By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
Ever since the United Nations (UN) set aside August 12 as the day of the youths, it has been commemorated annually as a moment of reflection on the gains achieved and challenges confronting youths globally. Conventionally, the ages between 18 years and 35 years are considered the youth bracket. At this crucial juncture of mental and physical maturity, the individual graduates from adolescent into real personhood.
The decisions taken at this point in time in one’s life are critical to chart through the precious journey of life. It is a period of expected responsibility from both parents and the community at large. It is like payback time, where the state had provided the favourable environment and the parents had provided direct financial support for the upbringing of the child.
In a country such as Sierra Leone, that is plagued with governance challenges, it is easy to accuse successive governments of failing to address the plight of the youths. In fact, certain governments have exacerbated the plight of youths through the misappropriation of funds meant for the implementation of youth supported projects.
It is not a bad idea for youths to pin their hopes on government; we are living in a country where the government is the biggest employer and where employment opportunities are largely politicized. Where opportunities are reserved for a selected few, the resentment of youths against government authority can only increase.
With or without government support, a sizeable minority of youths can always surmount the challenges of life to contribute meaningfully towards national development. However, the actions of the vast majority of youths in Sierra Leone could be fittingly regarded as counterproductive towards national development. According to the Medium term Development Programme of the Bio led government, about 67% of youths in Sierra Leone are either illiterate semi-illiterate. This means, as a result of skills deficiencies, they lack the capacity to contribute meaningfully towards national progress. The situation has degenerated into a youth quake, a blossoming wave of idle youths that believe in perpetrating violence to justifying whatever cause whether legitimate or otherwise.
By way of escaping from the social trappings of poverty and deprivation, many have sought to engage in commercial bike riding as a means of sustenance. Some who are unwilling to engage in anything beneficial are sometimes at the mercy of politicians.
Youths can be manipulated by politicians to perpetrate violence to achieve selfish political aims. Even in land disputes, the use of youths as weapons of war against other disputants are rife. By dishing out few hundred thousand Leones, youths who spend their days in hangouts can be hired to perpetrate murders against land adversaries.
It can be argued that many youths hail from under-privileged and disadvantaged backgrounds, but politicians do capitalize on the low level of intelligence of many youths. Where common sense can prevail, youths can simply ask politicians why not utilise your children instead?
Politicians are aware of the risk of loss of life involved in violent conflicts. Therefore, the off springs of politicians are protectively secured at home or somewhere overseas, whilst youths are used to perpetrate violence or to shield politicians from the violent machinations of political opponents.
The standoff at Constituency 110, in the west end of Freetown during a by-election in 2019, is a living authentication of the destructive manipulative nature of politicians. In the glaring view of police officers, hired thugs smashed ballot boxes in broad light, as it became apparent that the ruling SLPP was on the verge of losing the constituency during the tail end of the vote counts. Perhaps ignorant of the consequences of their actions, deranged youths have been manipulated by ill-motivated politicians to disenfranchise thousands of Sierra Leoneans in that populous part of the capital city-Freetown.
Up till date, residents in Constituency 110 are living with the consequences of being unrepresented in the legislative arm of government. Whilst other constituencies can count on the support of parliamentarians to take socio-economic development to their areas, Constituency 110 still grapples with life without a political representative.
During elections the hopes of youths are raised to the point of the zenith by politicians. These are moments when politicians attach immense value to the physical presence and youthful energy of youths. Even with the presence of state security officials, politicians prefer absorbing youths as Marshalls by way of serving as party defence force during political campaigns.
When elections are over, the relationship temporarily takes a reprieve pending resuscitation whenever elections are imminent. Many youths perennially fall into the vicious circle of political manipulation.
Mohamed Kanneh is a youth leader at the locally established youth Parliament in Hannah Benka Coker Street, at Brookfields. He gives his take on the quagmire regarding the cycle of relationship that has marred the affairs between the youths and politicians in Sierra Leone. “During elections they are used by politicians, after elections they are refused, abused and abandoned,” Mr. Kanneh explained.
Under the reign of the Koroma led government it was acknowledged that the most valuable asset of any nation is its human resource particularly the youths. Sierra Leone has a demographic advantage to capitalize on, about 65% of her population falls within the youth category. Therefore, World Bank and other multilateral partners funded a lot of projects deliberately tailored for the emancipation of youths in Sierra Leone.
A plethora of youth projects began in earnest, including the youths in fisheries, drainage and farm projects. Moreover, an ambitious youth village project was relocated from Koinadugu district to Tonkolili district in the centre of Sierra Leone.
So far, all the compendium of youth projects could be regarded as “white elephants” because they have generated little or no impact on the lives of Sierra Leonean youths.
In fact, the two ministers of youth, that served from 2013-2018 under the previous APC government, were declared as persons of interest under the just concluded Commissions of Inquiry.
In his recommendation to President Bio, Justice Biobele Georgewill established that more than Le26Billion Leones were misappropriated by way of mismanagement of the multiple youth projects. The two political representatives that superintended the projects during the period in question stand to recompense the unaccounted resources to the state at any time a cabinet white paper is issued.
The SLPP government has made some efforts in constructing carwash centres for youths across the capital city with support from the Republic of China. Even though the effort is commendable, the project is plagued by poor management and is yet to create meaningful impact on the lives of the selected car wash boys. Considering the massive youth unemployment facing Sierra Leonean youths, the carwash project is just a scratch on the surface or a drop in the ocean. Spearheading private sector led growth and the rolling out of training programmes for the acquisition of skills, whether entrepreneurial, technical and vocational might go a long way in changing the narrative of youths in Sierra Leone.
It is also advisable for the Bio led government to adopt a policy that accords preferential treatment of money lending in the Banking industry to Sierra Leoneans rather than foreigners.