Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When the late President Atta Mills decided to garnish his government with the inclusion of young people, I was one of those who hailed that approach. In principle, it’s my firm belief that young people should be given the opportunity to take up roles and responsibilities not only for their personal development but to largely help ensure the sustainability of national developmental systems or programs. Subsequently, President Mahama in assuming office also did maintain this laudable concept – infact he has added more to the existing number of youth serving in government to the extent that I recall a meeting that these young ministers had with President Mahama pledging their allegiance to his vision. Presently, some of these young ministers include Haruna Iddrisu, Dr. Edward Omane-Boamah, Felix Kwakye Ofosu, Samuel Okudzeto Abrakwa, Murtala Muhammed Ibrahim, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, John Jinapor, Rachael Nana Adjoa Appoh, Baba Jamal Mohammed Ahmed, Ms. Barbara Serwaa Asamoah to mention but a few. Much as I lauded the idea, I am struggling to see any significant or enviable impact of these young ministers after 4 or so years in government other than the usual bidding of their masters’ whims and caprices. Indeed recent development in our national politicking has shown how merely beefing up one’s government with young people does not automatically translate into positive difference. Some of these young people in government do spew out so much venom and bite so hard that Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings (Founder of the NDC Party which is government now) was provoked to describe them as ‘babies with sharp teeth’. O’Donoghue et al (2002:19) pointed out that appointing few young people as deputy ministers and board members in adult-dominated settings with the youth having no power to meaningfully contribute and influence the decision making process does not promote youth participation. It creates two related problems: tokenism and exclusivity. They argue that “inserting one or a few youth into an adult-created and adult-driven process runs the risk of involving the youth as tokens or ‘decorations,’ precluding any opportunity for meaningful participation or substantive influence” (ibid:20). In addition to the risk of tokenism, involving a few youth as representatives of larger groups may result in exclusivity, whereby only the most privileged or skilled youth are chosen to participate. These privileged ones generally act as individuals, not necessarily as representatives of all young people. Therefore such appointments, although commendable, does not necessarily guarantee youth contribution, influence, ownership and interest in the formulation of sector policies. Dr. Ransford Gyampo (Political Science Department, University of Ghana) has indicated that “the appointment of several young people as ministers and deputy ministers by the executive does not necessarily lead to youth participation. Instead, it breeds, in the view of Dryzek (1997) co-optation. This is a situation where the young appointees are given positions with no power of influence in the decision making process. According to Dryzek (1996), co-optation of a group’s leadership into the state can weaken the group’s ability to effectively advocate its interest. It creates a veneer of youth participation and prevents youth groups from pursuing their rights to lobby and embark on demonstrations when necessary in order to champion their own interest in the development process (ibid:478). It is in this regard that I dismiss the appointment of several young ministers and deputy ministers as merely symbolic”. On this score, I am in total agreement with Dr. Gyampo! Some youth have also found their way into our current Parliament. Most of them obtained their seats by reason of their political affiliation but not necessarily because they have any proven acumen to handle legislature matters. No wonder, the floor of parliament has largely been perceived as an avenue for playing political chess. I shudder to think if the young parliamentarians have any meaningful difference to make. Perhaps they may prove me wrong. President John Mahama launched the National Youth Policy of Ghana on August 12th, 2010 when he was then the Vice President. The vision of the Youth Policy is “an empowered youth contributing positively to national development”. To be able to achieve, the policy proposed the following objectives to be pursued: • Empower and actively involve the youth of Ghana in productive activities for individual, community, and national development. • Enable each Ghanaian youth develop his or her full potential and self-esteem. • Institutionalize youth participation at all levels of the decision-making process to ensure the nurturing of democratic culture. • Enable the youth acquire, share and transfer knowledge, expertise, and experience through domestic and international networking and peer-learning. • Inspire the youth to develop the aptitude for creativity, innovation and self-discovery in improving their quality of life. • Inculcate in the youth a strong sense of self-reliance, patriotism, nationalism, and volunteerism. Sad to say that these objectives have been long abandoned! I think the supposed implementers of youth development and empowerment programs in Ghana are (as the case is) so deficient in managing the processes effectively and efficiently. Meanwhile, there already existing models for youth involvement