November 25, 2013 / 8:07 PM / 4 years ago

Liberian president says youth unemployment a threat to peace

* Lack of jobs a risk to stability a decade after civil war

* Youth unemployment a focus of push to help “fragile states”

* Sirleaf says does not want third presidential term

By Charlie Dunmore

BRUSSELS, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Youth unemployment is a major threat to peace and security in Liberia which, unless addressed, could see the return of conflict to the West African country following a decade of peace, the president said.

On a visit to Brussels to highlight the challenges facing fragile states, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said more needed to be done to help young Liberians affected by 14 years of on-off civil war that ended in 2003.

According to the United Nations, young people account for about 65 percent of Liberia’s population of 4.1 million, and youth unemployment is estimated as high as 85 percent.

“Peace and security in Liberia is still an issue because of the young unemployed, and until we can address that, there’s always hanging over us the chance that there may be a resumption of conflict,” she said during an interview with Reuters.

The high proportion of young people in Liberia is mirrored across many parts of Africa, and is often cited as a source of optimism for the continent’s future economic growth and development.

But Sirleaf’s warning underscores the risk that Africa’s long-heralded “demographic dividend” could become a liability unless governments can create more jobs for their growing populations.

The issue is one that Sirleaf hopes to address as chairwoman of a high level panel set up to advise the African Development Bank on working with fragile states.

She called for a stronger focus on providing vocational and technical training for those whose educations had been sabotaged by years of conflict.

“These are the young people who were bypassed by an education,” she said. “We’ve got to give them the means whereby they can have a livelihood, whereby they can get their dignity back and support themselves.”

There is a need for a more aggressive approach to tackling issues such as youth unemployment and poor infrastructure within fragile states and regions, Sirleaf added.

The term fragile states refers to a group of about 50 countries characterised by weak governance and poverty, often as a result of violent conflict or other forms of political crisis.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, examples of fragile states include Myanmar, Kosovo and Haiti, and in all they are home to one-third of the world’s poor.

Despite the challenges facing Liberia, Sirleaf reiterated her belief that the country would achieve double-digit economic growth within five years.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Sirleaf became Africa’s first freely-elected woman president following her inauguration in 2006. She was voted in for a second term in 2011, but ruled out the possibility of running for a third term.

“Our constitution forbids it, the Liberian people would not allow it, I do not want it,” she said.

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