It is no gainsay that Sierra Leone has a myriad of priority issues to attend to and its screw-faced citizens are in a desperate hurry for things to happen, so much so that they expect the government to run rather than walk.
The many views prominent personalities took on whether Sierra Leoneans should celebrate commemorate or just don’t bother about celebrating independence shows how varied citizen’s experiences have been. What was interesting is the serious bashing that Sierra Leoneans got from somebody who had actually taken part in the Lancaster House Independence. Hear him… ‘Sierra Leoneans are dishonest, Sierra Leoneans are selfish’ etcetera, etcetera. I think it was Pa Bultman. You can imagine how this Senior Citizen is feeling, with something definitely grinding him inside.
Personally I am never worried about controversies surrounding Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans… our very name is still pronounced in at least four different ways. The historical interpretation itself leaves a lot of geographical and biological inexactitudes. Imagine Sierra Leone getting its name out of some misperception of mount Aureol looking like roaring lions in thunder and lightning in the rainy season!
For their part the Sierra Leone youth has always been at the center of the country’s controversies. They were subjects and objects of the war, that is: behind and in front of the bullet…perpetrators and victims, all at one go. I hope you see the point.
As a nation we should galvanize the dynamism of youth and the experience of the older adults to produce a desirable impact. A negative manifestation of the generation gap will only cripple development. Let us don’t be like the animals which refused to heed the rat’s alarm of a rat trap he saw in the home. They thought it was the business of the rat exclusively until the House owner’s wife fell ill and the rest of the animals were slaughtered one after the other for various purposes, leaving the rat safe and sound. Whether we like it or not the youth of today are definitely leaders that will slowly but surely replace the elders. Some years back it was so much in vogue for people to say “the youth are the leaders of tomorrow.” Modern trends seem to have changed this perception. Now we think youth should actually start leading today instead of waiting for a tomorrow that may as well be empty.
It is indeed a natural course that everyone starts as a child, grow into youth and then adulthood, become a kid again and pass off. Our present crop of youth have actually lost some ten years to the rebel carnage, at least most of them. There are certain facts of life that are too obvious to miss. For a very long time Sierra Leoneans have been concerned and apprehensive of the neglected state of youth.
The White Paper on the TRC Report came out over three years ago accepting the issues raised and the recommendations preferred. The setting up of the National Youth Commission is seen as strategic to addressing the youth questions. One thing though needs be said here. Those who think the National Youth Commission is a panacea for youth empowerment may well be heading for disillusionment. The fact that there has been so much controversy over its composition sends some signals that the whole issue should be treated with the carefulness it deserves. One thing we need to know, no matter what speed the Commission is set resourcing it may have some setbacks as a nation largely dependent on the international donors.
Major among the many youth questions is the vexed issue of youth unemployment. In fact the employment of youth should be seen as very critical to the development of Sierra Leone. If this is ignored then we might be well selling the ropes to hang us as a nation. We all agree that youth are suffering all sorts of indignities. Suffering in itself is not always negative. Take gold…it only becomes pure when it goes through fire. The loaf of bread you enjoy every day goes through a hot oven. In any case pain and suffering has always been part of life. You can check out the Bible or Quran. Some people even say that you don’t call any man happy who is not dead. Also we all agree that heaven is a beautiful place, but we do not want to die and go there.
Most of the issues that exercise people’s minds some decades ago are still lingering around and thirsting for solution. Some of the current youth questions like unemployment, education, marginalization, abuse, poverty, violence, drug addiction have always been there perhaps even older than Sierra Leone’s 48 years.
Government after government accept that the youth questions need to be addressed but in each case it is either there is no political will or the where withal is just lacking. The question now is with the current trend of Global down turn, credit crunch and what have you, what are our chances of carrying through our activities even with the best brains. Is it not an uphill task? As a donor driven nation job losses and business closures in the West are sure to hit us. However government and NGOs have tried hard to address some of the basic issues surrounding youth. Many like the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) have addressed the issues of carving out space and voice for youth. Others have addressed the issue of employment like the Student Partnerships Worldwide, NaCSA and the Ministry in charge of youth. All these have however just been the tip of the iceberg – just scratching the back of the problem and not really getting to the roots. The Government in 2007 or so started the Youth Employment Scheme through the then Ministry of Youth and Sport. This project however suffered setbacks even in the last days of the previous government. It completely collapsed with the coming into power of the present. And I hear attempts are being made to resurrect it. This is an example of the lack of political will and continuity in government. It is high time we divorced the government from the political party that wins the elections. Until and unless we improve the democratic basis of our parties, we will always have to contend with the opposite of good governance. There is no way an undemocratic party can provide a democratic government. I fervently believe political party Constitutions can no longer remain the guarded property of the members alone.
Now we can heal the past, love the present and dream the future. There are vast numbers of youth already all over the country waiting for some direction to join the development train. You all know youths are hurriedly dynamic. Looking at the youth themselves, there are however quite a few bottlenecks in addressing youth issues. One of these is the rather low level of education. Although every year hundreds of youth graduate from the different tertiary institutions it seems the job market is lagging behind the supply. I think the education ministry needs to do more to really identify the country’s educational needs and try to base its scholarship system on that need. The recent talk of giving Grants-in aid according to the behavior of students may throw forking spanners into the whole works. I know this is coming from the spate of student hooliganism but it is definitely not a good premise to take-off from. An interesting issue here is the set of young people who cannot enter institutions beyond school. What do we do with these? Now a whole lot of them stay in the city in rather poor conditions swelling the already bloated population. Employment does not necessarily mean that you have to work for someone else. When you move round the city you see many youth doing one type of business or the other. But the question is, are these the type of activities we want our tomorrow’s Leaders to be engaged in? Let us avoid the situation whereby we remain in constant ransom to our youth. At the moment it seems a situation of black mail. Many will tell you that it is better for us to sell chewing gums rather than be thieves or go back to the bush. Do you see why we cannot treat the youth questions with levity? It is indeed a matter of security.
This is where the process of setting up the National Youth Commission becomes very critical. The more participatory it becomes the more ownership it garners.
Civil Society youth serving agencies have done a lot of work in the area of putting together a draft Youth policy, after country wide consultations and the reports were validated. Like I often say we should of necessity prioritize the addressing of youth issues as the basis for a viable developmental take off.
One serious grey area in achieving this is the dependency on Donor support. It is interesting to note that even the current National Youth Policy was financed by UNDP. Check the back cover and you will see what I mean. There is definitely nothing wrong in getting support from international donors but when we have to sit and wait for such support, without which we cannot even start, then we are doomed. Ownership, participation and sustainability cannot germinate on this kind of soil even if you give it all sorts of fertilizers from the best food security program. Years of neglect of national infrastructures like roads has contributed to the heavy population concentration in the main cities especially Freetown. We need broad based investment to cater for different levels of youth capacities and capabilities. Take the case of young teachers finishing college. They will not prefer remote areas that are fast becoming part of the disappearing world. In the first place they are not paid until perhaps after a whole year or two and will have to live in awful conditions.
I really think as a first step to showing the necessary political will government should reconsider delinking the youth and Sport sector from the Ministry of Education. This could be a strong stepping stone. Or don’t you agree? It is Salone Youth we are talking about here, guys who should start stepping into the shoes of today’s leaders NOW!
By S. Beny SAM