Why are young Africans joining militias? What can be done?

By Editorial Board - 20 July 2015 at 10:41 am

Many of Africa’s young men choose militias mainly because there is little else to embark on in which they can carve out a life for themselves; there is no job, no school, no other opportunities, but to join. According to the United Nations, the Central African Republic (CAR) is suffering a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, and most of the rest of the world doesn’t even know about it. A Muslim rebel group overthrew the corrupt regime in 2013, deposing Francois Bozize. A Christian militia took their revenge on the country’s Muslims in the brutality of ethnic cleansing. Bangua, the capital city, has seen 99 percent of Muslims dead or escaped. Twenty-five percent of the country’s people have evacuated their residences, according to Foreign Policy.

Louisa Lombard and Sylvain Batianga-Kinzi’s research suggests that the conflict is not religion-based but is in fact about poverty and marginalization. Those responsible for CAR’s poor post-independence state of affairs have relinquished control of the angry youth they armed and manipulated for self-gain. The republic is now suffering the consequences.

Poverty is the root cause that enabled the manipulation of these young men. Dismal education, the scarcity of jobs, and frustration with an ineffectual authority form men who are prime candidates to become radical and exploited. The world needs to take notice, this situation is not in CAR alone but is spreading across Africa like wildfire. Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest amount of youth in the world, and unfortunately these youth are two times as likely to be jobless than their parents.



In Sub-Saharan Africa education is very hard to come by. Young men in the family tradition of moving livestock tend to be dismissive of what small educational opportunities there are for them, asking what the real benefit of any such minor amount of education might be, and rightly so. Some are stuck in the belief that education is a Western idea and therefore to be shunned. This is all the more believable for them, often being in country’s that were exploited as European colonies. Still more don’t have any access to the education systems available in their countries. UNESCO reports say that the lowest youth literacy is in eighteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Guinea, CAR, and Niger’s youth illiteracy rates all fall in the 30-40 percent range.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, West and South Asia, 48 million are illiterate. These numbers do not illustrate the differences in the availability of education in the cities and in the rural areas. Young men brought into militias mostly come from rural areas where access to education in most limited. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria are facing increasing illiteracy over time. Boko Haram, in Nigeria, offers a simple worldview, comprised mainly of rhetoric with a theological bent, which the youth are highly receptive to. The Janjaweed in Sudan offer opportunities to steal as their seductive means whereby they can recruit the local youth into their ranks. Still, for those who do manage to get a limited amount of education in countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, jobs are so scarce, and so the youth find steady income in militias; their only apparent alternative.

Considering the facts, it is not unusual for young men without skill, education, or other opportunity are drawn to the militias. Militias are appealing when compared with unemployment and poverty. They provide as sense of pride and self-worth in people who are generally closed out of better fortune by a corrupt ruling elite. Like those who join street gangs in the developed world, these young men are the ultimate outsiders in their countries.

Militias most often become like organized crime and, once entrenched in an area, are hard to eradicate. According to Yourmiddleeast.com, members of the Islamic State admit joining because they can rape women without repercussions. Militias in Africa are generally comprised of men who sought wives and loot, and some were forced to join.

America and Europe subsidize farmers in order to help maintain farms over the changing seasonal cycles. Meanwhile they send the overproduction to the developing world as aid or imports that cost so little it harms the competition with locally produced crops. Developing countries demand developing countries eliminate taxes on those imports, which further strains local producers. In order to stop feeding into the political situation that gives rise to militias, developed countries would have to stop aiding corrupt African leaders for political-economic reasons, such as maintaining the flow of oil from Nigeria. Western banks would have to cease laundering money looted by African politicians. An estimated $100 billion leaves Africa every year, stolen and washed in Western banks. Less aid flows to Africa, which goes to show how little seriousness is given by African leaders to improve the plight of their people. International development aid has been flowing into projects for women and girls in Africa. Perhaps the same could be done for the young men—before they join militias.

Editorial Board

Editorial Board

Africa Times is an independent participative online news site for Sub-Saharan Africa. We aim to empower all African voices through publishing content by a range of people, from academics to bloggers. We are dedicated to bringing the world an African view on life, up-to-date African news and analysis.

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