Youth Sports Promote Peace in Libya

Youth take part in a chess tournament at Sabha’s Al Nahda Sports Club.
Youth take part in a chess tournament at Sabha’s Al Nahda Sports Club.
Chemonics
In midst of conflict, young people unite through competition
“It gives me hope for the future, despite the difficult circumstances Libya is currently facing.”

Feb. 2015—The city of Sabha, located in Libya’s southwestern corner, suffered a spike in intercommunal violence in 2014. Many of the deadly clashes were driven by Sabha’s youth.

To help counter this destabilizing trend, USAID is cultivating positive spaces for youth to interact across ethnic and tribal lines.

In summer 2014, USAID, through its Office of Transition Initiatives, provided three local sports clubs with a wide range of equipment, including tennis rackets, billiard and pingpong tables, chess sets and more. The clubs immediately hosted a series of sporting events and tournaments, gathering hundreds of youth for a month of special events.

The Al-Mahdiyye Club launched a soccer league with 18 teams and nearly 200 players. In July, championship games drew large crowds, with commentators adding extra entertainment for both the athletes and spectators. Over 300 people came to cheer on the youth during the final match.

Tariq Al-Mejber, a member of Al-Mahdiyye’s management, spoke to a news agency shortly thereafter about USAID’s assistance, saying, “We needed this support, and it came just in time. We needed new ideas.”

Sabha is home to diverse ethnic groups, including Tuareg, Tebu and Arab tribes. The USAID-supported clubs are located in different parts of the city, making them important meeting places for young people from different tribes and ethnic groups. During times of unrest, the clubs serve as neutral spaces to sustain community cohesion.

One young man who participated in the special events over the summer noted that they “allowed us to learn new things and meet new people. It gives me hope for the future, despite the difficult circumstances Libya is currently facing.”

The current wave of intertribal fighting in southwestern Libya, combined with political volatility nationwide, is eroding public confidence in the possibility for peace. Seeing few opportunities to meaningfully engage in civic life, many youth seek to join one of the country’s many emboldened militias for the possibility of economic and social empowerment.

With nearly half of Libya’s population under the age of 24, USAID is working to stem the flow of youth recruitment into militias by providing alternatives like sports. By fostering spaces for social interaction in Sabha, USAID is increasing opportunities for youth to engage constructively in social and civic life.

This activity with youth is just one of nearly 200 activities that USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives has carried out since it began working in Libya in 2011.

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