October 13, 2016 By Mohamed Massaquoi
Prior to the 2007 elections, many artists, community and religious leaders, and the country’s political class were concerned that the general elections would be marred by political violence. As a result, the need for collaborative efforts among stakeholders to engage the youths and to speak out against violence was encouraged.
Musicians composed several songs of peace, such as ‘2007 elections: we need no violence in Sierra Leone’ by Artistes for Peace, while Lansana Sheriff released an album on election not war.
Many youths serving organisations did their best to transform a good number of youths described as prone to violence.
Fortunately, the elections were conducted with little or no threat to the country’s peace and stability. That was how President Ernest Bai Koroma came into power, with his APC party canvassing youths vote against the then ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). It therefore came as no surprise when the elected President promised to lend support to the youths of Sierra Leone.
Accordingly, he strengthened the National Youths Commission and also created the Ministry of Youth Affairs as government machinery to address the numerous youth’s problems in the country.
It is no secret that most of the youthful population of the country is illiterate, while a good number of those who have acquired university education are not gainfully employed. But the President, during his re-election campaign in 2012, assured youths of this country that he would die for them.
He promised job opportunities, youth friendly programmes and a conducive environment for capacity building, including training facility, interconnectivity among youths within the Mano River Union countries and allowing youths to take responsible positions in governance.
Indeed the President has appointed a number of young people into responsible positions – Minister of Youth Affairs, Bai Mamaud Bangura, Minister of Tourism, Sidi Yayah Tunis, Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Bangura, among many others.
However, despite the appointments, youths are still grappling with several challenges, while the government is seemingly not doing much to addressing these challenges.
As a result, many young people now prefer to vent their spleen with vengeance or violence without seeking redress with institutions that are charged with the responsibility of addressing their challenges.
From Kono to Kailahun to Bonthe to Kabala and other parts of the country, youths have challenged local authorities and the state, with the Sierra Leone Police, which is charged with the responsibility of maintaining law, standing between aggrieved youths and state actors, albeit most often than not, turning the barrel of their guns against those who dare to demonstrate.
To put this analysis into perspective, the recent killing of two young men in Kabala, apparently by the Police, is still fresh in the memory, thus bringing into question President Koroma’s commitment to addressing the youth problem in the country.
It could be recalled that in 2014, while addressing lawmakers at the House of Parliament, President Ernest Bai Koroma stated that the country is a nation of young people. Youths, defined as those between ages 15 and 35, comprise about a third of the country’s population. Without their participation, their health and positive role, the nation could be doomed as there would be no present and no future. Without the active participation of youths, the country cannot overcome any of the challenges.
“Without youths we cannot overcome difficulties posed by the Ebola outbreak and without them we cannot prevail over non-Ebola related obstacles….
“This nation owes its very survival to youths. Youths are more resilient than any other group; the majority of those who survive Ebola are youths; we must build on this resilience of our youths to overcome the challenges we now face as a nation. Youths must be at the fore of actions for containing the impact of Ebola on our productive sectors and social services, and we are acting to ensure this.
“…. In Agriculture, I must salute the young people who are contributing immensely to the development of the National Youth Farm at Masalia near Masiaka. In positive anticipation that Ebola will soon be over and the country is restored to safe environment and peace, in 2015, my Government will ensure that district and Chiefdom Youth Farms are established. My Government has identified and demarcated a thousand acres of land donated by the people of Sengbeh Chiefdom in Koinadugu District for the establishment of the National Youth Village which will serve as a centre of excellence for skills training of young people at all levels. With support from the Chinese, construction will start as soon as the Ebola outbreak is contained. We have developed frameworks for greater action with youths. This includes the National Youth Programme as the blueprint for youth development that has been approved by both Cabinet and Parliament; and the National Youth Policy of 2014 that will be laid before this Honorable House,” the president said, amidst loud applaud by lawmakers and those in the public gallery.
He went on to add: “My government has developed the framework for the establishment of a National Youth Service for young people to gain experience in marketable jobs and hence provide an effective means of employability. We are also establishing a Special Youth Fund. We are acting on the establishment of Youth Centres in every District.”
Fast forward to 2016; a serious riot broke out in Kabala, Koinadugu District, apparently over disenchantment that the promise to construct a National Youths Farm would not materialise, thus leading to the death of two young people and the destruction of property worth millions of Leones and injuring to people.
Deputy information Cornelius Deveaux, blamed the media for reporting the incident, which he considered unprofessional, and promised that government would investigate the matter and make public a comprehensive report.
Also, Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police, Francis Alieu Munu, assured that the Police would investigate the matter and that those responsible would be brought to book. The Independent Police C Complaint Board has since instituted an investigation into the incident. However, three months after the incident, nobody has been indicted or reprimanded for the loss of lives and property in Kabala.
Thus the question that begs for an answer is whether in fact President Koroma is really committed to the plight of the youths of Sierra Leone? I rest my case.