A legacy of youth empowerment in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 August 2019:

It is not often that a 33-year-old is made a minister in Africa. Mohammed Orman Bangura is gaining popularity in Sierra Leone for substantive work and for his style. Reporting for Africa Renewal, Osman Benk Sankoh says that the youth affairs minister, is determined to prove that young people in positions of authority can make a lasting impact in citizens’ lives.

This is Osman Benk Sankoh’s report:

Orman Bangura’s life journey has been a remarkable one. The death of his father when he was a toddler devastated the family’s finances. At the time, his widowed mother thought her son’s best shot at a good life was becoming a tailor or a baker. At just 11 years old, Mr. Bangura enlisted as an apprentice in a tailoring shop.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the 33-year-old Bangura is Sierra Leone’s minister of youth affairs, the youngest minister in the cabinet.

He credits his mother for ensuring his focus on education. “She made all the sacrifices for me,” he says. After his secondary school education, Mr. Bangura received a government grant to attend Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone, where he graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

His professional career includes finance and accounting positions with several institutions in his country. These were the Standard Chartered Bank, the London Mining Company and the Total Global Steel Company.

Before his ministerial appointment, he was the chief accountant at the Sierra Leone branch of eHealth Africa, an organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., that supports health systems in poor communities.

By appointing Mr. Bangura as minister, Sierra Leone’s current president, Julius Maada Bio, in part fulfils his promise to appoint young people to top positions in government.

Other key appointees in Mr. Bio’s administration include Francis Ben Kaifala, 34, head of the Anti-Corruption Commission; David Moinina Sengeh, 32, a technological whiz kid from MIT and Harvard, the country’s chief innovation officer; and Yusuf Keketoma Sandi, 32, Presidential Spokesperson and Press Secretary.

Mr. Bio himself was a military head of state in March 1996 at just 31 years of age before handing power over to a civilian government that same year.

Mr. Bangura’s popularity in Sierra Leone comes in part from his youth and his unconventional personal style, but also from the policies he is developing.

He sometimes goes to cabinet meetings in khaki trousers, sneakers and rolled up long-sleeved shirts. As well, he regularly visits popular cafés known locally as “ataya bases” to engage young people in lively, sometimes heated discussions about political, economic and social issues.

The minister also finds time to go to simple restaurants in the impoverished neighborhoods of the capital, Freetown, where he mixes freely with the people. On weekends he is usually seen running or playing football on the beaches with local youths.

While his personal style has captivated a society not accustomed to having easy access to top government functionaries, the policies Mr. Bangura is formulating and implementing have further endeared him to the public.

One of his first tasks as minister was to resuscitate the moribund National Youth Service Scheme (NYSS), which was first set up in 1961 but failed miserably at that time. In 2016 the scheme was reestablished by an act of Parliament.

Mr. Bangura is hopeful that this time, young graduates will be able to undertake a year of compulsory national service. He has recruited 200 youths as part of a startup strategy.

“The NYSS will encourage volunteerism, foster patriotism and national cohesion,” he says.

The young minister is also implementing the Youth in Entrepreneurship Project, which, according to him, “will place cash and training in the hands of young Sierra Leoneans with innovative and groundbreaking ideas for the development of the country.”

He is helping set up youth projects in the agricultural and fisheries sectors, and a youth village where young people will learn vocational skills to increase their social mobility.

Mr. Bangura also proposes what he calls the Youth Empowerment Fund, from which young people will be able to draw financing for business ideas. He says the fund will allow “the country to reap demographic dividends,” adding that youth employment “is a security and development challenge that should be addressed effectively and immediately.”

Chernor Bah, an international girls’ champion and cofounder of Purposeful Production, a movement-building hub for adolescent girls in developing countries, works closely with Mr. Bangura. Mr. Bah is helping to review the country’s national youth policy.

He says, “Being a minister has not changed Mr. Bangura. He remains just as he has always been, maintaining his circle of friends and caring for the underprivileged members of society.”

Mr. Bangura has set his sights on building a legacy of youth empowerment. “We must be determined to do the needful for young people and for national development,” he says.

Africa Renewal

7 Comments

  1. The track record of our youth minister is outstanding because in my personal opinion he has not only survived but excelled; and he is a role model for most of our unfortunate youths in our country. One of the initial credit I gave to President Bio was the exposure he gave to young and future leaders in their 30’s in appointing them into responsible leadership positions – to name but few : the Anti Corruption Commissioner, Presidential Spokesman, Innovations Minister – who is admired and recognized by the President of the most powerful nation (former President Obama) and the world’s richest man Bill Gates, although he is from a poor country.

    I hope and pray that they will continue to serve our country with honesty and integrity .

  2. We are so accustomed to bad news so much so that we are suspicious of good news coming out of our country. Today, the financial times published a success story about our technology director which the article said managed properly would create several informal jobs. Many of us would take such articles with suspicion, especially if it was reported by a Sierra Leone paper. It does not always have to be this way, although that is the way it is.

    • Great news for BLOCKCHAIN BANKING in Sierra Leone Jane. But, NO to BLOCKCHAIN VOTING MACHINES and VOTING come 2023. NO WAY. That’s my position. GOD BLESS you for the information Jane.

  3. A very interesting choice. I hope he will have the power and the persistence to implement his ideas and concepts in this political establishment.

  4. “A legacy of youth empowerment in Sierra Leone”?? Come on its far too early to talk about legacy. As the saying goes: ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’. Is it not?

    Youth unemployment in Sierra Leone is above 70% and getting worse. The number of young people going to university or college may not have gone up in the last twelve months, as the Bio government is yet to offer serious financial assistance to students – including grants, beyond free registration. Access to job skills and vocational training is still very limited due to lack of resources.

    Far too many of our youths are languishing in joblessness. They are being used and abused by politicians of all shades, including taking part in violent activities against their political opponents.

    Fuelled by drugs and cheap alcohol, many will develop mental illness by the time they get to age 40. And by then, sadly the majority would never have tasted the world of work in all of those 40 years of their lives. In fact the majority may likely die before their 50th birthday, given that the mortality rate of Sierra Leone is about 47 years.

    So what is the youth minister and his colleagues – the economic affairs minister, the trade and industry minister, and the finance minister doing to alleviate the suffering of the youths?

    I do hope that this story is not one of our brown-envelope journalistic / pay-per story writing pieces we often see here in Salone. I do wish the young minister the best, but please can he publish his strategy for addressing youth unemployment?

    He has been in office for over a year, and that is the least he should have achieved by now to justify his salary from the poor tax payer. Salone man too get bluff! All hot air and no substance!!

    • There is always two sides to every story. The initiative taken by Mr. Bangura is brilliant. He needs to be encouraged. But, I agree with Mr. Alieu Sesay. No sensible person will dispute Mr. Sesay’s narrative.

      The challenge for Mr. Bangura is, how far can he go with his YOUTH EMPOWERING in a country where the unemployment and underemployment rate is unprecedented? Does Mr. Bangura have enough WAYS and MEANS to accomplish his goals?

      Thank you very much Mr. Alieu Sesay for your brilliant comment on this matter. To be honest, you just went straight to the point. NO MERCY with your choice of words. The struggle continues. GOD BLESS you Mr. Sesay.

  5. Impressive stuff and impressive BIOGRAPHY. Credit to President Bio for keeping at least one of his promises. Keep the momentum going Mr. Bangura. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

Tell us about your views

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.