Youth Unemployment & Illiteracy: IMPACT ON NATIONAL SECURITY, THE SIERRA LEONE EXPERIENCE

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The purpose of this article is to examine the impact of youth unemployment and illiteracy on National Security in Sierra Leone and to offer possible suggestions on how to limit the threat. The data for this article was partly collected from several secondary sources including analysis of scholars using descriptive approach of previous researches.

The current population of Sierra Leone is estimated to be over 6.5 million with the youth population, aged 15-35 comprising of one-third according to the UNDP Sierra Leone Desk. Sources (www.SL.UNDP.Org). In the absence of real statistics, one cannot tell the true unemployment rate in Sierra Leone. However, a UNDP funded report published in August 2013 titled “Status of the Youth” paints a somber picture of youth employment in Sierra Leone, estimated at 60% for young women and men between the ages of 15 to 35. This represents among the highest in West Africa.

My research reveals that unemployment, especially amongst the youth, leads to poverty. Youth poverty gives rise to anger and frustration forcing youths to resort to unconventional means of eking out a living resulting in high rates of crime. The increases in crime rate threaten national security. Therefore, it is my view that the government must address the problem of unemployment to limit the threat, while the national security establishment must come up with innovative approaches to face these challenges.

INTRODUCTION:

Unemployment as defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO) is the number of economically active population without work but available for and seeking work, including people who have lost their jobs and those who have voluntarily left work (World bank, 1998:63)

Though unemployment is a global phenomenon, the situation in Sierra Leone has reached a crisis point. During the past ten years, Sierra Leone achieved an admirable average growth rate of 4% to 7% per annum. Unfortunately, despite this growth rate our country remains saddled by massive unemployment levels particularly amongst the youth exactinga considerable drag on our socioeconomic prospects. Everyday, the streets of Freetown and other major cities across the country are littered with bike riders and youth hawkers as they desperately try to eke a living. Ordinarily, if these youths had the necessary skills they would have found gained employment provided job opportunities existed. Instead theychannel their energies into crimes such as, petty stealing,kidnapping, prostitution, assassinations, child trafficking, armed robbery and other unorthodox means of survival posing a serious threat to national security and democratic governance of the nation. High crime rate threatens not only the social and political stability of Sierra Leone but also her economic stability because it discourages foreign investment.

FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT:

There are six major factors responsible for youth unemployment in Sierra Leone namely:

a. Lack of job opportunities: Due to the weakness of theeconomy, there are little to no manufacturing industry which limits the number of jobs available .
b. Rapid Population Growth over the past 10 years.
c. High rate of illiteracy responsible for the lack of skilled workers.
d. Poor work ethics and the high risk of theft by Sierra Leonean workers
e. Lack of appropriate Statistics on Youth unemployment for proper planning.
f. Increase in alcohol consumption and drug use in the country.

The population of Sierra Leone is said to have increased by an annual rate of 1.9% between 2006 and 2016 to an estimated size of 6.5 Million. This has considerably increased the number of unemployed youths. Within the same period Sierra Leone experienced a higher economic growth comparatively, but it did not result in an increase in job opportunities for these youths. There are several factors responsible for this, but the most influencing factor is the high rate of illiteracy coupled with the lack of emphasis on life skill learning to reflect disciplines specific to the job market. There are very few vocational schools and none of these schools teaches entrepreneurial skills. Moreover, the job opportunities that are available within this period were mostly specific to the mining industry which requires specialized training such as welders, dewatering operators, geophysicist, geologists, chemists and diamond drillers. Some of these jobs are not only expensive to train but it takes a long time to complete the training for some of them such  geologist. The few job opportunities that are available are mostly concentrated in the urban cities attracting job seekers from the rural to the urban cities.

Furthermore, most of our youth who are probably qualified for certain jobs lack the basic work ethics of focus, punctuality and diligence. Employee codes of ethics provide employees with a set of clearly defined expectations, most of which are implied while some are specifically stated rules or laws that must be followed by those they apply to. Until our youths develop the habit of respecting their jobs by following the basic general work ethics, it would be difficult for them to maintain a job adding to the challenges that makes it difficult for them to secure and retain a job.

Another factor that could be responsible for higher youth unemployment has to do with the lack of adequate and reliable data on the state of the economy, including data on the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate is necessary to form the basis of effective policy making and national economic planning.

Also closely correlated to these increased crime rates, is the increased use of alcohol and drugs.

Generally, neighbourhoods with higher crime rate also have higher unemployment rate. These are all factors that must be taken into consideration in any attempt to address the problem.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

To address the problem of youth crime we must understand what constitute crime to help us carve out the right possible solution within the limits of the law. It must be well planned, well coordinated and must be holistic with special focus on crime reduction. We need to look at both short-term and long-term solutions, while learning from the lessons of failed attempts.

