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By Dr Assan Jallow
The Gambian youth faces numerous challenges in the developmental phases of their lives as surveys and study reports indicate. According to Anderson et al. (2009),”environments that foster empowerment leads to youth leadership development.” However, ours is not because the design of the socio-economic construct of our environment is one that kills talents and promotes mediocrity at the expense of competence, skills, and knowledge. It is important to note that the government of The Gambia since independence to date has been embarking on several multi-million $dollar projects earmarked to address the youth challenges. It seems those target projects and interventions are not adding any value to the lives of the youth.
There are numerous institutions established, such as the Ministry of Youth and Sport (MoYS), National Youth Council (NYC), National Youth Service Scheme (NYSS), National Enterprise and Development Initiative (NEDI), and Youth Enterprise Project (YEP) among others all established to coordinate youth organizations in the country through structured training and preparation, organizations, collaborations, and networking of the youth for nation-building. Hardly can one see the correlations and impacts of these national institutions on the lives of the youth, amid the several policy frameworks and programs to tackle the challenges confronting the Gambian youth. Does this beg the question, why have these institutions amid the continuous bastardization of the plights of the youth? Yes, of course! We have the best-crafted policies and programs for youth empowerment and development than any other developing country in the globe. However, we are the most wretched country in terms of implementation as none of these institutions, policies, and programs have proved useful in creating real economic opportunities for the youth. This is because the programs are not youth-led.
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Additionally, the funds are not directed to their intended recipients but rather on the purchase of capital expenditures, per-diem mongering, and feeding the stomach infrastructures of the officials and their cronies in government. It is good to have institutions, but institutions do not feed people. It is people with the requisite skills and competence through the power of ideation in the position of authorities and leadership with the duty to care that can create opportunities to transform the lives of the youth.
Toeing the journey of life as a youth
Life is a difficult journey that every human being is destined to experience through the course of one’s existence on earth. This journey is an integrative process that requires a positive reflection to inspire and fulfil a purpose by answering your calling or deciding not to. That is your choice. This journey is inevitable, challenging, and severe and could deter us from the innate gift to achieve greatness in our drive for growth and development if we fail to act responsibly. This journey requires us to steadfastly or selflessly demonstrate an unfailing sense of resilience and commitment to our focus in our drives and move forward profoundly positively to achieve great things in the course of our lives. If we lose focus or lack that sense of resilience and commitment to push forward in life, then we will most definitely become decelerated with an unfulfilled mission that is punctuated with regrets for failing to act when the right opportunity showcase. Overall, this journey requires us to have an undeterred sense of resilience and commitment to focus and positively move forward towards attaining our set of predetermined goals in life. We need to explore the tenets of education beyond human imagination, to learn and share ideas, knowledge, and experiences throughout our trials in the journey for success, to understand better the values that make us humans and exploit our potentials beyond the limitless boundaries of our dreams and aspirations through the power of entrepreneurial cognition. We need to act as agents of change in the epoch of development and economic growth and not tools to be used and discarded in the minefields.
I know I am the least qualified to give a piece of advice on youth matters as it is not my area of expertise but thought it necessary to share the little, I know from the perspectives of my exposure and insights. However, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was a definitive test that exposes the government’s non-binding youth-centric programs and policies as a country. Kudos to the government, despite the late turnaround of taking the necessary corrective and preventive actions to keep the economy working, people safe and healthy with key interventions to decelerate the effects of this unfortunate virus. Therefore, I suggest the following:
1. Lobby for legislation on issues affecting your lives by engaging your elected representatives or members of parliament on public policy issues to influence public policy formulation through pursuing these tangible options on your behalf:
(a) Establishment of a Cooperative Development Bank targeting youth development enterprises and accessible by the youth to address the seemingly intractable challenges of rising unemployment of the youth folks.
(b) Establishment of a Private-Sector led youth development initiatives where the private sector organizations will have a quota in their training and development programs or budgets to employ a percentage of the teeming youth with the required skills, competence, and education based on the youth demographic to improve youth employability in the country.
2. Have a voice that is recognized and valued (Norman, 2001)
3. Avoid being used as human shields and options by others to pursue their objectives at your expense to score political points
4. Believe in yourselves by living with the anthem of hopefulness based on what you can do for your country and her people. It is good to have an independence of mind by driving your thought processes based on your reasoning abilities and expectations, and not otherwise. Your destiny lies in your hands, and no one will ever come to your aid or move you out of the shackles of your shattered lives and faced challenges. They will pretend to be with an agenda to vent out your anger and displeasure to get their political agendas fulfilled at your expense. Do not buy into their ideas. Be YOU and know your self-worth in nation-building.
5.Do not pretend to be a perfectionist and never nurse an injury that could escalate to your damnation, neglect, and abuse. I am a firm believer in social justice and education that focuses on human development and growth. Moreover, that should be your pursuit in life as the cream of our society (today’s and future leaders) of The Gambia.
