Where is the Sierra Leonean Youth?
The decade civil war in Sierra Leone and its attendant massive destruction dealt seriously on the socio-economic fabric of the country. During the war period, about 80% of the youth joined the Revolutionary United Front/Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebellion and steadily participated in the heinous activities of the rebels. Some of these youth were forcefully conscripted and in most cases injected with narcotic drugs in order to carry out instructions of all violent forms against innocent civilians, thereby unleashing terror. (Photo: Elkass I.L. Sannoh, author)
That situation greatly affected all development programs advanced by successive governments. Youth became potential perpetrators and victims of the horrific brutality and violence that occurred in the last decade of the last century.
Drug abuse, trafficking and use of narcotics, sexual violence, prostitution and other gangster related activities are today common in the daily lives of the majority of our youth. The war eventually led to a total collapse of all structures for crime prevention and control. Indeed, the prevalence of drugs and their abuse by youth goes cannot be over emphasised. Its seriousness is clearly stated by the Minister of Youth – Paul Mohamed Kamara. Based on the severity of this national problem, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) created the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU) headed by Chief Superintendent of Police, Mustapha Briama Lappia, to deal with issues of drugs, trafficking, and other crimes leading to instability.
Despite this, the prevalence of drugs in the country is incontestable. The outrageous presence of ‘ghettos’ and other drug cartels around the city including public venues lend credence to this scenario. This and other reasons indisputably suggest the urgent need to put in place firm structures to effectively and robustly address drug abuse.
The AWOL Legal Practitioner of the Year 2013 and also Executive Director of Foundation for Democratic Initiatives and Development (FDID-SL), Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, said his organisation is a youth serving Civil Society Organization that has its headquarters in Freetown, Charlotte Street. He said FDID is a peace building Human Rights organisation that has championed Human Rights and child/youth related issues in Freetown and other parts of the country since its inception.
“FDID-SL works to enhance youth active participation and involvement in upholding and promoting a sustainable development culture and participatory governance at grass root levels, through effective information dissemination, advocacy, lobbying, dialogue, civic education and community driven activities,” said Abdulai.
He said the rise in drug trafficking, including an increase in local drug production and consumption, is fast becoming a mighty adversary to overcome in the pursuit of peace, stability and security in a peace consolidating nation like Sierra Leone.
He asserts that it is a challenge that requires a coordinated and multi-pronged solution, adding that it requires a robust stand by the executive and legislative arms of government and active involvement of civil society actors, religious leaders, school authorities and community leaders across the country.
He disclosed that the increase in drug trafficking and consumption poses a threat to the peace and stability, governance and public health of Sierra Leoneans, revealing further that it is estimated that 420,000 people (13% of the Sierra Leone population) suffer from mental disorder of which most of it is attributed to substance abuse.
According to Alphonso Manley, popular youth activist and an Ex-officio member of the National Youth Commission (NaYCOM), “Sierra Leone is not only a trans-shipment zone, local production and consumption is also on the rise especially among its marginalised youth population.”
A member of the current Constitutional Review Committee and Senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Fourah Bay College, Dr. Habib Sesay, claimed that over 55% of Sierra Leone’s estimated six (6) million people are under the age of 35. He maintained that the vast majority are uneducated, unschooled, unskilled and are unemployed or working in the informal sector.
“Lack of employment opportunities or reliable income put youths in precarious positions where they may be vulnerable to involve in the drug-trade and drug use itself,” said Dr. Sesay.
Mr. President, the problems of the Sierra Leonean youth is a ticking time-bomb, if left unattended to by the Agenda for Prosperity. Remember that our youths are undeniably the future leaders and the gem for Sierra Leone. This is The Pen of The Voiceless Sierra Leonean.
Pen of The Voiceless with Elkass I.L. Sannoh
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