‘Ernest’ Reaffirms His “Covenant” with the Youth
“But let it be known to all that this nation can only move forward when its youth step forward. During the elections we saw the youths step forward; during the campaign we saw the youths step forward; and the youths have continued to step forward with great hopes for the positive transformation of this country. The youths have spoken and all must listen. I have listened to the youths; I am this day re-affirming the covenant I made with the youths during the campaign: I dedicate my life to your service; I submit my administration to your participation, I commit our economy to your employment; I pledge the resources of this country to your education, your acquisition of appropriate skills, and your advancement. (Photo: HE President Ernest Bai Koroma)
But government alone cannot bring prosperity; the private sector alone cannot bring prosperity. The Agenda for Prosperity needs commitment, cooperation, and discipline from youths, middle age and older persons. The Agenda for Prosperity requires the youth to render their creativity, their energy and their zeal unto the service of their nation, their community, and for their own progress. The Agenda warrants progressive action for bringing about prosperity. The Agenda needs discipline, it needs hard work; it needs initiative and drive. Help the country to help you; help the government to help you, help your community to help you. I know many youths are involved in a lot of good activities; I know many youths want more. But to get more, you have to do more, you have to be more disciplined than your colleague; you have to respect the law, you have to respect your teacher, you have to respect your boss, you have to be ready to get new skills; you have to be honest. It will be easier for government and the private sector to create more opportunities for you when you pay greater attention to your behaviour, when you are more than ready to seize opportunities and be part of the transformation. The job of transforming this country is as much in your hands, as it is in our hands; and I believe that together, with discipline in our relations, commitment to our endeavours, and respect for laws and regulations we will definitely bring prosperity to this nation…..” – President Ernest Bai Koroma’s speech during the opening of parliament, December 14, 2012
The Governing Elite Should ADOPT Youth
The section of the President’s speech in Parliament last week that aroused goose pimples in me is the excerpt above – on youth. On May 21, 2000, in my residence at No 14 Fort Street, Freetown, at age 46, I was one of the co-founders of Youth Arise!!! (I could ‘pass’ as a youth at that time; my Hatha Yoga discipline made my body as agile as a 20 year old; and my face without any age-wrinkles, could make me pass for 34). All the other founding members of Youth Arise!!! are still in their late 20s and very early 30s: for example, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai (now a successful lawyer with an entire floor for his office space in ‘Kallon’s Building’ on Charlotte Street in Freetown; and founder of the Society for Democratic Initiatives); Ishmael Abu Kamara, a.k.a. Van Damm (A brown belt in Karate, and Director of Culture in the tourism ministry); Ibrahim Bangura (currently a globetrotting international civil servant); Ibrahim Sannoh (a lawyer in private practice); Mohamed Sulaiman Massaquoi (journalist/politician, with about the sharpest intellect for his age group); Samuel Serry Jr. (communications expert in the agriculture ministry); Umaru Jalloh ( an engineer; who currently teaches in super-elitist Lebanese School); Ojullah Bangura (NRA staff), Captain Papani Bangura, etc. I mention their names here because in about twelve years since we started Youth Arise!!! their educational and professional growth – they are all university graduates today; with several of them with Masters degrees – has brought vicarious joy to me. When I see them today, I look back on the days when they were vulnerable teenagers about to leave secondary school. I advocate that the President, senior functionaries in government, the APC party, and elders in civil society, etc. ….’ADOPT’ several youth from their early teenage years (and try to mingle with them weekly) until they grow into full adulthood, and professional competence. That way, some of the YOUTH policies of government, and, ‘sermons’ on what youth ought to do, can shift from it relative abstraction today. Too many of the political class only see ‘youth’ six months to elections.
Adults in Africa do NOT Communicate with Children/Youth
My experience with youth is that nearly all of them have parents, or, adult authority figures, who almost absolutely do not communicate with them much. It is an African problem, largely!! In most of Africa, once a person is ten or more years older than another, he/she almost never would speak more than five sentences to the junior person, even if they live under the same roof. It is worse when parents are twenty years or older. In cities where both parents have to work on 8.00a.m. to 5.00 p.m. jobs (and often get home at 8.00 p.m.), or, spend all their daylight peddling goods on the streets, this communication barrier among children/youth and parents/authority figures is scandalous. During the school season, parents abdicate the business of rearing their children/youth to educational institutions. Communication between teacher and students in these educational institutions would hardly be better than what obtains in homes.
