Sudipto Mukerjee: Statement at the Launch of the Sierra Leone National Youth Programme

Apr 15, 2014

Excellency, President Koroma,  Honorable Ministers,  Representatives of different Agencies and the  International Community, Youth Commissioner,  Youth Representatives,  Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very Good Morning to you all.

This morning’s launch of the Youth Programme is yet another important stride in positioning the youth in their rightful place for the development of this nation. As matters of youth continue to be priority in the Government of Sierra Leone’s development plans including the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’, so also youth development remains at the top of the agenda of the United Nations. This is epitomised by the Nairobi Declaration of March 2012 . The UN Secretary General has since also appointed his Special Advisor on Youth, to engage youth within the UN system and beyond.

But what events in the recent times have triggered such an UN response?  Among others, it is the Arab Spring – that saw the rise of the Youth asking for more voice, participation and empowerment – it was not just the Arab World but in many others parts of the globe.  Excellency, I was there in the Middle East all through that period and I experienced it all.  That fire is sadly still burning in several parts of the world. 

The UN Secretary General was quick to realize the need for youth involvement at the highest level of policy setting.  He not only appointed his special Youth Envoy in January 2013 but also mandated the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development to develop a UN System Wide Action Plan on Youth. 

UNDP also has a new Youth Strategy.  It aims to strengthen sustainable development through increased economic empowerment of youth, enhance youth civic engagement and participation in politics and public institutions, as well as strengthen youth engagement in disaster preparedness and crisis response. Practically all of the international development actors, with UN agencies included are sharpening their focus on youth. The just concluded UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum in Columbia also had a special focus on Youth. 

Excellency, now to Sierra Leone.  Sierra Leone is making recognizable strides in democracy, peace consolidation and GDP growth, but more focused efforts are required for the general citizenry to feel the inclusiveness of this growth.

We at UNDP realize that  Sierra Leone enjoys the demographic gift or what is called a youth bulge, with a relatively higher proportion of the population who are young.  While if properly channeled with proper investments made in their social, economic and political empowerment and inclusion the Youth can easily become the drivers of a prosperous future, but if NOT, they may rise to popular protest and risk the peace gains made so far, as we have seen in the Arab Spring.

Due to sheer numbers, they are very attractive for being used for political ends and electoral gains.  But, when they have little or no education, possess high levels of frustration and disenchantment and are not living fulfilling and productive lives, they can very easily be a driver of conflict.

What is the situation here in Sierra Leone?  Excellency, let me quote some estimated figures:

             Close to 80% of the youth live below the poverty line of less than USD 2 per day;

             60% are structurally unemployed compared to 13.1% which is the global average;

             Half of the youth are literate;

             42% of the current population is under 15 years of age and they will soon grow up meaning that the youth population is going to rapidly increase; and

             Added to this are issues of lack of labour market information in determining the demand for labour, significant skills gaps and resultant inadequate supply of local labour, inadequate entrepreneurial skills, resources and capacities, and limited access to land for youth, especially young women.  All of these further compound the challenge.

Excellency, you have rightly recognized that youth unemployment as a major driver of conflict that may interfere with the impressive progress the country has made in peace acquisition and consolidation, and therefore we in UNDP have prioritized youth employment and empowerment in our programme and partnership strategies.

We at UNDP are extremely pleased to be associated with the development of this innovative medium term programme that we strongly believe will help to develop the consensus, organization, and influence to effectively enhance youth employment and empowerment opportunities in Sierra Leone particularly collaborating with the young people themselves. The programme also aims to promote and enable active citizenship among Sierra Leone’s Young People: enabling them to effectively assume the responsibility to participate in national life and nation building. 

Excellency, please allow me to list the three TOP programme results that are being aimed at:

             1 (one) Million new decent Jobs created.

             2 (two) Million more Sierra Leone’s Young People enabled with the means for their effective participation in national life.

             3 (three) hundred (300,000) more youth in secondary or higher education.

Excellency, we are happy to note that this Youth Programme suggests up-scaling and replication of successful past and ongoing initiatives of actors in the youth development sector, including UNDP. We in UNDP and have already started taking actions in this direction as indicated by the design of the ongoing Youth Employment and Empowerment Programme and strengthened on the basis of recommendations from an independent evaluation carried out on previous programmes.

Equally important towards tackling youth employment/livelihood is for us all to ensure complementarity and maximize strategic linkages to the efforts of the private sector and the opportunities that Sierra Leone offers  in the area of agriculture, agribusiness, eco tourism, etc to secure full and appropriate utilization of the potential of all young Sierra Leonean women and men.

Excellency, we are extremely delighted and feel very reassured that you are personally championing this programme, as that will ensure a Government-wide response.  I must add that was a key reason for us to believe in and support the formulation of this well-organized and strategically astute programme document.

Finally Excellency, I wish to make two appeals. My first appeal is to the development partners, including the international community, civil society and the private sector to come forward and support the implementation of the Youth Programme.  And my next appeal is to the Young Women and Men of Sierra Leone to positively come on board and take advantage of this opportunity and use their unlimited energy and potential to create a positive and useful life for themselves and for a prosperous and peaceful Sierra Leone.

Thank you for your attention.