Sierra Leone looks for solution to its 70% high youth unemployment

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 August 2013

unemployed youthSierra Leone has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in sub-saharan Africa.

Despite the implementation of various initiatives costing millions of dollars, aimed at the rehabilitation and training of young people into employment, unemployment in Sierra Leone remains intractably high, at over 70%.

With an economy lacking in diversity and running on a single track – mining, it is not too difficult to understand why the country lacks the capacity to absorb the more than two million unemployed youths that are languishing in poverty and hopelessness.

Successive governments have failed in their promise to diversify the economy and promote a strong and vibrant private sector, that can create job opportunities, expand economic growth and increase prosperity.

Will the proposed national youth employment conference make a difference?

President Koroma’s Agenda for Change was largely seen as a missed opportunity to mobilise international support for employment growth, through investments in key sectors of the economy, especially agro-processing and small-scale manufacturing industries.

Wilkinson Road - jan 2012The massive investments made by the government in infrastructure development, have failed to deliver the much promised economic expansion and the expected job opportunities for the youths.

The government’s latest economic development programme – the Agenda for Prosperity, has also been criticised for lacking in focus and innovation with regard to job creation, skills training and work experience for the unemployed.

But this month could witness the first ever meaningful national dialogue on youth unemployment, bringing together stakeholders and the government, in seeking solution to the problem of unemployment.

What is baffling however, is the government’s signing of a $US30 Million contract for the construction of a youth village: to do what exactly?

This is seen by many as an absolute waste of scarce resources on a youth camp that will achieve very little – if anything, in addressing the more serious problem of joblessness.

The country’s ministry of youth affairs has issued a statement, announcing plans for the proposed national conference. This is what it says:

The Ministry of Youth Affairs was set up as a stand-alone ministry of government by the President to ensure that his commitment to youth development and youth employment, articulated in his address on the occasion of the State Opening of the 3rd Parliament of the 2nd Republic, was given the maximum attention and focus by a dedicated Ministerial team.

Sierra Leone’s population of 6.5 million is composed of 45% youth. But there is widespread unemployment among the youth, with estimates as high as 70% unemployed and or underemployed.

The youth are generally poor, unskilled, under-educated, and idle. Research has demonstrated that youth who have been positively engaged economically tend to be more active participants in society, more able to handle stresses of career challenges, and are more likely to give back to society more effectively and generously.

As a result, they have a positive influence on their peers and can become role models for younger generations.

Conversely, when they are largely unemployed, the majority increasingly turn to drugs, prostitution, violence and other social ills.

Youth violence Clearly, the youth of Sierra Leone represent both a major opportunity for economic growth and development, and also a potential political and security risk, which underpins the urgency of addressing the youth unemployment problem

As part of efforts to respond to this major challenge, the Ministry of Youth Affairs, the National Youth Commission and development partners, will be organizing a two day employment forum on the 12th & 13th August 2013, at the Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown.

This is also part of the celebration of the International Youth Day, on the theme: Youth Migration- Moving Development towards Youth Employment.

The 12th of August has been set aside by the United Nations for international leaders, governments, civil societies and other citizens of the world to think and plan for the empowerment of youth all over the world.

SIERRA LEONE YOUTH AT WORKThe goal of the National Youth Employment Forum therefore is to create a path forward to generate employment and reduce poverty, by economically empowering our youth to play a more meaningful role in the development of their communities and the nation at large.

The ministry has announced plans for the establishment of youth training centres across the country to kick-start efforts in addressing the employment gaps.

Already, the government has signed a $US 30 Million contract for a youth village and the Ministry has identified the site and in the process of negotiating with land owners.

Clearly the theme for celebration of this year’s International Youth Day resonates with the objectives of the National Youth Employment Forum, which will discuss and agree on strategies to create jobs for youth and accelerate youth development in Sierra Leone.

The forum will look specifically at models that could result in youth adopting ethical life styles, develop their leadership, vocational, technical and, or professional skills to make them more employable and, or more likely to become successful entrepreneurs.

It will define strategies for bridging the gap between the employment needs of the private sector and the skills and abilities of the youth; develop initiatives to strengthen the governance and operational mandate of the Youth Councils and raise awareness of the role of different government institutions that can support youth empowerment and development.

Specifically targeting industrial sectors of ICT, Agriculture, Tourism, and Mining, the forum will also raise awareness to avenues of opportunity in the job and the business market for youth.

Also, it will expose them to the youth project areas in the Agenda for Prosperity, which they could use to source funding support from the larger business community for implementation.

The event would be interactive, with panel discussions, focus groups, presentations, questions and answer sessions, as well as a mini job expo for participants. His Excellency the President would give the keynote address.