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Feature Article of Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Columnist: Ezekiel, Chibeze .S.

Analyzing Countries Commitment to Youth Development

My Perspective of Ghana


By Chibeze .S. Ezekiel
chibeze@gmail.com


*Chibeze is the Executive Coordinator of Strategic Youth Network for Development (SYND) – www.strategicyouthnetwork.org. He has over 7years experience working as a Volunteer, Strategist, Social Development Analyst and an Advocate in Youth Development. Professionally, he works as a Youth Master Trainer on Climate Change and provides support in the development, reviewing and/or implementation of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) for institutions.
October, 2012




Preface
Youth Development has been defined as "...the ongoing growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to (1) meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded, and (2) to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives." (Pittman, 1993, p. 8)

Youth development therefore means providing holistic personal growth opportunities for young people. Governments of nations across the world are seen making strenuous effort in developing and empowering their respective young citizens. While such desires are constant across board, the approach adopted by countries differs from one to another. The resulting outcome thus justifies the efficiency and effectiveness or otherwise of the methodology or strategy adopted.
The United Nations (UN) as part of showing commitment to youth issues has earmarked August 12th of every calendar year as the International Youth Day.

Who then is a youth? According to Section 3.2 of the National Youth Policy of Ghana (which is in line with the Africa Youth Charter), youth is defined as “persons who are within the age bracket of fifteen (15) and thirty-five (35)”. It is however important to indicate that some continents or countries have different definitions for youth. Forinstance, the United Nations define youth as persons between 15-24 years. This raises serious questions on global youth development reports especially when criteria for youth definition differ from region to region. For the purposes of my presentation, I wish to stick to Ghana and for that matter Africa’s definition.

In Ghana, youth development has increasingly been trumpeted by governments over the years as a crucial program to ensuring sustainable development. Monitoring and evaluating youth development programs can only be measured meaningfully by the availability of a youth policy backed by pragmatic action plans. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) when it assumed democratic power from 1992 – 2000 only managed to develop a youth policy in 1999 which did not really see the light of day. When the New Patriotic Party (NPP) took over governance from 2001 – 2008, it also managed to produce a draft national youth policy after boycotting the policy produced by its predecessor (NDC government). NDC came into office again on 7th January, 2009 and after reviewing NPP’s draft policy, it eventually launched the new national youth policy on August 12th, 2010 by His Excellency John Dramani Mahama (the then Vice President of Ghana). Interestingly, this new policy has been met with a lot of criticism. I look forward to when Ghana will have an all-embracing National Youth Policy void of partisan politics. Regrettably, government has after 2 years still not been able to produce an Action Plan to propel the Policy. What a shame!

The National Youth Authority (NYA) – formerly National Youth Council – is the arm of government primarily responsible for youth development and empowerment programs and activities. Inspite of all efforts made to re-position NYA positively, it has in my candid opinion become a ‘decorated ass’ – there has been no enviable or significant change in the actions and inactions of the youth authority. To what extent has NYA factored youth concerns in policy formulation, reviewing and implementation in Ghana? Absolutely none! Indeed, I have been labeled as an ardent critic of NYA and I must confess I have no regrets for that. However, I am also aware of the difficulty in obtaining sufficient funds (as NYA always laments) to achieving their goals and objectives. Much as it may want to be sympathized with, the onus lies on NYA to show forth how the little resources given them have been judiciously disbursed and the resulting effect or impact. In anycase, government in the 2012 Budget Statement allocated GH?2million to the NYA as part of social intervention for the Youth Policy. If I may ask, how much has been actually disbursed so far? In the absence of that, I am only inclined to believe that youth development in Ghana has only becoming like chewing sticks in the mouth of our leaders.

