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