From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

COMMENTS & OPINIONS
As Commonwealth Secretary General visits Sierra LeoneÖtime for Youth to put their case across.
By Abu Bakarr Messeh Kamara
Feb 5, 2010, 18:18

Abubakarr Messeh Kamara of Sierra Leone
There will be intense excitement as the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma visit Sierra Leone from the 7 and 9 February 2010.

 

Much will be made about the significance of Sharmaís first official visit to Sierra Leone as Secretary General of the Commonwealth, especially the fact that the Sierra Leone is a valued member of the Commonwealth family and considering the huge commonwealth investment in the country for the past years.

 

Let us be quite clear about this, that President Koroma and his government will be bombarding the Secretary General, with well-worded statements about government achievements, with its most popular slogan í Agenda for Changeí

 

My question is: where will the youth be to put their case across?¬† I believe the Secretary Generalís visit will mean nothing to Sierra Leone unless the youth (the future of Sierra Leone) are given the opportunity to be heard loud and clear on pertinent issues that affect their wellbeing.

 

In my humble opinion I would like to think that Shamaís visit to Sierra Leone is really a golden opportunity for Sierra Leoneís youth to also present their case about their appalling condition, including the high level of unemployment, ¬†lack of access to sources of livelihoods; abject poverty, expansion of organised crime;¬† lack of educational opportunities; increase in narcotics and alcohol abuse; prevalence of a culture of violence; feelings of disaffection, exclusion from political and decision making processes, you name them.

 

Regrettably Sierra Leone lacks a Commonwealth Youth Representative who should be able to promote the interest of the youth to the Secretary General 


At the meeting of the Commonwealth Youth Affairs Council in Harare in 1990, it was agreed that young people should be centrally involved in the consultative and management processes of the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP). This pioneering approach was adopted to ensure the empowerment and participation of young women and men in the decision-making of the Commonwealth Secretariat, of which CYP is a part.  

 

Each member country of the Commonwealth has two representatives on their respective Regional Youth Caucus. These two individuals are members of the Regional Youth Caucus and are known as the Country Representative and Deputy Country Representative. Today Sierra Leone has misplaced this opportunity for the countryís youth. I have serious doubts over why the Ministry of Youth has still not been able to identify the Commonwealth Youth Representative, since Bocakrie Ensah, the previous holder of the post relinquished office some years ago.¬† I noted there was an attempt to identify a youth representative recently, but this never materialized as the process ended up being corrupted.¬† ¬†

 

It a shame that even at Commonwealth level Sierra Leone hardly sends youth delegates to the Commonwealth Youth Forum at the Heads of Governments meetings. I noted with deep disappointment that youth were denied the opportunity to attend the 2009 Commonwealth meetings in Trinidad and Tobago in November. Although there are many countries represented at this meeting, to the best of my knowledge no youth represented Sierra Leone. I understood sponsorship was secured for two youth to attend, but no one knows what happened along the way and why Sierra Leone was not represented.  But the Vice President and his delegation were in full attendance. What an error!

 

Another issue of grave concern is the government nonchalant attitude towards the inclusion of youth representatives in it delegation to international meetings. The notion of youth representative in government delegations started in 1981 when the UN passed the Resolution RES/36/17. In particular, the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond , which was adopted by the 50th plenary session of the General Assembly repeated this in calling upon Member States to: ďÖInclude Youth Representatives in their national delegations to the General Assembly and other relevant United Nations meetings, thus enhancing and strengthening the channels of communication through the discussion of youth-related issues, with a view to find solutions to the problems confronting youth in the contemporary world.Ē ¬†

 

I am not disputing the fact that government do support youth to attend international meetings in the past, but some of these youth delegation had always represented their personal interest as they are mostly appointed through linkages in government, and so are not accountable or hold consultative  status with the youth population.

 

As youth will take leading roles in the future of the country, it is crucial that more young people are given the opportunity to attend these gatherings not simply as observers but as official members of delegations. I therefore request that government provide the financial support necessary to ensure youth representation at international meetings. 

