Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 July 2018
This book has aimed to show how young people's labour market experiences in post-war Sierra Leone influence their political trajectories. The starting point was the popular portrayal of unemployed youth as a security risk in post-war countries and its reliance on the assumption of a direct relationship between youth unemployment and the likelihood of their engagement in political violence in the aftermath of conflict. While this assumption has gained significant traction amongst practitioners, with youth employment featuring prominently in peacebuilding strategies, it relies on a weak evidence base: it is intuitive but analytically reductive. The portrayal of the unemployed as ‘ticking bombs’ obscures the mechanisms through which unemployment, or what is often more likely to be underemployment, translates into violence as well as occluding an analysis of other forms of politicisation amongst young people out of work. Delving into the lives of young people in Freetown, into the intricacies and contradictions of everyday experience, reveals that, while labour markets indeed matter for understanding youth mobilisation, the assumption of a simple relation between joblessness and political violence is misleading. Recognising complexity is not to deny that a connection exists, but rather pushes us to shift our gaze to the mechanisms through which exclusion from the labour market influences the nature of young people's political mobilisation in post-war countries.
Taking the rich literature on the political economy and anthropology of war as a point of departure encourages us to look at labour markets more systematically in a post-war setting, analysing them as social institutions. Through the notion of a ‘politics of work’ we can then develop an understanding of how the impact of labour markets on young people's politicisation is mediated by the social meaning of work and the implications this has for their identities and relations. These processes mould young people's position in the post-war political space, their opportunities for mobilisation, as well as their claims on and relation to the state. This concluding chapter thus summarises what insights and lessons we can take from the application of the politics of work framework to the lives of young people in Freetown's microcosms. The snapshots from Freetown's streets are time- and space-bound, yet they resonate beyond the borders of Sierra Leone and speak to the perennially pressing issue of what to do with unemployed youth in ‘fragile’ contexts.