Having placed my telescopic and microscopic lens on Ghana with respect to youth development, I discovered the following:

1. Inadequate Sector Budgetary Allocation
Ministry of Youth and Sports Expenditure by year, 2009-2012


Nominal value Real Value in
Year GH¢ 2009terms GH¢
2009 (Base Year) 91,232,823 91,232,823
2010 82,342,219 74,364,934
2011 45,919,856 38,118,121
2012 54,244,178 41,429,519
Source: Executive Budget Proposals, 2009-2012

From the above trend analysis, it is evident that government’s allocation to the sector reduced by 18% in 2010 and further deepened downwards by 49% in 2011. Between 2009 and 2012, there has been a stunning 54% reduction in real terms. How can government therefore claim to be concerned about youth development when there is drastic reduction in budgetary allocations to the sector? I earnestly await the allocations to be announced in the 2013 budget statement.

Again from the budget proposals, it is difficult to really differentiate between spending on Youth development programmes and spending on Sports. It is unclear how the Ministry allocates resources to these two components. Would it not be appropriate for government to indicate specifically how much is actually disbursed to NYA? This is not to suggest that ‘Youth’ has nothing to do with ‘Sports’ but for the purposes of ensuring that the NYA is performing up to expectation, it is essential to know what they receive to juxtapose that against their outcomes. Infact, I strongly support the call for the establishment of a “Ministry of Youth”.

2. Lack of Active Youth Inclusion In Decision Making
Section 6.1 of the National Youth Policy, states the following as government priority areas:
“(1) Education and Skills Training; (2) Science, Research, and Technology; (3) Information and Communication Technology (ICT); (4) Youth and Employment; (5) Entrepreneurial Development; (6) Youth in Modern Agriculture; (7) Gender Mainstreaming; (8) Environment; (9) Health, HIV and AIDS; (10) Networking and Partnership; (11) Mentoring; (12) Arts and Culture; (13) Governance, Democracy, and Leadership; (14) Sports and Recreation; (15) Youth in Conflict Prevention and Peace Building; (16) National Youth Week; (17) Youth and Vulnerability; (18) Youth, Patriotism and Volunteerism & (19) Nationalism and Conscientization of the Youth”

Agreeably, these are key areas for a holistic youth development approach but the question is how many youth groups, associations and/or organizations working in one or more of the above areas have been actively involved in the development, reviewing and implementation of policies or programs by the respective sector Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs)? Unfortunately, the youth have continually been neglected in these processes and yet are tagged as future leaders. What then is the relevance of Section 5.2.1 of the youth policy which states that “The views of the youth and their participation in national development must be sought? The government and other stakeholders must consciously and consistently involve young people in decision-making”. With respect to this, I am aware of some Development Partners (especially the UN Agencies) who consistently provide various support or interventions to young people. I cannot vouch for government because its engagement with youth is too fragmented.

3. Challenges in Accessing Accommodation Facilities
It is common knowledge that one must be prepared to pay at least 2years rent advance in search of accommodation. While landlords are having a field day determining their house rent rates based on their discretion, government has not shown any concern to ameliorate this challenge. Government itself is guilty in the sense that National Service Personnel posted to unfamiliar locations or regions to render their service for some 10 months are required on their own to search for accommodation. If a Service Personnel rents a house for 2years, what happens to the rest of the months after the national service period expires? Is this the kind of treatment meted out to the youth who are just starting their career? Why can’t government provide special incentives or system to help meet the rising accommodation needs among young people? All affordable housing projects have eventually ended up as expensive jokes!

4. Unfavourable Business Environment
To register a company in Ghana, the applicant among other requirements must have attained at least 21years of age. This means any 19year old with brilliant business idea or concept cannot register his/her business. Meanwhile, an 18year old according to the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana has the RIGHT to determine who manages our biggest institution called Ghana. The logical conclusion therefore is that, an 18year old can choose who becomes the President of Ghana but cannot start his/her business. This is without mincing words very preposterous and I dare say useless! No wonder our counterparts in developed economies are still bolting way ahead of us. Indeed if Mark Zukerberg were to be a Ghanaian, Facebook I think would not have emerged. More so, young people with great entrepreneurial ideas find the business environment so inefficient and unfavourable; thus most of them prefer to travel to other countries to have their dreams fulfilled.