 

I believe that young people in all countries are both a major human resource for development and key agents for social change, economic development and technological innovation. By enabling more effective participation of young people we can benefit from their energy, idealism, unique perspectives and innovative and creative ideas.  By empowering young people to participate more fully in society and decision making processes, they become engaged as partners in shaping the world they will inherit and pass on to future generations.

 

The creation of a Youth Representative position has the benefit of empowering an often marginalised sector of society as well as leading to more appropriate and effective solutions to problems facing young people. The existence of such a position would be a tangible demonstration by the Sierra Leone government of its commitment to young people, improving relations between the government and youth. Promoting youth representation and participation in international organisations such as the Commonwealth and United Nations General Assembly can inspire young people to take a greater interest in citizenship and become more involved in international issues.

 

Some youth believe that the National Youth Commission has become a shambles.

 

While we congratulate the government for enacting the National Youth Commission Act in 2009, some youth still think that nothing or little has been done to ensure full implementation of the Commission, in order to address the plights of the youth. It is most pressing for government to clarify that we are not only dreaming of a better country but that we are convinced that this dream can turn into reality. 

 

These are great arguments to be had. But I have to say that I feel angry that it has taken so long, and that so many opportunities have been lost, to get to this point and that when, finally,  our leader calls for  a fully operational  youth commission to be  created, it is done in a frankly truthful way. To be disappointed is often to have had unreasonable or unachievable expectations.

 

The most important challenge leading up to the establishment of the Youth Commission is to follow up on the progress of the Youth Commission Act.¬† We need to focus our lobbying and urge government to follow up on the positive steps taken, while also pushing the government to improve by showing some much needed innovation and commitment.¬† Additionally we need to advocate clear, essential steps that demonstrate governmentís commitment to this process, such as appointing a young leader to lead the Commission and ensuring that the Commission is not use as a political tool. The last time I heard was that the government is planning to appoint a Commissioner who has no background in youth matters. If this is the case, then, we will request the government to rethink its decision. The youth must have a stake in the operation of Youth Commission, and of course appoint a youth-friendly individual to lead the Commission.

 

In fact there are grave concerns of the appointment of the Youth Commissioner by the President rather than by an independent body, involving young people in the decision making process. Questions have been raised about the appointment of¬†the Commissioner on political grounds. Yet, the government continues to ignore such gloomy concerns.¬† Political interference and manipulation in the past is the result of the suffering of the youth today.¬† Nobody knows who is to be appointed and their experience, and young people are not consulted. The President has brought on himself some of the difficulty of appointing a credible youth commissioner. In addition to having too many balls in the air at once, in my opinion, the standards for Presidential appointment sometimes seem to have the effect of disqualifying people who know something about the problem from being hired to solve the problem. In the case of a presidential appointment, if the Youth Commissioner seriously disagrees with the President, he/she has two options Ė to resign or carry on loyally. So the idea of a political appointment Ėbeing embraced by one political party or another raises impartiality questions.

 

By delegating increased responsibility in the hand of youth, they become empowered and motivated to actively promote positive changes in our societies. It also leads us to recognize our role and position and make decisions for ourselves and our communities from a well-informed standpoint. ¬†Young people donít want government promises; they want the government to make a difference. We want government to assure the youth full participation, good health and a sustainable development of our societies. Whether we wish to or not we have to live with the consequences of government decisions today.

 

No jobs for the youth, all they do is roaming the streets of Freetown.

 

Indeed unemployment and poverty as a result of the failures of the systems. The point Iím making here is that up until now while President Koroma has made his promise for youth employment, it has remained just that, a political branding of the government Ďagenda for changeí.¬† There is nearly 60% unemployment amongst the youth.¬† Most young people depend on direct or indirect support offered by relatives or friends. Housing is a major challenge. There is a need for more action in fighting poverty and unemployment. More and more young people have taken to the street looking for jobs while some youth like us had even flown out of the country in search of greener pastures, with most young people from university remained unemployed. Enterprise development is very slow, with the dollar currency and economic crisis being at the centre of these problems. The dollar has dramatically replaced the local currency (Leones). ¬†Besides the job-loss bloodbath, there are more exploitative jobs that young people are absorbed into in the form of casualisation with foreign owned business scoring huge marginal profits whilst saving a lot more money from wages. I was talking recently with a senior youth leader in Sierra Leone, who remarked about the fact that government does not have any tangible youth programmes, and that government is only recruiting youth to be exported to take up odd jobs in countries in conflict such as Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

 

The time is now ripe for the government to make new proposals and take action in this regard, including the training of youth in basic skills such as building and construction, electricity, motor-mechanic and plumbing; financing youth co-operatives and focusing on productive investments and giving incentives to companies that go this route of employing more youth; ensuring that young people have equal stake in the job market. Young people should require government to create or sustains jobs, empower the youth and the poor in their multitudes and does not end up depriving young people of their socio-economic rights.

