Is there light at the end of the tunnel for West Africa’s youths?

27 December 2012 

Election in Sierra LeoneMore than 60% of the population in West Africa is made up of young people aged 16-35, whose governments are fast losing hope of providing meaningful daily existence and hope of a better future.

Poverty, illiteracy and lack of job opportunities are blighting the lives of hundreds of millions of young people in the sub-region.

It seems there is a collective will at sub-regional level to begin a concerted strategy of addressing the problem. But is there a collective determination and political conviction at the national level to tackle the problem of youth apathy and decay?

According to the APO, the directors of youth affairs from across all ECOWAS member states held a meeting on 17th December 2012, in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin to discuss how best to improve the efficiency of the youth capacity building programme run by the Regional Centre for Youth Development.

The Regional Centre for Youth Development was established by ECOWAS in Ouagadougou. The aim is to ‘build the skills of youths in the region in order to empower them for self-sufficiency and boost national development’.

But critics say that despite spending millions of dollars on the programme, little or no impact has been made in improving the lives of young people in the West African region.

During the three-day meeting held last week, reports written by four consultants retained by the ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development Centre (EYSDC) – evaluating the value and weaknesses of its capacity building programmes between 2007 and 2011, were discussed.

Through the capacity building programme funded by ECOWAS, youths from across the sub-region are supposed to be receiving training conducted in various Regional Centres of Excellence, based in Soufouroulaye (Mali), Songhai Centre, Porto Novo (Benin) and Ziniare (Burkina Faso).

Some of the training programmes delivered are building electrical wiring, agro-business, air-conditioning and refrigeration, and automotive engineering.

The governments of countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are persistently failing to address the thorny and perennial problem of youth under-development and employability.

african minerals railway 2According to the African Union Commission for Youth; “about 65% of the total population of Africa are below the age of 35 years, and over 35% are between the ages of 15 and 35 years – making Africa the most youthful continent. By 2020, it is projected that out of 4 people, 3 will be on average 20 years old. About 10 million young African youth arrive each year on the labour market.”

The woeful redundancy of national as well as regional economic policies, and the massive misappropriation of public funds are responsible for the rising youth unemployment in the sub-region.

It is understood that the review of the four programme evaluation reports presented to the meeting last week, will enable the country representatives and EYSDC officials to develop a strategy to improve the efficiency of youth programmes and hopefully make them more responsive to the needs of the respective member states.

Participants of the ECOWAS meeting would also be able to coordinate their efforts to fill the identified gaps, such as the selection criteria and follow ups, to ensure that beneficiaries are capacitated to put the benefits of their training into practice.

A representative of Benin’s ministry of youth, sports and entertainment, Madame Lima Sidonie, spoke of the values of such training programmes, as an important tool for youth empowerment and to equip them in playing a more effective role in nation building.

unemployed youth“We need to do all we can to empower the youth and to involve them in the decision making process, since the future not only belongs to them, but also to ensure that they mature to take their destiny in their own hands,” Madame Lima, the Benin director of youth, said while opening the meeting at the Songhai Centre in the nation’s administrative capital Porto Novo.

The director of the EYSDC, Mr. Francis Chuks Njoaguani, outlined the importance of the scheme, under which some 587 youths from Member States have been trained and returned to their countries to equip them to contribute to national and regional development.

The director said that the ECOWAS supported scheme was designed to ensure that the energies of the youth are deployed positively for national and regional development.

But critics will continue to question the effectiveness of such regional programmes, in addressing youth unemployment and the lack of political conviction at the national level of the respective member states.

He said that the meeting was held in recognition of the need for synergy between member states and the Centre, and to boost collaboration towards improving programme implementation, and to ensure that beneficiaries are equipped to put the skills they have learnt into meaningful use.


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