Ian Hughes blogs on Sierra Leone youths
“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” – Tim Berners-Lee (the British inventor of the World Wide Web)
Out and about in Freetown I meet a wide variety of people and am pleasantly surprised by the number telling me they follow this blog. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with young Sierra Leonean volunteers working with counterparts from the UK. I was very impressed with their sense of commitment to their different assignments and their determination to make their country a better place. For their part they were very candid about the challenges young Sierra Leoneans have to contend with and asked me to talk about some of these the next time I ventured into the blogosphere. (Photo: Ian Hughes, High Commissioner, British High Commission, Freetown, Sierra Leone)
A common theme was their frustration at the apparent lack of “seriousness” with which their concerns, aspirations and contributions are treated by their elders. They comment that they are seen as inexperienced, prone to making errors in judgment and not fit to have valid views on the weighty matters of nationally development.
These anxieties are not unique to Sierra Leone. Generations of young people everywhere have had to struggle to be heard, to be taken seriously, to be allowed to contribute. I remember as a young whipper-snapper (of 23) being told by a Brazilian official I was trying to do business with to “go home boy, and send a man to talk to me”. Ouch!
But as the velocity of change has become increasingly manic, as technology and innovation have replaced old certainties, old methods and old technologies, youth has taken on a value of itself. In the “dot.com” era successful economies prize youth’s flexibility, energy and innovation. We greybeards are expected to look up to youth for guidance rather than down on them for inexperience. Dealing with this paradox has proved to be a challenge of many more traditional societies and Sierra Leone is no exception.
I find that our world is wonderfully complex, textured and exiting. It can also be high-pressured, cold and unforgiving. Any societies that want to be successful have to take advantage of all the skills at its disposal. Just as successful economies have embraced their talent wherever it is found, none has abandoned experience in the race for modernity. Those that have done this have paid a price for their folly. So for me, whether a country progresses or regresses depends on the extent to which it puts to good use the cross-cutting blend of talents available to it. There is an old saying: If youth knew; if age could. I would rework this to say: But youth knows and age can!
For example, exploring and developing technology, designing and building engineering marvels, or extending the boundaries of science are not the privilege of the young. Nor is the explanation of a culture’s wisdom, the guardianship of a country’s culture or the maintenance of its traditions the role only of older folk. Every facet of human activity benefits from the braiding together of the energy of youth, the ambition of maturity and the patience of age.
To decision makers everywhere – whether in politics, government, business, civil society, or academe – Sierra Leone needs alliances of the willing, the able and the capable. Look for talent wherever it is to be found. Don’t discount people because they are from another town, another religion, another political party, another gender or another age group.
To my young interlocutors I say take heart, keep going, show your worth and you will be taken seriously.
Sierra Leone has turned a new page. Political stability has been attained. Economic and financial stability and thus true independence beckon. To get there Mama Salone must tap into all her resources, the most precious of which is her people – all of them. With “youthman dem” and “De popay dem” pulling together, she will surely make it to that better future she needs and deserves.
Ian Hughes, High Commissioner at British High Commission, Freetown
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