Most of the schools in our country are overcrowded. Teachers ‘talk down’ to students almost like military drill sergeants. Thus, children/youth are largely left to dialogue with their peers. It is the case of ‘the blind leading the blind’. The ‘law of nature’ means that all children and youth yearn for adult guidance. The few of us who ‘open our psychological doors to children/youth’ in our neighbourhoods would get youth to enter our doors in their droves. For a time, Youth Arise!!! tried to confront this problem by allowing the older of the youth to play the role of ‘surrogate parents’ for youth who almost lack parental authority, especially fathers. (In case the ‘governing elite’ in Sierra Leone haven’t noticed, there are huge numbers of children/youth with only mothers taking care of them, and, perfunctory authority exercised on them by elder male siblings, male cousins, uncles, etc.) Getting close to our children/youth, one is seared by the daunting problems of poverty. There are almost always overwhelming physical needs – of food, medicines, school expenses. (I have heard of, or, observed, some youth in their early 20s literally dying of minor diseases because they lacked money for accurate medical diagnosis, or, lack money to buy non-fake drugs; situations of youth who have graduated from university today burdened with ulcerous stomachs, because they endured hunger on a daily basis growing up as children!). The severity and reality of the Youth Problem in Sierra Leone today calls for much more than ‘preaching’ to youth on the need for “discipline” and to “do more”. What the President appeals to youth to be demands nothing short but a radical transformation of our society. Parents and authority figures who are not disciplined are incapable of stimulating discipline in their children/youth.
Youth Encapsulate their Trust for Society in Trust for ‘World Best’
The general distrust which the youth perceive nearly ALL the governing elite has been encapsulated today in the fervent TRUST for President Koroma – the youth’s anointed ‘World Best’. That places a huge burden on President Koroma. If not for the successful ‘four-for-four’ campaign slogan and tactic of the APC (in which voters blindly voted for the President Koroma, parliamentarian, mayoral candidate, and councillor of the APC), probably, half of the APC parliamentarians who were incumbents would have lost their seats. In the Sojaton area of Freetown where I lived (close to State House), most of the youth did not even know the name of their parliamentarian in 2011/2012, Barrister Ajibola Manley-Spaine; and most had not even ever set eyes on his face. The mountain of filth on the streets in central Freetown was certainly not the business of Manley-Spaine. Yet, he is in parliament again, voted in by 90 percent of youth. My random survey informs me that nearly all parliamentarians in the country (within all the political parties!) never would discuss bills before parliament with their constituents, and never would educate them about bills passed into laws. President Koroma has to flew his ‘power muscles’ to ginger up the APC if even half of his ‘covenant with the youth’ would not be derided in three years time by the political opposition. The ‘system’ in the country that is largely controlled by non-youth must undergo a complete overhaul to build up necessary TRUST in the youth for the country – in the ‘legal justice’ system; in the ‘educational justice’ system; in the ‘ethnic equity justice system’; in the belief that hard work and creativity would be rewarded….(Aha, this would call for more articles). People like my humble self and President Koroma are what Youth Arise!!! has dubbed as ‘psychological youth’. We have faith that we can forge a dramatically positive change in our country. We have to band together to ‘kill’ the cynics, the myopic, amnesiac, selfish and egoistical among the governing elite. To succeed, to live an enduring legacy, the President has to lead a vanguard of ‘soulful elders’ who have also reached a covenant with the youth. This goes beyond soulless theorists with their theoretical solutions on the ‘Youth Problem’.
In 2002, I went to most districts in the country with the SLPP’s youth/sport minister then, Dr. Dennis Bright, stoking the flames of hope in the youth – with government/UNDP donations of electricity generators, sporting equipment and materials for youth groups who were almost coerced into forming themselves into coalitions. Dr. Bright had the vision of forming huge self-contained ‘youth cities’ – where youth would have equipped space for play and work. In 2003, I was one of the founding staff in a UNDP-sponsored special consultancy (which was headed by cerebral Dr. Ibrahim Abdullah, author of a study on the RUF, ‘Footpaths to Democracy’) to advice the government on the Youth Problem. All these clearly floundered. If they had been given impetus, the SLPP would not have lost the 2007 elections. There is a warning note in that preceding sentence. Fortunately for the APC, President Ernest Bai Koroma is a profound man who certainly attaches profundity to his ‘covenant with the youth’.
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