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Opinions of Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Columnist: Amoateng, Acheampong Yaw

The National Youth Policy: A Work In Progress?

A specter is haunting Ghana’s nascent democracy and it’s the specter of the primacy of politics. Even though it might sound paradoxical to pit democracy against the primacy of politics, even a casual observation of our current politics will confirm the fact that we are in reality pushing the limits of multi-party democracy. In other words, the tendency to associate every act or omission of a person with political party affiliation detracts from the quality of our national discourse whose end state is national development.
My aim in this piece is to make a humble appeal to the executive and legislative branches of our government to delay the passage of the National Youth Policy into law until the government—through a non-partisan effort--provides adequate empirical basis for it. It is my firm belief that as we move forward as a nation, issues which touch on the nurturing of our nascent democracy in particular and our national development in general require an approach which is bereft of partisan politics. Thus, I would have achieved my aim in this piece if at the end of the day no political meaning was read into it.
It might help to mention the fact that before my one-year stint with the Ghana School Feeding Programme as the deputy in charge of monitoring and evaluation, I was a Director of Research with South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, arguably the largest social science research organization on the African continent, after having taught at three major universities in that country.
As a Director of Research, my outfit was tasked with the analysis and generation of such large-scale socio-economic databases as censuses and periodic sample surveys which formed the basis of several crucial government policies in the country. For instance, I personally led a study which provided the “empirical basis” for the South African National Family Policy, while colleagues from my outfit formed part of the national task team that undertook the studies which informed the South African National Youth Policy.
Finally, between 2005 and 2007, I led yet another research team that undertook a six-nation study to evaluate a Youth Leadership Training Programme in Africa for the World Scout Bureau under the auspices of the Jacobs Foundation of Switzerland.
My problem with the increasing politicization of our national life is clearly evidenced by the fact that since the launch of the National Youth Policy, the only critique that I am aware of has been “political” in nature; I am still struggling with the possible reasons for the failure of academia so far to engage with such an important national issue.
The political critique of the youth policy has been of two types. First, there have been complaints from youth groups from other political groupings that they were excluded from both the process and the launch of the policy by the Vice-President in Cape Coast. The second and, in fact, most vociferous political critique has been led by the former National Coordinator of the Youth Council, Dr Sekou Nkrumah, whose beef has been that the policy lacks an Action Plan for implementation.
While both sets of critiques may be valid, my main problem with the policy is that the research that informed it needs to be problematized on several grounds. By its nature society is constantly in flux and this is the reason why an important criterion for evaluating any piece of research is the currency of the data that the research employs.
From what we know, the National Youth Policy has been ongoing since 1999 hence the use of selected baseline statistics on the youth from the 2000 Population and Housing Census dataset.
Even though the government implicitly admits that the statistics which form the basis of the policy may be misleading due to the use of a 10-year old dataset, hence the caveat that the “figures are subject to change”, the question still needs to be asked as to the rationale for the rush to launch a policy that is based on dated data. This question is all the more important in view of the fact that a new dataset is in the process of being generated through the new round of the decennial population census.
We know that social phenomena change at a very rapid rate hence the use of specialized sample surveys in-between censuses as a means of capturing this change. A relatively recent datasets, the 2003 and 2008 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) were available before the launch of the policy, yet no information on the youth was gleaned from these data sources not only as a means of “validating” the 2000 census data, but also in line with international best research practice, to ensure that multiple data sources were employed to capture the multiple “realities” which is the sine qua non of any public policy.
But, be that as it may, the substantive information on the youth presented by the research is very bland, to say the least. While we are told that the “youth” are not a homogenous category, no attempt is made to operationalize this by quantifying the distribution of the various categories of youth in both time and space. In fact, the rush to launch the policy before the 2010 census data became available and the failure to employ the 2003 and 2008 Demographic and Health Survey datasets denied the underlying research an opportunity for a “time-series” analysis to examine “meaningful” changes in the identified categories of youth.
The essence of any public policy is its utility in serving as a basis for programme development and implementation so of what use is a policy that says “our youth live in both rural and urban areas” without going beyond this to tell us about the proportional distribution of this category of the youth? And, more importantly, how do we know the rate at which these categories are changing in the population for effective programme implementation?
Take the problem of youth unemployment. Without the shadow of a doubt, youth unemployment constitutes the single most important threat to our nascent democracy as evidenced by the increasing acts of violence by the youth against public officials and private citizens, to say nothing about their correlation with such anti-social behaviors as alcohol and drug use, school dropout, teenage pregnancy etc.
Moreover, unemployment among the youth is the single most important reason why our youth are increasingly becoming willing participants in the emerging “macho men” culture as far as electoral violence is concerned. Furthermore, no information is provided about the “employability” of the youth in terms of their educational or skills level.
Thus, no information is presented in the National Youth Policy about the magnitude or the extent of youth unemployment at the national level, let alone its disaggregation across the specified categories of youth.
In fact, the geographical distribution of the youth and youth unemployment both in terms of region and residence are just two examples to show how bland the analysis of the data that informed the policy was; the same lack of depth characterized all the categories of youth identified by the policy. These are standard baseline statistics that are needed for the praxis of the programmes that would address the needs of our teeming youths.
It is needless to say that the underlying research of the youth policy is not nuanced enough and clearly lacks the intellectual sustenance public policies require to make their expected impact. These glaring flaws suggest that the National Youth Policy is clearly a “work in progress” and this may be the reason why it was launched without an Action Plan for implementation.
Thus Dr. Sekou Nkrumah, after all, may have jumped the gun in his acerbic critique that the National Youth Policy lacks an Action Plan for implementation, because clearly as it stands now, the youth policy is far from ready to be passed into law for implementation.
To all intents and purposes therefore, the national youth policy is a serious indictment of the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit in the Presidency, a unit which is increasingly becoming notorious for its ideological posturing and hubris.
I am equally unsettled by the failure of academia to engage with such public enterprises as the formulation and implementation of policies by the state because academic research is certainly a crucial pole of the public policymaking continuum, which in our context we seem to be lacking. I dare suggest, within the context of this thesis of primacy of politics, that academics can be critical without necessarily been less supportive of existing governments’ socio-economic agenda.
Needless to say, the failure of academia to engage with public issues is the reason for the poverty of our public discourse and the occupation of that space by charlatans who masquerade as journalist, a situation people like Dr Kwesi Botchwey and Gabby Otchere-Darko of the Danquah Institute have bemoaned in recent times.

Professor Acheampong Yaw Amoateng, PhD, is a Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.