6.Be consistent, tolerant, responsive, and capitalize on our shared similarities instead of our generational differences by harnessing your potentials and seeking solutions to the developmental challenges facing our country for the common good.
7. Have genuine conversations and negotiate with your elected representatives and the authorities concerned in managing your affairs to listen to your rallying cries by knowing your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) to protect you from being taken advantage of. According to McGovern (2020), ‘negotiation is a skill-set that involves communication and analysis.’ Shell (1999) notes that “negotiation is an interactive communication process that may take place whenever we want something from someone else or another person wants something from us, and this makes it to proceed through a form of prudent cooperative communication.” What this implies is that communication is a central pillar to the negotiation process and where there is miscommunication; disagreement tends to be an option that breeds conflicts. The lack of good negotiation skills by the governors (leaders) and the governed (citizens) is a bane that has the breathing jaws of funneling conflicts to becoming caustic, confrontational, and destructive. The art of negotiation plays a critical role in pursuing your development agendas (needs and aspirations). Effective negotiation helps in flattening the curve of any potential destructive or confrontational conflicts in the national polity. Understanding the fundamental principles of negotiation is imperative. It helps the governors in developing a sound understanding of the other parties’ perspectives (the governed) regarding the issues beforehand, the solution, and where it fits in the continuum. In short, it gives us the reasoning abilities to understand the priorities of the government, the cultural and generational differences, and value systems, and be able to proffer the best alternative outcomes of an integrative win-win solution for both the government and citizenry. Remember, there is no replacement for communication for a country transitioning from dictatorship to democracy.
8. Be agents of change and youths with a difference in pursuing what is right in your defining moments.
9. Utilize the time of introspection to motivate oneself in life. This is a moment of reflection to look at our mistakes, move away from vicious circles of neglect, hypocrisy, tribalism, and partisan politics, and the use of vitriolic and malicious words on your antagonists, office cliques, arrogance, and retaliation by positively engaging the authorities in Banjul through the democratic civility of our values.
10.Do not be used as agents of hopelessness. If you do, then you have given the agents of destruction and darkness the license to lead you to the gates of hell where regrets and a bleak future await you. Please, think, reflect, and envision the path you follow because every decision or choices has consequences (good/bad).
11.Stop resource wastage, the whining and complaining by defying the odds of what your contemporaries set out for you in the polity by demonstrating ingenuity and creativity with the flaring entrepreneurially urge of becoming job-creators and not job-seekers
12.Critique unworkable policies or status quo in place not with acts of meaningless condemnation through hostile rhetoric dictated by emotive and senseless judgments in the delivery of social programs but with the spectrum of prescriptive solutions to fix the endemic problem, through being pragmatic and adopting the style of creative destruction. It is your democratic rights that you must cherish but avoid being dogmatic and unnecessarily ideological as it is a farfetched idea that will not help you in addressing the development challenges facing The Gambia.
The Government of The Gambia must understand that engaging the youth population is no longer a competitive advantage but a competitive necessity in the development process of the country.
I. The Government of The Gambia must develop and implement appropriate strategies, policies, and programs that are youth-centric to mitigate the risks and challenges facing the youth, which has resulting socio-economic, political, and cultural consequences.
ii. Invest in skills-based training to impart the youth with the required vocational skills training as a conduit of preparing them for the world of work to become entrepreneurs (job creators and not job-seekers) by taking ownership and driving the flagship of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs.
iii. Generating and sustaining economic growth and development requires that certain conditions be met. Therefore, there is the need to establish an entrepreneurial state in partnership with private sector actors to help provide the basis for sustained and high economic growth in the productive sectors of the Gambian economy. That is what our society (risk-takers and pathfinders) expects from the government, which seeks to identify market opportunities not for its exclusive gain but on behalf of private actors whose pursuit of those opportunities may serve public ends.
iv. There is, of course, the need to create the enabling environment for investors (domestic/foreign) to have the confidence to invest by delimiting the bureaucratic hurdles and multiplicity of taxes.
v. Build a model of youth engagement, participation, and involvement to listen to the voices of the youth.
The participation, involvement, and engagement of the Gambia youth cannot be overstated in nation-building. Tothe Gambian youth, do not be options for others. Be different and break the chains that undermine your potentials and your prospects in building “The Gambia We Want.”Therefore, I challenge the youthto live with the anthem of development-focus, a passion for impacting, motivating, and inspiring others with the courage to become part of the great movers and shakers of our national development rather than minding the vitriol. Please, do not give undue attention to your antagonists and those who pretend to feel the pains of your struggles. Your pains and struggles will only end once you decide to claim for your share in the Gambian pie by being at the center of discussions to direct and influence public policies to effect change in our national polity. This is the only way to make a difference within your homes, families, communities, societies, regions. So that we can work and drive economic growth and make our country great, more stable and secure, against all the odds of uncertainty.
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