By Jerry B. Tarbolo, Jr.
Citizens and politicians in Liberia carried the notion that disadvantage youths are security risk to stability in the country. In fact, there is a growing debate amongst politicians and intellectuals of policy science that the need to cater for these categories of young people in Liberia is a matter of must, and by not doing so, the nation is self-assured to entertaining rise in criminality and violence. The government of Liberia, political parties, and even members of the national legislature are all racing in building rehabilitation homes for these young people, although the process may likely seem unstructured.
This article is considering security risk as the unit of analysis. What is security risk? The concept should be conceptualized. Clearly understanding the concept should help us test the strength of the relationship between the concept and the realities of the disadvantage youths in Liberia. By what means are they characterized as security risk? Is the condition of the disadvantage youths been articulated as security risk as a result of some policy failure or simply as threat to national security?
Political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes took the realist notion that security is all about the protection of the state and since states are in anarchy (i.e. there is no world police to limit its action and state are all sovereign regardless of their size), it is important for states to seek for its protection in such a situation. Security, for Hobbes, was an absolute value, and if there is an existential threat on the existence of the state, the state can rightfully ask anything, even if it is their life, to protect it from such threats. The state is the first point of protection since it must protect citizens whose lives are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. However, Barry Buzan et al from the Copenhagen School developed a new but controversial concept of security. The concept of state-centric security was broadened to include other aspects of including human security. Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, argued that security is treated as an objective condition but not an outcome of a specific social problem and politicians and policy-makers used speech-acts through which threats become represented and recognized. What this means is that issues become securitized by politicians and policy-makers when the security of the state is threatened, but does not include actors and objects well beyond the state security. The Copenhagen School theorized that in the social sector the referent object (i.e the actors or objects that are threaten) should not be the state or national security but the identity of the people and or their conditions.
Unlike the traditional school of thought, security risk in the social sector should take a tradeoff between what threatens the disadvantage youths in Liberia as oppose to what threats they (the disadvantage youths) have on the state or national security. Instead of thinking on the state being at risk, the politicians and policy-makers should think on articulating the existential threats the state has imposed on these disadvantage youths by their condition as a result of state failure. Building rehabilitation homes in an unstructured manner is treating the symptoms and not the root causes of the problem. These disadvantaged youths in Liberia are suffering from identity crises that the government seem not to fully understand. They are even classed as “ZOGOs”- a disparaging characterization of young people; thus, politicizing their issues and moving it up to the level of securitization with the notion that they are threats to the state security. Like state security has sovereignty as its referent object, societal security has identity as its referent object. A state that loses its sovereignty does not survive as a state; a society that loses its identity fears that it will no longer be able to live as itself (Waever, 1995:67 as cited by Williams, C.M., 2003:519). These disadvantaged youths are in constant fear of their conditions, and how the state has characterized them. They are exposed to violence, life threaten diseases, and losing out on their full potentials in giving back positively to society. Rehabilitation homes cannot be a response to solving these critical issues and conditionalities. In these conditionalities they are debilitated and can quickly be used and abused by the very politicians.
Addressing the issues of Disadvantage Youth (ZOGOs)
Firstly, the government of Liberia would need to have proper data/statistical information on these categories of young people in the entire country. Conducting a survey could be a practical step using existing structures like the Federation of Liberian Youth-FLY, the Mano River Youth Parliament-MRUYP or even contracting a think-tank of youth development experts supervised by Liberia Institute of Statistic and Geo-information- LISGIS. They will speak to these young people themselves and gather first hand information of their condition which may vary from county to county. Of course, they should also do a desk review of exiting youth policies and see how these disadvantage youths have been captured. The report from this survey could be an input into the development of a program for these disadvantage youths. I am not talk about programs that use them as daily hire like the Youth Opportunity Project (YOP) which has a public works component that focused largely on work and training of youths for 100days to be paid 3 USD per day, (PAPD 2018-2023). The findings and recommendations from the survey would then give the government an idea to consider which category of the “Zogos” to go to rehab and which category could go into direct training.
Secondly, the whole of government approach should be considered in making special budgetary appropriation for these disadvantage youths to be executed by a private firm in training and engaging these young people into agriculture on an industrial scale. The ministry of Youth and Sports could supervise the program. Development growth literature has demonstrated that growth is highly contingent on the state of human capital, (Klasen, 2003), and Liberia with a youthful population is more likely to help the government achieve its Pro-poor policy as far as youth vulnerability is concerned when once agriculture is linked to youth development.
Lastly, the state should use these programs developed to restore the identity of these disadvantage youths by mitigating the security risk the state has imposed on them. In doing so, there should be a plan by the government of Liberia to create a social safety net that will take care of the soft-side (food, shelter and clothing) of these disadvantage youths.
A more critical review of the proposal in this article could be considered by the government of Liberia. It is acknowledged that this article presented a broader strategy in addressing the notion that security risk of disadvantage youths is not threat to the national security of the state; instead, it concerns itself with the threats the state has imposed on these categories of young people.
If the government conceptualization of Pro-poor policy is merely to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor as well as to build a non-divisive nation-state, then that must be treating the symptoms to the problems.
 The Youth Opportunity Project (2016-2020) is aimed at improving access to income generation of vulnerable youths as well as strengthen the government’s capacity to implement the embedded public works cash transfer program.