By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
With the aim to ensuring and maintaining peaceful environment and promotes young people’s participation in politics and peace building in the country, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), on Wednesday, April 12, launched their ‘Youth in Politics and Peace Building Project.’
The project aims at fostering social cohesion and dialogue for women, youth, and persons with disabilities’s involvement in civic engagements at national and community levels through training, change communication, advocacy, and awareness raising to address the underlining factors that prevent youth positive involvement in peacebuilding and leadership and address the limited livelihood empowerment opportunities for youth in Sierra Leone.
It also aims to include multi-stakeholder intergenerational and inter-religious dialogue at national and district levels and will ensure safeguarding and protecting young peacebuilders through CRS multi-stakeholder dialogue and civic education training with young adults, law enforcement and other stakeholders.
Speaking at the Sierra Leone Peace Museum, Jomo Kenyatta Road in Freetown, CRS Country Representative, Jeanne Ella Andrianambinina, said Sierra Leone is in a very fragile context based on the past history, and that the current situation economically places the country in high risk.
He said they hope and pray that they can be able to mitigate conflict through the project.
She said the project is very important because it involves different stakeholders including the main actors who are the youth and ointed out that when the youth are in a vulnerable condition they can be used.
She further stated that, through the project, they recognised the two key ministries including the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs because they have a part to play to provide peace in the country.
Commissioner of the National Youth Commission, Thomas Ngolo Katta, said the project is in line with government mid-term national development plan for 2019-2023.
He said already the young people are innovators, farmers, engineers, lawyers,doctors and everywhere they want to show some level of talent and that is what they want to utilise in the course of the project.
He said in the country, eight out of ten Sierra Leoneans are below age 35 and almost 40% of the country’s population falls between 15-35 years, noting that the project was coming at the right time to support young people.
He said as the country moves towards June 24 elections, out of the 3,774,258 Sierra Leoneans that registered for the elections, 60.7% of them fall below age 35.
He said the above data tells them how it is important for the government to train more young leaders to achieve the political culture the country deserves.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator to Sierra Leone, Babatunde Ahonsi, said the project is particularly relevant to the context of Sierra Leone, because it addresses young people, female and male, politics and peacebuilding.
He commended the Catholic Relief Service, Caritas and the National Youth Commission for their partnership in that important endeavour, stating that indeed, young people have a key role to play in the present and future of democracy in Sierra Leone.
He said engaging young people in democratic processes and allowing them to participate safely and constructively in politics are core aspects of any effort to sustain democracy and investing in the capacity, agency and leadership of young political leaders will strengthen their ability to collaboratively lead peace efforts and use their skills to tackle other concerns that affect their lives, particularly in those challenging national and international times.
He said on 9th December, 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted the Resolution 2250 on youth, peace, and security (YPS), which acknowledged the positive role young women and young men play in the society as well as in sustaining peace and security.
He said the resolution recognised young people as a positive force in preventing and resolving conflicts and building sustainable peace.
“I therefore welcome the support that the project offers to develop the skills of young women and men on civic education and leadership to empower them as leaders in their communities and country,” he said.
He said successive governments of Sierra Leone have prioritized investment in youth and women and at the end of the civil war, the late President Tejan Kabbah’s government established a Ministry of Youth and Sports, adopted the first National Youth Policy, established the National Youth Commission (NAYCOM), developed a National Employment Policy and a National Youth Employment Action Plan (NYEAP).
He said the Mid Term-National Development Plan (2019-2023) has prioritized the development of human capital, including the Free Quality School Education policy, the National Teenage Pregnancy Reduction Strategy and its successor National Strategy for the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Marriage and the Radical Inclusion Policy for schools aimed at creating an inclusive environment for all Sierra Leonean children, including pregnant and parent learners.
He said in November, the Parliament enacted the landmark Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act, which provides for a quota for nominating and appointing women in government and political positions.
“As we look forward to its implementation, we are confident that the project will also contribute to making the implementation of the Act a reality. Notwithstanding these efforts, challenges remain as about 75% of the country’s population is below the age of 35 and young people represent about 63% of the economically active population, 67% of which is unemployed. Drug abuse is also on the increase and, particularly affects young women and men,” he said.
He further noted that those challenges are becoming of increased concern as the country moves towards the June 24th national elections amidst high political tension and a toxic and divisive political discourse.
He said the toxic ethno-regional, political, and religious divisions should not have space in Sierra Leone, which is still considered one of the most peaceful countries in Africa and in the world.
He expressed his excitement that the project addresses the need to strengthen dialogue at all levels of society, including community stakeholders, traditional leaders, the Inter-Religious Council, the Sierra Leone Police, the Office of National Security, city and district councils, chiefdom youth councils, and political party structures.