As you take office in the forenoon of 7th January, 2017, I want to present to you the development and political participation challenges of Ghana’s Youth to add to your in-tray and the priority areas you must focus on. The youth of Ghana face increasing marginalization in national development and political participation. We have created a tokenistic culture where the presence of youth caucuses and wings of the political parties give us a false sense of participation. Ghanaian youth care about democracy and want to actively contribute but space must be created for them to enable them do this properly.
“Political and civic engagement by African youth is declining and is particularly weak among young women”, according to new Afrobarometer survey findings. The findings, which was released on International Youth Day 2016 (August 12), show African youth are less likely than their elders to engage in a variety of political and civic activities, including voting, attending community meetings, joining others to raise an issue, and contacting leaders. The report worryingly noted that “young women express significantly less interest in public affairs than young men”. The report concluded that “the gap between African Youth Decade aspirations and the reality of youth engagement suggests that governments and development partners have considerable work to do to achieve the goals of increased youth participation and empowerment, especially for young women”.
Mr. President, it is against this background that I present to you my thoughts on what you should focus on to fully develop the potentials of Ghana’s young people.
A carefully thought-out national action plan is needed to ensure Ghanaian youth get a voice and then actively participate in the national development discourse, and are deliberately prepared and groomed and mentored to form the next leadership pipeline. This is the only guarantee to a secured prosperous future for Ghana.
My observation is that there is no clear and deliberate process to groom leaders for Ghana. Leaders who are trained and strategically prepared to lead. Leaders who dream, think and act in Ghana’s supreme interest. The current system of the loudest voices in the political and social activism arena going on to become MPs and ministers is unacceptable and will not take Ghana far, Mr. President.
Ghana must develop its youth politically
Let’s start with 20%. Yes 20% of all public appointments to boards, commissions, educational institutions and district assemblies etc must be reserved for the youth under 35 years. This will serve as a critical step in equipping the youth to learn at first hand and then lead. We learn by doing so giving youth the opportunity to contribute in running public entities is the best way to equip them to lead.
There must be a national programme to spot, select and train potential youth leaders in the art of governance, policy-making and statesmanship. We cannot leave the training of the next leaders to the political parties alone, who then indoctrinate these youth in their “clientelism” and “state-capture” ways. One of the founding fathers of Singapore, the late Mr Rajaratnam, put this very well when he spoke of Singapore becoming a “democracy of deeds, and not words”. He called for citizenship participation at all levels, so that Singapore can rise above adversarial politics and “solve practical problems in a practical way”. Mr Rajaratnam said this in the early 70s, and in many ways he was prescient in highlighting the problems we see today in mature democracies around the world. These are useful lessons for Ghana.
UNDP in its publication “Enhancing Youth Political Participation throughout the Electoral Cycle – A Good Practice Guide”, advises that “A basic principle is that support for the political participation of young people should extend across the electoral cycle. Capacity development for young candidates, for example, has proven to be more effective as a continuous effort than as a one-off event three months before an election. Young people who participate actively in their community from early on are more likely to become engaged citizens and voters”.
• The 9 Youth Leadership Training Centers owned and operated by the National Youth Authority should be made to run Leadership and Civic Education programmes for selected youth leaders every long vacation.
• Additionally, student leaders from across Ghana must be selected under a special programme by the National Service Scheme to be trained at strategic Ministries, Departments and Agencies. They must be designated “Fast Streamers” just like the UK Civil Service does and carefully guided and mentored to fill the next leadership pipeline.
• The Youth should be given an enhanced chance to take an active part in the decision-making at local, national and global levels.
United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon says “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime”. Our own Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, add that “Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death”.
We must equip our youths with the knowledge and the attributes they will need to grow into active and discerning citizens. As the saying goes, we can’t always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
Ghana must develop its youth economically
Mr. President, do you know that 30% of all government contracts in Kenya go to the youth? Kenya also has a Youth Enterprise Fund. This is a far cry from the Ghana system where such funds have been overly politicized and become an avenue for rewarding political party foot soldiers. Please work hard to correct/change this. Any government that is serious about solving the unemployment situation in Ghana must;
• Establish micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) incubators in every district capital. “One District One Incubator”. These will be well equipped business centers where any young person with a good business idea, model and plan can set up office for the first 3 years. They move out after 3 years to make way for others.
• Entrepreneurship must be taught in all Ghanaian schools from Class 4 to tertiary…compulsory. We can’t expect the youth to run businesses and solve social problems without equipping them properly.
• Every Ghanaian company and business organization must engage in compulsory internship for young people from JHS to tertiary every year. They must file an internship return at the end of the financial year with the Registrar General and the National Youth Council.
• Establish a National Apprenticeship Week, just like in the UK, a week set aside nationally to put the spot light on youth economic participation and job skills. This is what will make Ghana world-competitive and adequately prepare its youth for the corporate world.
• We must actively encourage Ghanaian students to take an interest in the start-up ecosystem, with investment clubs at Ghana’s universities. These clubs will accept members from all faculties and training the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Ghana must seek new sources of growth, and position itself to become West Africa’s start-up hub. By promoting outside-of-the-box thinking, Ghana could control the commanding heights of the 21st century information economy.
