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PONDER MY THOUGHTS: TOWARDS A NATIONAL YOUTH SERVICE SCHEME

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PONDER MY THOUGHTS: TOWARDS A NATIONAL YOUTH SERVICE SCHEME

By Andrew Keili……

 I had written in an earlier piece that Sierra Leone was the only country in the sub-region without a national youth corps. I have therefore been pleased to learn from the National Youth Commissioner, Anthony Koroma that there are in fact plans to set up one. The report “A framework for a National Youth Service in Sierra Leone”, which informs this scheme makes for an interesting read. Restless Development which carried out the study at the behest of the partnership of the National Youth Commission (NAYCOM) and UNDP seems to have made a compelling case for the type of scheme Sierra Leone should adopt in a new National Youth Service (NYS).

Our youth, aged between 15 and 35 years of age constitute about 34 percent of the population or around 2 million of the estimated 5.8 million population. The total number of the population below the age of 35 years is around 73 percent, the majority of which are under 15 years. The civil war cost 50,000 lives. The report indicates that “only 4% of young people are fully employed, while one in three urban and one in six rural 20-24 year olds are economically inactive (ie not contributing to household income). Education and training opportunities for youth are also limited: 63% of people aged 25-35 have never attended school and today the adult literacy rate is just 39% for those over 10 years of age.”

 Most of our youth are untrained and lack the skills required in the job market. The rural youth who are mostly farmers face serious challenges ranging from inputs, financing and technology. The urban youth comprising early school leavers and illiterate youth are mostly engaged in artisan business activities. Graduate unemployment is also on the increase. 

Section 10 (c) of the Youth Commission Act does in fact allude to giving young people the opportunity to gain practical work experience by serving in programmes contributing towards national development and assisting in the creation of job opportunities. The question may be asked however: “A Youth service for what”? The goals as stated in the report seem laudable:

·         To give young people an opportunity to gain employability skills and job experience

·         To inculcate and  promote national integration and cohesion across geographic and ethnic divides through participatory engagements that contribute to national development

·         To provide young people with an opportunity to develop critical thinking, discover their creative potential, learn different skills to enable them respond to the current needs of Sierra Leone

In the view of stakeholders interviewed, the opportunity to give young people practical work experience and enhance their employability was rated as important as was the opportunity to instil in young people values including a positive work ethic and a spirit of civic ‘pay back’ through volunteerism. At the same time, the NYS should be seen as an opportunity to boost development by generating a volunteer force that can make a positive contribution to a priority sector or sectors. Finally, stakeholders envisaged a higher goal of enhancing a spirit of nationalism and promoting inter-community cohesion.

 There are several models for such a scheme. The report states that “whereas Nigeria’s NYS was specifically set up to foster national integration after the Biafra civil war, Ghana’s was created to instil a sense of patriotism through service. Over the years these goals have incorporated the aspect of giving young people an opportunity to get job experience, but it was not necessarily a founding aim. The goals of the Kenyan NYS on the other hand were to improve food security and develop skilled manpower and a reserve force. The Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya models all required beneficiaries to go through a compulsory paramilitary training at some stage, however it is only Kenya that has managed to sustain this practice. Reasons cited were that Kenya’s model is sustainable whereas Nigeria and Ghana had to end this aspect of the service due to the costs involved. “

 On the issue of sustainability the report cautions: “Many African governments after independence instituted voluntary NYS without clear goals and many of them didn’t stand the test of time from issues arising from finances and political goodwill. Success factors include goodwill by the governments of the countries in terms of budgetary allocations and where the NYS was legislated as an act of parliament.”

Although the NYS should ideally include all young people irrespective of their educational background, there was an understanding amongst stakeholders of the limited resources and the consensus was that there is need to start with a pilot targeting university graduates.

Stakeholders suggested the most suitable sectors in which to engage volunteers which included placing them in primary /secondary schools as assistant teachers, in agriculture, mining, the uniformed services, governance and decentralization, tourism, environment, the private sector or community service.

