“Today, we have the largest global youth population in history and the large majority of young people around the world are committed to peace, sustainable development, and human rights. Throughout my career, I met with numerous youth groups, students’ associations, and young leaders, and I have always been struck by their talent, knowledge, and ambition to create a better world. With new forms of technology and interaction, your generation is also more open, cosmopolitan, and connected than any previous generation. For these reasons, I am confident that you will be able to do what my generation has not been able to accomplish”. Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, speaking at the 2017 World Congress of the Junior Chamber International (JCI) in the Netherlands
Generally, critical youth development issues such as empowerment, participation and unemployment are key performance indicators for countries aiming to make their citizens globally competitive. Empowering the youth to become active agents for the fourth industrial revolution is not only sufficient but necessary for a more sustainable future. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all aspects of our lives, and even before the pandemic, the socio-economic integration of young people had already become a challenge. So if urgent action is not taken, young people are likely to suffer severe and long-lasting impacts from the pandemic (Youth and Covid-19 Survey Report by Decent Jobs for Youth).
As a country, we have to adequately prepare our youth through deliberate policy actions to play a positive and pivotal role in realizing a Ghana Beyond Aid. To fail in this regard may serve as breeding grounds in reversing the gains made in the current dispensation of our democratic governance. Prioritising youth development should be seen as a pathway to prosperity in Ghana. The current efforts by the government such as the implementation of initiatives such as the Nation Builders Corps, the Youth in Afforestation, the Youth Employment Programme, the National Entrepreneurial and Innovation Programme and the recently announced You-Start Programme are commendable. However, a more sustainable approach with an integrated and mainstreamed approach to youth development is the surest way to curb the myriad of challenges confronting the Ghanaian youth. Such an approach will further contribute to promoting the fundamental human rights, physical and reformative development of young persons, including women and persons with disabilities.
The Youth Development Machinery
Historically, Ghana has implemented two major national youth policies, that of 1999 and the 2010 National Youth Policies. These two policies have had direct or indirect impact on the lives of young people. However, they became outmoded and needed to be reviewed to align with contemporary government policy and existing global and continental development frameworks and protocols such as the 2030 Global Development Agenda (the Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs), the United Nations Youth Agenda, the African Union Agenda 2063, the African Youth Charter, among others. The two policies were also seen to have not tackled into details certain vital dimensions of youth development such as active citizenship and civic participation, involvement of the youth in political governance, community development and decision making at all levels. Again, cross-cutting issues such as gender and discrimination against youth with disabilities, as well as inadequately addressed marginalization and young people with other forms of vulnerabilities.
Government should expedite action on the formulation of a new National Youth Policy to ensure coherence and coordination among government agencies and makes it mandatory for all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, as well as District Assemblies to take national priorities in respect of youth development into consideration in planning their annual, short-term and medium term activities. An integrated approach will provide for an inclusive and uniformed programme of action for youth development across all sectors and ensures that policy priorities are translated into plans, budgets and targets. A mainstreamed and integrated National Youth Policy that is in tune with current demands would engender realignment with existing government interventions, and creates an opportunity for the leveraging and harnessing of resources for youth development from all sectors including Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Society, Development Partners and the private sector.
To achieve this, the policy should make it mandatory for the creation of dedicated youth development desks in all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to facilitate and harmonize youth mainstreaming and integration in all their programmes and interventions with emphasis on the needs of young women and young persons with disabilities. This will create the required formal and informal platforms for young persons irrespective of their gender, including the most vulnerable and marginalized or excluded to voice their opinions and perspectives to achieve inclusive economic growth and sustainable human development.
The merging of youth affairs and sports under one ministry is problematic in our current circumstances where sports have overshadowed the affairs of the youth. The Ministry in its current form does not even have a directorate, division, unit or a desk in charge of youth affairs. There is therefore the need for the establishment of a separate Ministry for Youth Development distinct from the Sports Ministry. This will strengthen the institutional framework to facilitate mainstreaming of youth development across all sectors. Merging youth and sports development as a Ministry has not yielded the desired result, hence the call for decoupling of the status quo. A distinct Ministry for Youth Development would yield the desired outcome where operations of state agencies implementing youth development programmes and policies and non-state actors would be synergized.
Again, all youth related government agencies and programmes should be realigned and brought under a single National Youth Development Authority mandated to coordinate the youth development efforts of the Government. In this regard institutions such as the National Youth Authority, Youth Employment Agency, the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme, the National Service Scheme among others must all be collapsed to form a stronger National Youth Development Authority to ensure policy implementation coherence and consistency at the youth development front. Such an Authority will play the appropriate function and role as the fulcrum of all the multifaceted and multi-stakeholder attempts to harness the resultant demographic dividend of the youth bulge in a well-coordinated fashion to achieve the broader vision of the country. The current system where various youth development initiatives are spread across different sectoral agencies creates coordination problems and difficulties in harmonization.
Again, the current status of the National Youth Authority with limited resources and staff has not been able to effectively play its role as mandated by Act 939. It has limited presence across the various Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). In fact, out of the over 260 MMDAs across the country, the National Youth Authority has offices in less than 60 of them and even yet to establish offices in the newly created 6 additional regions. Aside bringing youth development to the doorstep of all young people at the decentralized level, the expansion of its presence will also create jobs for the teeming youth across the country.
Furthermore, the National Youth Authority Act does not have a Legislative Instrument (L.I.) to enable its effective implementation six years after coming into force. As a coordinating and implementing agency, the NYA’s coordination role is constrained by the lack of L.I. to operationalize its activities. It is difficult to coordinate other state agencies and charge the required fees for statutory services without an existing legislation to back its actions. There is the fundamental need for an expedited action to develop the enabling legislation to ensure the operationalization of the National Youth Authority Act (939) of 2016.
In conclusion, it is significant to state that the current efforts by government in addressing the myriad of challenges confronting Ghanaian youth should be strengthened and sustained by making youth development the focus of the next Medium-Term National Development Policy Framework with a mandate to ensure that all sectors of the Ghanaian society prioritise youth development and contribute towards identifying and implementing lasting solutions that address youth development challenges.
The desired outcome is an empowered youth who would realize their full potentials and become active citizens with a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities in contributing meaningfully to develop a conducive, democratic, equal and prosperous Ghana.
Author: Muhammed Alhassan Yakubu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Writer is the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Advocacy and Development (CENSAD) and Key Member of the Skills Development Committee (SDC) of the Junior Chamber International, JCI headquartered at Chesterfield in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.