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Africa Economic Institute

Sierra Leone Youth Unemployment

  High rates of unemployment are being reported globally. Unfortunately, youth and females are bearing the brunt of the lack of job opportunities. Sierra Leone is currently finding itself in a similar situation with a high rate of youth unemployment. In Koidu, the capital of Sierra Leone's easternmost Kono province,…

High rates of unemployment are being reported globally. Unfortunately, youth and females are bearing the brunt of the lack of job opportunities. Sierra Leone is currently finding itself in a similar situation with a high rate of youth unemployment. In Koidu, the capital of Sierra Leone’s easternmost Kono province, unemployed youths seek daily contract jobs building roads or digging ditches for the local authority. The most one can earn from daily contract jobs is $2 a day, but finding the daily contract jobs are few and far between. So many unemployed youth have now resorted to drug usage or illegal diamond smuggling.

Most of the youths in Koidu were participants in the 1991-2002 civil war. Currently, the government has reported 60 percent of Sierra Leonean youths are unemployed. The reported unemployment rate is said to be one of the highest in the world. With so many Sierra Leonean youths unemployed, there is a potential threat of an amalgamation of youth’s disaffection, chronic poverty and high cost of living to the stability of the nation. Wahab Shaw, a youth program specialist with the UN Development Program (UNDP), has said that the high unemployment, the number of illiterate, and marginalization led to civil war in the first place. Due to those factors, the UNDP is keeping a close eye on Sierra Leone especially since a recent report noted that many present socio-economic factors could reverse the progress that has since been made.

Sierra Leone is also reporting a rise in crime. Residents in Freetown have voiced their concern over this  blaming it on youth unemployment and rise of politicized youth gangs. Many urban youths are now looking to just survive as some sleep in street traders’ kiosks or in tiny shared houses. The high living cost is also compounding street crime with reportedly one kilogram of rice costing $.82.

The return of politicized youth gangs, such as the northern-aligned All People’s Congress Party (APC) and the southern-aligned Sierra Leone’s People’s Party (SLPP), are evidence of the role that identity has in politics in Sierra Leone. The return of the two parties mean that young adults are increasingly drawing political and ethnic lines. One source reports that this divide can even be seen at universities. The divide, according to a UN official, is said to be promoted by government youth program that seek favors with chiefdoms in power.

All the above-mentioned factors are becoming increasingly worrisome. It has been estimated that 44 percent of countries that come out of civil war return to conflict within  five years. Especially, since the first civil war was largely fueled by marginalized youth groups who saw little available to them in terms of political and economic life.

The government is  doing little to combat the youth disaffections. President Ernest Koroma had promised to set up a commission to tackle youth unemployment but at the present moment it still does not  exists. In fact, only 1.4 percent of Sierra Leone’s 2008 annual budget was earmarked towards youth issues. The UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), in 2006, selected Sierra Leone as a recipient to its fund and specifically identified youth employment as a key issue towards peace. Although the government has downgraded youth employment on its priority list, there does seem to be signs of progress. A new government youth strategy and the establishment of the Youth Employment Secretariat (YES) supported by the UNDP has been set up. The youth strategy has 149 chiefdoms youth committees that report to district committees and a national council. The youth committees address youth concerns and coordinate employment issues. So far three district committees have been set up.

The effects of the youth strategy has yet to be seen, but one critic believes that in order to tackle youth unemployment, a nation-wide development plan needs to be established. The plan should include private sector development, infrastructure rehabilitation, public sector reform and decentralization of power.

The international community is carefully observing the way in which youth unemployment is being dealt. Stabilization of the country is dependent on the youth. If job opportunities continue to be hard to obtain and politicized youth gangs are not curbed, Sierra Leone will find itself again in civil war. But if the efforts of the UNDP and the youth strategy are a success, the peace and the future of the country shall remain positive.

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