empowerment initiatives.

Whilst there is no structured trade and investment cooperation between the Netherlands and Somalia, studies carried out by EU Delegation in Kenya reveal that the Netherlands leads in the amount of EU company’s investments in Somalia. Many of these companies are established by the Dutch Diaspora.

For example, Nasir Ali, a Dutch diaspora, and his team at Youth Economic Empowerment & Leadership (YEEL) have been working with youth, providing training and start up business investments to young and female entrepreneurs in Hargeisa. Conversations with these entrepreneurs learned that, in other circumstances, they would never have been able achieve what they did. 

Meaningful Youth Participation for the Future

The Ambassador’s trip to Somalia showed a vibrant and energetic youth population, with many initiatives contributing to their flourishment. The strong ties between the Netherlands and Somalia shows promise for future relations between the two countries; a future where meaningful youth participation in professional and political life is prioritized in the face of the countries’ challenges.