5. Poor Educational Systems
Whiles the Constitution of Ghana clearly talks about the right to education for all, our practice says that it is rather a privilege. At the Senior High School (SHS) level, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to enroll into the so called ‘big name’ schools whiles little efforts (if any) are made to upgrade the facilities in the less or unknown SHSs. Even in this 21st Century, we have political leaders still struggling to decide if SHS should be 3 or 4 years. At the Tertiary level, a lot of private institutions have sprung up to augment or accommodate other potential students since government-owned institutions are inadequate. In all of these, the quality of our educational system seems to have been compromised. Lessons taught in our lecture halls are largely archaic or irrelevant to today’s ever-changing modernization trend in the world. No wonder, companies are complaining of the poor quality of graduates released into the job market annually. I bet you to randomly select Business Graduates and ask them to develop any Business Plan or Proposal and then draw your own conclusion. What kind of future are we shamefully creating for the young people? It has been alleged (since I don’t have concrete evidence yet) that enrollment of students in some educational institutions no longer bother on academic qualifications but more so “which family you belong to”. If this is true, then it smacks of an unconstitutional act of marginalizing or disenfranchising some ‘innocent’ young people.
6. Incoherent Employment Approach
With respect to youth in the informal sector, governments over the years have made various efforts to tackle the mass unemployment confronting them. Some of the notable interventions are the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP), Local Enterprise and Skills Development Programme (LESDEP) and Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET) among others. Inspite of all these interventions, government has not been able to provide precise numbers gainfully employed so far and how sustainable these efforts are. Sustainability is very essential because, what is the relevance of donating hairdressing or electric sewing machines to young females to start or boost their businesses when electricity supply forinstance is not stable? Worst still is when power fluctuations destroy such donated items.
According to Table 7.35 of Page 173 of Ghana’s 2010 Annual Progress Report (APR)“1,013,334 young people registered under the NYEP out of which 115,160, representing 11.36% were actually employed in 2010”. Meanwhile in the 2010 Budget Statement, government stated that 60,000 were employed between November 2009 and August 2010 representing a shortfall of 55,160. Why this disparity?

Youth in Agriculture is one of the key areas under the NYEP that government intends to create mass employment for the youth.

YIAP Components In Operation
Crops – Block farming In operation
Fisheries Not in operation
Livestock and poultry In pilot phase
Agribusiness Not in operation

NB: Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP) has four components, namely Crops – Block Farms; Livestock and Poultry; Fisheries – Aquaculture & Agribusiness. The above table shows the components that are currently In operation, Not in operation & In pilot phase. Total amount allocated in 2011 was 13 million Ghana cedis representing 77.45% of the total NYEP budget. This may imply that, since agriculture is the backbone of our economy, government is incentivizing youth to pursue agriculture as a career or source of livelihood. However, it has been observed from the chart that there were reductions in all the components under the YIAP from 2011 to 2012. This questions government’s willingness to pursue the YIAP objectives. Forinstance, the fisheries and agribusiness components are not yet operational but budgetary allocations from 2011 to 2012 have reduced by 50% and 60% respectively. Again, since the livestock and poultry component is being piloted, why should 2012 allocation be 20% less of 2011 allocations?

On the other hand, thousands of new young graduates are unleashed into the system every year swelling up the number of unemployed graduates. With a significant number of companies liquidating and government habitually moving state-owned organizations into divestiture and so forth, where lies the hope for the youth? If companies are struggling to breakeven due to high cost of doing business, to what extent can young entrepreneurs survive in such situations when even capital access is very challenging coupled with high interest rates? On Page 12 of the 2013 World Development Report (WDR), it is stated that “unfortunately, in many developing countries, larger and older firms tend to be stagnant while smaller and younger enterprises are prone to churning. A vibrant dynamic process is usually absent. In Ghana, many firms were born large and showed little growth over 15 years; in Portugal, by contrast, many firms born as microenterprises grew substantially”
As a nation, how do we measure our progress in tackling the unemployment situation when we don’t even know the number of unemployed Ghanaian youth?

