Affiliated with the African Studies Center at Boston University, Marc Sommers is an internationally recognized expert on youth concerns in war and post-war countries. After serving as the headmaster of a girls’ school in Kenya and directing a Red Cross-sponsored community health program in New York, Marc earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from Boston University, choosing as his dissertation topic the plight of Burundi refugee youth who were hiding illegally in urban Tanzania.

In his career as an academic and practitioner, Sommers’ research continues to focus on African youth. He has taught at The Fletcher School, Tufts University and consulted for a wide array of agencies and institutes, carrying out assessment and evaluation work that largely focused on gender, education, child soldier, conflict negotiation, urbanization and coordination issues, in addition to youth.

His many publications include Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania (Berghahn Books, 2001), which won the 2003 Margaret Mead Award, and Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

His research at the Woodrow Wilson Center contrasts the priorities of youth in war and post-war Africa with government and international agency responses to youth challenges.


B.A. (with Distinction) History, University of Michigan, 1981; M.A.  Anthropology, Boston University, 1990; Ph.D.  Anthropology, Boston University, 1994

Project Summary

I will address the security, governance and development dimensions of one of today's most pressing policy challenges: what to do about massive youth populations in war-affected Africa. To consider this challenge, I will draw from extensive field interviews with youth in fifteen war-affected nations in Africa, interview senior policy experts, review policy and scholarly literature on war-affected youth and integrate findings from an anticipated Wilson Center conference on youth and conflict in Africa. Analysis will include testing two main hypotheses: (1) Despite the fact that virtually all conflict-affected African nations have overwhelmingly youthful populations, governments and their international partners often implement policies that are not youth-centered; and (2) Some of these policies unintentionally make matters worse for many war-affected youth and, by extension, for the pursuit of effective governance and long-term stability. Youth exclusion and policy constraints on governments promise to figure prominently in the analysis. The final form of this project will be a book manuscript that concludes with recommendations for effective support for Africa's war-affected youth.

Major Publications

  • Stuck: Rwandan Youth and the Struggle for Adulthood (University of Georgia Press, in association with U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2011)
  • "Creating Programs for Africa's Urban Youth: The Challenge of Marginalization" (Journal of International Cooperation in Education 10(1), 2007)
  • Islands of Education: Schooling, Civil War, and the Southern Sudanese (1983-2004) (International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO, 2005)
  • Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania (Berghahn Books, 2001)
  • Marley's War: Terror and Transformation in Sierra Leone (U.S. Institute of Peace Press, forthcoming).