With the humanitarian crises, many NGOs are desperate to be seen as complying and working with young people, and thus target the unknowing and vulnerable youth as their beneficiaries in a row to qualify for donor funding, of course with an agenda to satisfy their selfish passion.

A systemic co-option of youth into violence and hungry.

Our society has created a generation of young people who imagine life as a tale of wealth accumulation, whose basis is good university education and its products being flashy cars, flashy houses and a generally good life. Equally, this the social pressures exerted by society forces youth into drugs, crime, prostitutions and other means of wealth accumulation. We believe that the current economic climate, based on co-option of aspirant politician, has not benefited the youth of the country but served to legitimise the governance of the few.

The war is over, but there is still no peace for the youth. Young people are in the forefront everywhere in the country because they feel that they do not have access to basic services. Although youth uprisings have sometimes taken a violent form, they are based on legitimate demands that the youth of the country pursue. They are as a result of the frustrations and impatience that young people experience on the ground. I strongly believe that all these problems are as a result of a corrupt system that has inherent crises. We need to be united in action and influence to expose and denounce this system and ensure that we create a system were we can all live together, equally, as responsible citizens.

Right to Education Impeded by corrupt system!

At the international community and at home it is clear that Sierra Leone does not have the reputation it once enjoyed of being a responsible, ground-breaking nation in the field of education, as it once known as the anthems of Africa .  We need to foster interest in education and a dedication to re-assuming our role as an honestly concerned, committed country. The Education for All (EFA) campaign for Free Education has a long route to go. In as much as we all have the right to education, this right is deprived by the high fees in universities and the charges in schools, looking at the economic situation of the country. The quality of education provided for, especially in government institutions, and the so-called government granting aid remains questionable.  I would like to believe that it is only through Free Education that access, equity and redress can be achieved. The youth of the country should, in reverberation of their demands, join in unity to fight for free education or access to loans for all students at university. Education is no more a privilege, but a fundamental human right.

Lack of money means the end of life.

Poor health services continuing to endanger the life of the youth; with limited access to care, medication and so on. The country's HIV/AIDS rate remains high particularly amongst the youth. Unfortunately, most of the doctors have indulged in to the practice of operating their own private surgeries where more money could be incurred at the expense of saving the lives of the poor in public hospitals. I believe that a combination of factors such as proper health policy, free health service, care and education can help in the fight against diseases.

The issue of disabled persons rights and the huge number of street children sleeping in market stall is nothing good to talk about. The 2007 Child Rights Act and the 2009 Disability Rights Act have only become a black and white paper in the shelves of policy makers. I think we are failing in our responsibility

 

As compatriots living in the Diaspora, we are also concerned with the current state of our home country, which has suffered under countless corrupt administrations that have ceaselessly worked to fill its coffers at the expense of the people! We understand the necessity to voice our outrage against these sufferings and demand for the government to be held accountable to these human rights issue. We stand in solidarity with our fellow youth. We are faced with our own challenges today, with the advantages of a caring government to take those challenges forward.

The onus lies in our hands to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports and Poverty Reduction Strategy, in order to prevent a recurrence of the sad chapter of the war.

______________________________

The Author, Messeh Kamara is former National President of the Childrenís Forum Network and founding Chief Executive Officer, Young Leaders (Sierra Leone), and heís currently a global youth sector consultant and student of law at the University of London. At aged 23, Messeh has already contributed and supported a number of youth projects across the world, and he also is the co-founder of Aftermath International, a charity helping young victims of natural disasters, conflicts and global crisis.¬† Email: bubakarrm@yahoo.co.uk



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