After years of promises, one could be excused for becoming an African pessimist. From the moment we were born to this very day, successive leaders have told the citizens of my poor country Sierra Leone that things would be better.
From free education to free health care, we have heard it all. So if today we express a healthy dose of skepticism, it is not unpatriotism or cynicism as some would call it, but just plain old common sense. Believing in lies all your life is not idiocy, it is madness. So for now, my approach to African political promises is simple; seeing is believing, and it does not matter which party is making the promise.
Our country Sierra Leone is facing a youth population explosion problem, especially in the urban areas. The result of the protracted civil war of the 90s was the movement of people from the rural areas to the relative safety of the urban centers of Bo, Makeni and the capital Freetown.
Freetown a beautiful colonial city with serious geographic limitations is now home to a population that is more than five times its optimal capacity. The Freetown City Council's meager resources has been unable to cope with this congestion, resulting in the expansion of coastal slum areas, unsanitary and densely populated ethnic settlements and the piling of garbage and sewage in the streets. These conditions of course become ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes and cholera spreading bacteria.
Just a year ago Freetown experienced a massive outbreak of bacteria that resulted in the deaths of many people in the city forcing the government to set up an emergency committee apparently devoted go tackling the outbreak.
But the greater problem with this urban explosion has been the massive growth of unemployment in these areas. In Freetown for example, there are few private sources of employment aside from government. Most of the NGOs set up after the war were plagued by corruption and incompetence and folded up as soon as external sources of finance dried up. Population trends in the country indicate that things are only bound to get worse if some honest policies are not put in place by the government, or the private sector is not empowered to take a lead in development.
As of now the youths in the country have mostly bought into the government's agenda for prosperity, a soviet styled plan meant to stimulate economic development. There are however several conditions that will make it difficult if not impossible to achieve the goals of the agenda.
Firstly, market based development is never government driven. The best government can do is to create the necessary environment for the private sector to thrive. Having read the agenda for prosperity it is a beautiful plan that is essentially a mishmash of capitalism infused with a healthy mix of socialism. Government play such a large role in the plan that bureaucracy alone would be sufficient to kill it.
The other problem with the agenda is that is a great economic statement based on a very weak economic foundation. The labor skills, the capital resources and the energy requirements necessary for this plan to work are just not available in Sierra Leone. In this day and age, development in the absence of electricity is simply not possible. Sierra Leone youths lack the skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow and the universities have not adapted fast enough to prepare graduates skilled in using contemporary technology. Many graduates of our universities lack even the basic skills in social and scientific research even with the proliferation of software that can do most of the analysis necessary for good data interpretation.
Is everything lost for the youths of our country? The simple answer is no. The advice I have for the youths of Sierra Leone today, especially those in the urban areas, is to do all they can to get a great education or acquire good technical skills.
Even if the government were to somehow miraculously create thousands of jobs today, many of the country's youths will still lack the skills to qualify for them. If pushed with enough force, square pegs can still fit in round holes, but the end result will always be less than optimal.
Not everybody can be a businessman, but even those who just want to go into business will benefit from some knowledge of accounting and business principles. School always pays. You can lose everything, but education is life.
To conclude, youths of today have to be responsible for their own agenda for prosperity. Go to school, if you can't go back home and grow something. Prepare yourself thoroughly so that on the day the prosperity train gets to Freetown you will have bought a ticket to jump on board.