that we can learn from. Although there are many models, the ultimate goal is about involving young people throughout the entire management processes or systems and not just splashing positions on them. John C. Maxwell rightly noted that LEADERSHIP is FUNCTIONAL and NOT POSITIONAL. In her work, “Methods for Effective Youth Governance”, Kareen Young (Co-Director, Youth on Board) did propose some ways of involving young people. For the purposes of my article, I have decided to select and contextualize her submissions to fit into Ghana’s framework. Thus, they are as follows: 1. Set up a youth advisory board or task force 2. Have youths serve on policy committees 3. Have young people participate in national development programming dialogues or workshops 4. Involve young people as peer mediators or peer mentors 5. Set up a youth court 6. Ask young people to serve as budget reviewers 7. Engage youths as advocates or set up a speakers’ bureau (there are on-going discussions on the establishment of a National Youth Parliament in Ghana) 8. Set up focus group meetings to ask young people what they think about a particular national development program or agenda. Much as the recruitment of young people into any or all of these above roles is a major challenge, doing such exercise in a transparent, free and fair manner can win the confidence and trust among young people themselves. Again, ensuring downward accountability (where all selected or recruited young people are charged with giving periodic reports or account of their stewardship to their peers) is a key approach to developing young people positively into good governance. Some of these above ways are what I expect the National Youth Authority (NYA) to be coordinating and championing instead of wobbling under the shadows of obscurity. On this score, I must salute President Mahama for availing himself in the two successive sessions of the Presidential Youth Dialogue series on March 19th and August 12th 2013. He met with youth leaders and groups across the country to dialogue on key issues confronting the youth. As stated before, I think this concept should be replicated at the regional, district and community levels so young people can engage with their respective leaders and have their concerns engrained into planning and implementation of programs and/or activities. Two key issues that the President raised that I am particular interested in were that he has: - Directed the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations & the Ghana Statistical Services to embark on a research purposely to obtain an accurate data on the rate of youth (un)employment in Ghana. This is very essential if effective programming or interventions are to be developed for young people - Directed for the creation of a Youth Enterprise Development Fund with a seed fund of GH¢10million to support youth employment initiatives or programs. I am eager to see the progress of these directives. According to Karen, the key to keeping youths involved is the relationships that are built. Just like adults, young people will stay involved if they feel like they are contributing and that their ideas are respected. One of my favourite quotes notes that “meaningful youth participation means involving young people in decision making process, not just making them as decoration!” When these approaches are properly harnessed and deployed from the community, district, regional and national levels, I believe that youth participation in Ghana’s governance will no longer be a MERE ACT OF SYMBOLISM! I hereby conclude with these words of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, “To achieve genuine development, we must transform our approach with and for young people, and in particular young women and girls. Young people are drivers of change. They must have the choices and tools to fully participate in development, realize their potential, and contribute to their societies”. Chibeze Ezekiel * Youth Development Practitioner & Young Environmentalist Chibeze@hotmail.com

Friday, September 20, 2013

On August 12, 2010, I was among a host of young people who participated in the launch of the National Youth Policy in Elmina, Cape Coast by His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama (then the Vice President of Ghana). So far, I think the policy is essential – at least we have a document which is quite comprehensive than the 1999 version and also provides a guide towards achieving youth development in Ghana. The next important step was the development of an Action Plan to give life to the policy. It’s over 3 years since the launch of the policy and yet government has failed to produce any action plan. This reminds me of a paper entitled, The Youth in Ghana and the African Youth Charter, written by Dr. Ransford Gyampo, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science (University of Ghana) made some interesting observations. According him, “the structures that formulate youth policies are different from those that handle national development policies. In many instances, the government employs a consultant through the Ministry of Youth and Sports to formulate such policies which are then discussed and approved by cabinet and forwarded to the relevant agencies for implementation (Akomea, 2009). Unlike national development policies, youth policies are usually not presented to parliament, and therefore are easily abandoned by successor governments (Donkor, 2010). When the NPP came to power in 2001, it abandoned the 1999 National Youth