Ghana must develop its youth socially
Nowadays, before you even reach mid-life crisis at 50, there is “quarter-life crisis” at 25. In my work as a youth leadership development practitioner, I meet young working adults agonising over whether they have made the right life choices. Many young people are at a stage when they are still figuring out what they want to do in life, and feel the pressure to do so early. They are confused, but they hope for a brighter future. So I would say it is happiness, mixed up with anxiety.
In her classic book, “Youth, Waithood, and Protest Movements in Africa”, Mozambican author, Alcinda Honwana, argued that young Africans are living in waithood, a prolonged period of suspension between childhood and adulthood. According to Honwana, “the majority of African youths are today grappling with a lack of jobs and deficient education. After they leave school with few skills, they are unable to obtain work and become independent – to build, buy or rent a house for themselves, support their relatives, get married, establish families and gain social recognition as adults. These attributes of adulthood are becoming increasingly unattainable by the majority of young people in Africa. I use the notion waithood, a portmanteau term of “wait” and “-hood”, meaning ‘waiting for adulthood’, to refer to this period of suspension between childhood and adulthood. On the one hand, young people are no longer children in need of care, but on the other, they are still unable to become independent adults. While chronological age defines them as adults, socially they are not recognized as such. Mr. President, does this sound familiar?
This is the fate of many young adults in Ghana. It is common to see 28 year olds, sleeping on student mattresses in their parents’ chamber and hall at night. To solve this national problem, Mr. President, you must
• Work to double Ghana’s efforts to engage our youths at this important stage of their lives.
• Do more to support the aspirations of all youths. We must equip them with vital life-skills and help them discover their calling and passion.
• We must enable them to create their own ground-up initiatives, go for their dreams in diverse areas, and lead fulfilling lives.
• Introduce really affordable public housing estates (one bedroom self contained, chamber and hall self-contained and two bedroom self-contained) is the answer. Your Excellency, please this one should not be for party people.
• Neat, on-time public transport that can mass transport people and contribute to overall national productivity must be introduced in all district capitals and commercial centers.
• Establish more youth spaces and programmes, so that we can reach out to more youths nation-wide. We must have specially-designated spaces, and to see how we can have new programmes that would be more appealing and relevant to youths, for example, in areas like music, ICT and media.
• Burma Camp has a very fine sports complex and the just commissioned Trust Sports Emporium at Bukom is a very fine example of what we must do to develop our youth. We need to urgently partner with the private sector to replicate these in all district capitals.
• To achieve all the above, you must increase your investments in our youths, enhance and widen the spaces for youth participation and involvement. Not all of these need to be run centrally by government. In fact, many will have to be done through partnerships. This will require us to forge closer ties with key youth stakeholders, including the private sector, development partners, as well as the many voluntary groups.
Ghana must radically re-structure its education
Many education reforms have taken place in Ghana but none of them have yielded the required mix of capabilities, thinking and skills needed to propel Ghana to the commanding heights of the 21st Century knowledge economy.
Can your students think critically, outside the box, work well on a team, make decisions and solve problems? I hold the view that a number of cosmetic, transactional and transformational changes are needed to make Ghana’s education fit-for-future. I will come back to this in another paper to you Sir. Here are the 10 skills US employers say they seek, in order of importance;
1 Ability to work in a team structure
2 Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
3 Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
4 Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
5 Ability to obtain and process information
6 Ability to analyze quantitative data
7 Technical knowledge related to the job
8 Proficiency with computer software programs
9 Ability to create and/or edit written reports
10 Ability to sell and influence others
National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) a United States non-profit group that links college career placement offices with employers. Since 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been the leading source of information about the employment of US college graduates.
As you can see, Mr. President, employers buy skills whilst our educational system places importance on marks and academic excellence. Once again, here is what I think we must do;
• Start teaching attitude in class: Once a basic level of numeracy and literacy has been attained at the primary level, we should focus the entire secondary and tertiary experience on teaching subjects like Analysis, Critical Thinking, Discovery, Problem Solving, Goal Setting, Communication, and Self Confidence etc
• Expose students to real life situations: Let them actively participate in running schools. Students should initiate and solve problems in schools and at home.
• Like Singapore, we must focus on “Values in Action” in schools, and we must also focus on community leadership and community involvement during national service.
Ghana must have one truly national youth development agency
The youth development agenda seems lost and scattered because there are too many agencies responsible for youth development in Ghana; Ministry of Youth & Sports, Ministry of Education, Ghana Education Service, National Youth Authority, Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency, Youth Employment Synergy, National Service Secretariat etc. All these national bodies oversee various youth affairs. There is the urgent national need to unify these bodies so that we have one-stop ministry/agency responsible for youth development. It is easier, more effective and efficient and less costly.
A restructured and unified national youth body, has to reach out to all youths and youth organisations. It must champion youth engagement and coordinate youth programmes nation-wide with stakeholders. It must gather feedback from the ground, and undertake research to better understand the needs of our youths. It must provide a voice for youths to influence and shape national policies.
Respectfully submitted, Sir.
Co-Founder, LeadAfrique International
LeadAfrique International is an incredible nonprofit organization that is cultivating leaders to transform Africa through classroom leadership programmes. Further information about their work can be found at www.leadafrique.org