Mogadishu – Hundreds of youth representatives from around Somalia have gathered in the capital city for talks on the future development of young Somalis, who make up more than two-thirds of the east African country’s population.

A key part of the gathering – the country’s second Somali National Youth Conference – has been the launch of the Federal Government’s National Youth Policy, which is designed to remove institutional barriers to youth development and enable young people to pursue their goals.

In his remarks at the opening on Sunday, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire drew attention to the vital contribution young Somalis can make in resolving the many problems facing their homeland.

“In every part of our country, you are the people who can address our country’s challenges. It’s you who can say yes when we talk peace, and no when we talk war,” the prime minister told the 500 youths and officials in attendance, which included high-level representatives from the United Nations and the international community.

The federal Ministry of Youth and Sports began to develop a youth policy in 2014 with support from the United Nations and the participation of various youth constituencies. The new policy was endorsed by the Federal Government’s cabinet last month and will promote youth participation in peacebuilding efforts and other initiatives.

The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake attended the opening of the conference and welcomed the launch of the new policy.

“I want to congratulate the Federal Government of Somalia, the federal member states, the United Nations and all stakeholders, especially young people, who were part of this process for your successful formulation of this youth policy,” Ms. Wickramanayake told the attendees.

“I hope that you will make those extra steps to enable youth organizations and young people to meaningfully engage in the implementation and review of this policy,” added the envoy, who is spending several days in Somalia for the conference and other youth-related activities.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has made empowering youth a priority for the world body, especially with many of the world’s 1.2 billion young people affected by the hardship of war, and has flagged the key role that they play as agents of change and critical actors in preventing conflict and building peace.

In 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that recognized the “positive contribution of youth” in the promotion of peace and security and supported efforts aimed at advancing their development.

Speaking at the conference, a senior official from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) noted the organization’s financial support for programmes that foster youth development in the country.

“We have contributed so far $38 million to 18 programs that are dedicated to youth employment, youth empowerment and more youth influence in politics, and we will continue to support the youth and the government of Somalia in this very important objective,” said the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Somalia, Peter de Clercq.

The federal Minister of Youth and Sports Khadija Mohamed Diriye, in her remarks, expressed the hope that the national youth policy will spur the passage of laws and regulations to help young Somalis to become more “effective and visible” citizens in society.

During the forum, participants will discuss opportunities for growth, the role youth can play in Somalia’s peace and security agenda, and specific issues affecting young people such as illegal migration.

While the opening of the Somali National Youth Conference focused on the launch of the policy, the sessions scheduled for today and Tuesday will include roundtable discussions on a range of issues relevant to Somali youth, such as inter-generational dialogue and countering violent extremism. At its close, the gathering is expected to issue a communiqué outlining future options for Somali youth.