Policy and took two terms in office to formulate the …2008 National Youth Policy. The NDC abandoned the 2008 youth policy formulated by its predecessor and introduced a new one in 2010. There is no guarantee that the 2010 youth policy would also allowed to serve as a guide to youth development should the NDC lose future elections…” During the latter part of 2012, some selected youth leaders including myself were invited by the National Youth Authority (NYA) to a National Consultative Workshop in Accra. The object of the workshop was to make inputs into a supposed draft action plan. After careful analysis and scrutiny of the documents, it turned out that participants’ present expressed dissatisfaction on the overall content of the document. In the 2013 Budget Statement, it was stated that the NYA had embarked on a regional tour to solicit ideas from different youth groups which led to the draft action plan after collating those information. Paragraph 631 specifically notes that “… 500 youth with varied backgrounds participated in youth dialogues to solicit inputs for the Youth Policy Action Plan in four Zones nationwide”. I have asked ‘who were the specific youth groups invited in the regions and what were the criteria for selection and whether there was equal representation across the nation?’ Unfortunately, I have still not received answers to these questions. The NYA is the arm of government under the Ministry of Youth and Sports mandated to shoulder such role or responsible. As to whether the NYA is living up to expectation is another subject for discussion. Indeed in May 2011, I published an article entitled “The National Youth Council: A bane or blessing” which till date is provoking several and different responses and/or reactions. I still maintain my position that NYA’s performance with respect to developing and pursuing pragmatic and comprehensive youth development is woefully inadequate! Meanwhile, paragraph 1152 of the 2012 Budget Statement states that “… the National Youth Authority will be provided with GH¢2 million for the Youth Policy”. We have (still) not been told what this budgetary allocation seeks to achieve and even how much was actually disbursed. So far I am not enthused with the efforts of NYA in creating awareness and/or disseminating the Youth Policy. Section 11.2.1 of the Policy reads that “the policy shall be reviewed when necessary (but at least once in every five years) and in line with other government policies”. It’s more than 3 years since the insertion of this ‘lifeless’ policy; so would it be reviewed after the next 2 years? It will be interesting to see how a policy will be reviewed when it has not been tested? While the youth policy of Ghana currently remains dead for lack of an Action Plan, I believe some efforts can be put in place to breathe some life into it. My recommendations are as follows: 1. NYA should liaise with organized student groups such as National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS), PUSAG, and GUNSA by using their existing platforms or networks to educate or create more awareness on the policy. Similar effort should be targeted at organized informal youth groups such as the hairdressers, barbering, and dressmaking associations. 2.NYA should ensure that all Sector Ministries or MMDAs take into consideration youth inputs in the formulation, review and/or implementation of their respective policies and/or programmes. In so doing, young people can better understand and appreciate developmental issues as they make their inputs in the policies and programs of these MMDAs. The NYA should organize the youth groups in their database and play a coordination role between the groups and the respective government MMDAs. For example, health-focused youth groups can be connected to the Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Services and other allied stakeholders. 3.NYA should develop a periodic ‘youth and media encounter’ sessions to showcase talents and ideas of young people contributing in various ways towards national development as well as deepening positive lifestyle or culture. In conclusion, Youth inclusion in decision making processes at all levels has been widely preached and documented (references in the African Youth Charter, Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes & World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond). Though Ghana is striving to include youth in decision-making processes, a lot more needs to be done. Indeed youth are commonly perceived as a problem rather than as a valuable resource. The role of youth needs to be elaborated. As change agents, as a pool of energies, talents, innovation and new ideas, as networkers and motivators, and as the next generation that is going to inherit the results or outcomes of current established systems, youth cannot be marginalized as a key stakeholder in development. For the sake of sustainability it is imperative that youth are deliberately and actively engaged at all levels of development. The vision of the National Youth Policy as captured in Section 5.1 is “an empowered youth contributing positively to national development”. Unfortunately, the policy itself needs empowerment! The National Youth Policy as it stands now is a DEAD CORPSE that needs to be RESURRECTED with the aid of an action plan. Thus, government without delay should provide all the necessary resources and assistance to propel an effective and efficient youth development interventions. Undoubtedly, the youth of Ghana deserve the BEST!