Furthermore, we must be mindful of the fact that, the economic effects of unemployment are so serious in some neighbourhoods that life becomes a day to day battle of survival. In such conditions, from the youth’s point of view, everything else becomes secondary; hence they are more likely to take greater risk just to survive. Therefore, we should be very careful about making any assumptions that mayincrease the risk of arrest, and the likelihood of long termimprisonment. According to Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (2009), “a crime is held to be an offence, which goes beyond the personal and into the public sphere, breaking prohibitory rules or laws, to which legitimate punishments or sanctions are attached, and which requires the intervention of a public authority… for crime to be known as such, it must come to the notice of, and be processed through, an administrative system or enforcement agency. It must be reported and recorded by the police (or other investigator); it may then become part of criminal statistics; may or may not be investigated; and may or may not result in a court case.”

This means as per the definition stated above, crime involves four major principles namely:

1. It must be a violation of law
2. The law must have a clearly defined set of punishment for the violation.
3. It must be considered a public wrong and finally
4. It must be a moral wrong.

Therefore, officials of the law enforcement agencies should not be in the business of usurping the functions of the legislature or the judiciary by attempting to both make the rules and pass judgement over the suspects they arrest. It also means officials must be knowledgeable of the law and the limitations of their powers.

Suspects that are physically and those that arepsychologically challenged are the most vulnerable. Hence,the approach of the law enforcement must be humane.

Short-Term approach:

1. Community Policing
2. Training youths the values of work ethics
3. Partnership with private companies with available jobs to introduce on the Job Training Programs for youths

Long-term approach:

1. An overhaul of our entire education system including changes to the entire school curricula to focus on disciplines that are demanded by the job market.
2. We need to diversify our economy into other industries to broaden our job opportunities.
3. We need to reform both on fiscal and monetary policies to create better job opportunities and increase our tax base.
4. More technical and trade schools should be opened in our communities Technical and Entrepreneurial life skills tailored to the job market should form part of the curriculum in all higher educational institutes in Sierra Leone.
5. Free education up to university level for the first 25 years.
6. Corruption and mismanagement in public institutions must be addressed

The truth is, despite the increase in violent crime across the country; our government would not be able to fund the large police force necessary to protect our neighbourhoods. Therefore, it is imperative for the law enforcement to come up with innovative ideas to tackle crime within the budgetary constraints of the government. One such idea in my opinion is community policing which basically requires a partnership between the police and communities they are task to protect.

With regards to community policing, instead of police officers continue to remain in police stations waiting for the public to come to them after the crimes are committed, they should be required to move into neighbourhoods to establish a visible law enforcement presence within their respective communities like Lumley, Wellington, Portee etc. In partnership with community leaders they should work to build trust with the community members particularly the youth population. Also working within the community partnership network, the patrol officers assigned to each neighbourhood, should coordinate government sponsored crime prevention programs.

The programs could include training that provides youths with necessary skills to resist the temptation of experimenting with illegal drugs or being part of a criminal gang. We could call it the (Drug Abuse and Crime Resistance Educationprogram) Training can be provided by trained police officials or in partnership with experts. The training could focus onteaching youths including secondary school kids, life skills about personal safety, decision-making skills, about how to build self-esteem and resist peer pressures, using group discussion, community mentorship, role playing, and open communication. During these training sessions they could be provided with accurate information about drugs, consequences of drug use, and alternatives to drug use.

Because of the sense of urgency in fixing our educational system, I believe that education both academic/formal and technical  education should be free, from primary school touniversity and should be made compulsory up to secondaryschool level.

CONCLUSION

The paper conceptualized youth unemployment with special focus on the threat to national security. I pointed out the key factors responsible for the high rate of unemployment particular amongst the youth population and offered recommendations on how to minimize its effect. It concludes that government should fashion out policies that produce jobs. Sierra Leoneans in Diaspora and foreigners should be given opportunity and friendly environment to come in and invest. National infrastructures should be rebuilt. Strong economic institutions should be established, and the existing ones strengthened for better results. The education sector should refocus on vocational, technical and entrepreneurial disciplines. Education should be free and compulsory at least up to e secondary school level. Young Sierra Leoneans who abandoned their farms due to unexpected Ebola outbreak should be encouraged to return to their farms.

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Author: Saa Fernand Kpulun. I can be reached on saaselassie@gmail.com for any comment.

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Abu Bakarr Tarawally is a Journalist based in Freetown. He works for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation as a radio producer. He has once served as Editor for a few newspapers in Freetown, including Sierra Express Media, The Exclusive Newspaper and his own newspaper, the Daily Express Publications. He is a teacher trainer, and loves writing and reading a lot. Email: abstarawally@gmail.com. Call +232 88601277 or +2327661303.

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