In a proposed model put forward in the report, the structure should have a Chief Executive Officer reporting to a National Youth Service Board. The Various Departments reflect the gamut of issues to be addressed-policy and advocacy, M&E, Provincial and district coordinators, Finance and Administration, logistics etc. The Board will have representatives including the Ministers of Youth, Education, Finance, Agriculture, Environment, Labour, Internal Security and Commission NAYCOM.

There was a consensus that there is need to start with a pilot targeting university graduates. Thereafter phases approach should be adopted as below:

·         In Phase 1 (year 1 to 3) the service will be open to only university graduates

·         In Phase 2 (Year 4 and 5) university graduates and tech voc institutions will be eligible

·         In Phase 3 (from year 6 onwards) university graduates and tech voc institutions and graduates from senior secondary schools will be eligible

Based on the experiences of other countries, there are a few issues which should be a sine qua non for such a scheme to succeed. A free, fair and transparent recruitment and selection process is absolutely essential. Findings from Kenya indicated that the recruitment and selection process was under threat due to external forces (nepotism, ethnicity, favouritism). Nigeria and Ghana experienced the same challenges during posting of their service men/women. Gender sensitivity and regional representation should also obviously be key.

The plan calls for the selection from all districts, proportional to the population of that district.

Selection within the youths that apply from any one district will be random. In phase 1 National Youth Service Secretariat will manage the application and selection process.

The core training programme may include aspects of:

·         Leadership

·         Personal Development

·         Behavioural Development

·         Citizenship

·         Peace building and conflict Resolution

·         Information Technology

·         Development process

 Additional core component for consideration could include writing and talking for success, entrepreneurship, volunteerism, first aid and safety and career development.

Discussions with stakeholders revealed a consensus that service men and women should receive a stipend to enable them cater for their meals and transport. Most stakeholders felt that in order for the communities to own the process they should provide accommodation in form of host homes or within the chiefdoms to the service men and women. M&E at all the stages of NYS will be crucial to all stakeholders.

I understand the report with recommendations has been sent to the government for due consideration. The NYS scheme is obviously a good idea whose time has come. The advantages in terms of fostering national cohesion and providing avenues for youths to serve are obvious and the scheme could be built upon to become more pervasive and impact the unemployment situation in future. It should however not be politicised and should be fair and transparent. It should certainly receive bipartisan support. With the political will for such a scheme to work, support must be given to the Youth Commissioner and his team to set about implementing it.

GREEN SCENERY’S RAHALL “BANISHED”

One could be forgiven for thinking the days of banishment of people like Bai Bureh are back. It looks like my good friend, Joe Rahall of Green Scenery is persona non grata in Malen Chiefdom as stated in a “Special press release made by the Local Chiefs of Malen Chiefdom”, part of which reads:

 “The local chiefs and peace loving people of Malen Chiefdom ……..view with total dismay and profound shock the uncompromising attitude of Green Scenery which has continued to hold meetings otherwise considered as confrontational and unacceptable as it has systematically promoted discord by working alongside unregistered groups including MALOA….. in line of the foregoing the local Chiefs are left with no option but to call on all law abiding residents of Malen Chiefdom to henceforth stop from attending meetings and doing business with Green Scenery with the view of putting an end to illegal activities perpetrated by Green Scenery as recently evident with the visit of the parliamentary committees of both land Agriculture which was occasioned with the failure of the Executive Director of Green Scenery Joseph Rahall to provide documentary evidence in respect of the activities of Socfin.”.

They leave no doubt as to whose side they are on: ” In conclusion, the local Chiefs and people of Malen Chiefdom want to make abundantly clear that they will continue to partner with the aspirations of Socfin for better development undertaking. Long live Socfin and the peace loving people of Malen”, the Press release ends.

The best way out of this “banishment” is to have enough people in Malen to shout “Long live Green scenery”.

Ponder my thoughts.

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