Youth and labour in Liberia
It is still difficult for young people in Liberia to find a steady job. The perception of the civil wars as a youth revolution, where the youth turned established hierarchies and traditional structures upside down and were thereby able to change their position in society, is not completely true. In most cases “big men” were, and still are, commanding from behind the curtains. When it comes to job opportunities and labour market structures, the situation after the wars is very similar to the way it was before the wars.
– Employment for young Liberians is generally insecure, temporary and contract-based, and has been since the emergence of the labour market in Liberia in the 1950s. Young Liberian men and women predominantly seem to find work through informal ties and connections, says NAI researcher Emy Lindberg.
Informal networks are important for labour mobilisation and the distribution of jobs, and have been part of the Liberian societal structure for a long time. As NAI researcher Anders Themnér and Mats Utas illustrate, in the post-war context, former commanders (“big men”) have served as recruiters and distributors of “non-violent jobs”. Other NAI research by Ilmari Käihkö notes that in a society which is trying to move away from the post-war period, family, friends and colleagues tend to form the larger parts of these informal networks that can serve as work distributors.
– For young uneducated Liberian men, temporary jobs on plantations or in mines are often the best on offer. My research shows that this was also the case in the pre-war Liberian society and labour market. The salary is often low and upon finishing the work, and during the periods of waiting for new work opportunities, these youths need to find multiple complementary incomes, such as washing cars, street vending or repairing, in order to survive. As they form part of the informal networks, they are also bound by loyalties and ties to families and friends. They often have other people depending on their income, says Emy Lindberg.
Youth unemployment is at the top of the agenda for many international organisations, but also for the Liberian government. A number of projects have been launched to address the high unemployment rate among Liberian youth. However, the formal labour market in Liberia is small, and since Liberia is dependent on its exports of raw materials and agricultural products - while it imports most of the consumer goods needed - there are not that many jobs available apart from work in these industries.