This affirms my continuous call for the need for a collaborative effort by government, private sector, media and other key stakeholders in organizing periodic NATIONAL YOUTH TRADE FAIR - where young people with various business ideas, concepts, crafts, products and/or service will engage in profitable ventures whiles using that as a platform to build alliance, mergers and/or partnerships among themselves. This should be able to connect young people with the major players in the business economy such as the financial institutions, private sector, government institutions, development partners and other key stakeholders to promote youth in business. I have been thinking about the idea of getting financial institutions to develop a special mutual fund package for these young people engaged in petty trading. These little contributions made by them overtime can earn them enough capital to start a lucrative business or expand their already existing businesses.

7. Incomplete Commitment to International Conventions
On Page 3 of the National Youth Policy, it has been stated that the policy rational is to be a guideline that enables government to engage the youth and other stakeholders in meaningful partnership to develop appropriate interventions and services for youth empowerment and development. It is also intended to provide guidelines for all stakeholders involved in the implementation of policies, programmes & projects for the development of the youth as well as help the country demonstrate its commitment to all international conventions & charters it has signed relating to the youth. To what extent therefore has Ghana achieved these? Meanwhile, Ghana has ratified the African Youth Charter which also states in Article 12 (c) “a youth perspective shall be integrated and mainstreamed into all planning and decision-making as well as programme development. The appointment of youth local points in government structures shall enable this process”. Indeed, the Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes as well as the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond affirms these propositions. So has government been able to appoint the youth local points? Has government not shamefully failed in adhering and showing evidential commitment to these above conventions and/or provisions? Just signing up to these international conventions or declarations without fulfilling or adhering to them are meaningless!

When there’s no enabling environment for young people to freely and actively contribute to national development agenda, the state can never sustain its objectives. Government must wake up to its responsibilities to providing and ensuring a holistic and effective approach to youth development otherwise the resulting consequences may be detrimental to the image, economy and overall growth of Ghana. I was not born during the era of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah but if all that I have read and heard of him is true then our current crop of leaders have woefully failed. How? I am told Dr. Nkrumah built several companies and institutions as well as providing free education and so forth. Successive governments have sold out or diversified several companies, messed up the educational system and have become diplomatic beggars in the eyes of developed nations. Whiles Dr. Nkrumah consciously made efforts to raise a generational of young people with the requisite knowledge, skills and expertise to manage the economy, the very beneficiaries (present politicians) are on the contrary raising foot-soldiers; using young people to propagate violence, mayhem and so forth.

Generally, though government has made some efforts over the years towards youth development, I think Ghana has not performed creditably well especially when there are no indicators to measure performance. It is not just about providing political appointments to young people but ensuring that all sectors of the economy (community to national) embraces a holistic and pragmatic approach – void of partisan politics – in engaging and preparing the youth adequately as the next crop of leaders. I can only caution that any nation become restless, distressed, and discontented, chaos and disorder becomes inevitable and the consequences cannot be controlled – not even by the state security apparatus. For justification, do consult the history of war-torn countries.

From these above analysis, I strongly recommend that government should:
? Make available the Action Plan for the Youth Policy as soon as possible
? Appoint youth local points in government structures (at all decision-making levels)
? Ensure the provision of quality education
? Ensure that youth employment interventions are sustainable
? Provide favourable business environment to the youth
? Provide affordable housing units targeted at youth

As we inch steadily towards Elections 2012 come December 7th, political parties are traditionally at their wit ends preaching enviable youth development programs when voted into power. I encourage fellow young people to vote peacefully and wisely.

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