Liberia: Youths Call on Government, Political Leaders to Make Empowerment Top Priority

Instead of using them as instruments of violence, the youth want issues affecting them such as lack of skills, education and employment to be given top priority.

Monrovia – A group of young people from diverse political parties and civil society organizations have called on the Government of Liberia and political leaders to change the dynamics in their approach towards them during and after electioneering period.

Instead of using them as instruments of violence, the youth want issues affecting them such as lack of skills, education and employment to be given top priority.

Their request was contained in a manifesto adopted at the end of a series of National Youth Agenda Symposiums convened by Naymote, Partners for Democratic Development across the country recently.

“It has been observed that, rather than mobilizing and igniting the productive energy of the youth, political leaders instead use us as instruments of violence (or militants) against their opponents,” the youth said.

The National Youth Agenda Symposium was organized to develop the youth manifesto for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections. The symposium assembled young people from across the country to deliberate on the issues they consider as priorities for youth development in Liberia.

“Young people want their issues to be a national priority and should be implemented through public policies and addressed through national development programs,” a statement issued by Naymote through its Executive Director Eddie Jarwolo.

In Liberia, youth – defined as people under the age of 35, constitute 65% of the total population. There are currently more young people registered as voters than any demographic group, according to the Voters’ Roll of 2020.

Despite being in the majority, the youths are surprisingly marginalized in mainstream politics and decision-making processes, and face poverty, barriers to education, multiple forms of discrimination, and limited employment prospects and opportunities.

Youth development issues also remain at the bottom of the policy ladder and unattended for the most part. The lack of investment and bold policies for youth development have increased unemployment among Liberian youth, and this is further worsened by a lack of training and educational opportunities.

The consequence has been a high rate of youth delinquency and vulnerability, said Naymote.

As a result of unemployment and lack of opportunities, the youth budge in Liberia which should be a demographic dividend for national development is now feared to constitute a demographic bomb if appropriate policy responses are not adopted, the organization warned.

The Symposiums

Meanwhile, as part of the nationwide symposium, a two-day national event was held in Monrovia which was preceded by 14 county symposiums, one in each of the 14 counties with each county symposium producing a ‘County Youth Agenda for 2023’.

The two-day event in Monrovia focused on national and global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) issues of concern to young people in the country.

Key stakeholders in public, corporate and non-profit leadership participated in the opening ceremony and delivered speeches. The symposium also had thematic panels where experts presented key topics on youth development, entrepreneurship, technology, environment, employment and economic opportunities, social services, governance, and democracy.

Following the panels, the young people participated in a plenary deliberation where they discussed the issues raised in the presentations and those from the County Agendas. Working groups were established to collate the issues and develop the National Youth Agenda.

What’s in the manifesto?

In their manifesto, the youth made several proposals affecting the education, health and gender development, youth empowerment and employment opportunities and good governance and the rule of law.

On Education, the youth called for the establishment of a national student loan scheme to provide financial support to students at tertiary level covering tuition and living allowances.

They called for the establishment of Science, Technology, and Innovation centers in the counties for young people.

In addition, the youth want the creation of a “National Technical and Vocational Authority” that will govern and improve technical and vocational education in Liberia.

Upon its establishment, the Authority should be empowered to develop a TVET curriculum for all high schools in Liberia; and ensure access to quality TVET education in all counties.

For health and gender development, they called for the immediate passage and enforcement of legislation against the forceful participation of young girls and boys in various socio-cultural and religious practices that may negatively affect their sexual, reproductive, emotional, and psychological development.

The youth believe this will be a rescue plan for thousands of Liberian children, mainly girls in the rural parts of the country whose parents prefer sending them to the Sande Society (Bush School). They undergo female genital mutilation (FGM).

The also called for the launch of a special programs in Liberian schools that will accommodate pregnant women wanting to continue their education during and after their pregnancy; the provision of free sanitary products through government financing for girls in primary, junior and secondary schools, and the establishment of psychosocial and rehabilitation centers for the treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration of young people using narcotics and other harmful drugs. 

On youth empowerment and employment, they want the establishment of a compulsory and paid national youth service program for all university graduates in the country; creation of a national youth empowerment loan scheme through government financing for Liberian youth entrepreneurs and start-ups in technology and other sectors and a special government program to allocate farmland and improve access to financing — special agricultural loans — for young farmers and young entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector. 

For governance and the rule of law, the youth called for robust actions against corruption in the public sector; the strengthening of the various anti-corruption and pro-accountability agencies; and robust enforcement of the National Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

They want full implementation of the Local Government Act and Revenue Sharing Law to allow decentralization and local development in the counties.

Additionally, they called for the creation of more courts and police depots to enhance access to justice and enforcement of the rule of law and the promulgation of laws and policies that promote sustainable development, particularly in the management of natural resources.

They also want actions to be taken to promote awareness on climate change and adaptability across the country. 

“We, the young people trust that our national leaders, political leaders determined to change our lives and prepare us for the future, will listen to us, consider our demands, prioritize our development, and make us competitive in all fields of human progress,” the youths said.