When Politicians Step on the Toes of the Youth… – An Analysis by Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The overwhelming role of militant youth in the protests that are rocking the Arab world points to only one thing that must jolt Ghana’s political leaders as well:

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It is a simple formula derived from a complicated interlocking network of incompetence and plain wickedness on the part of those in authority who fail to implement policies to favour the youth. Systematically marginalizing the youth to deny them opportunities for advancement has far-reaching, nasty consequences. That’s what we see happening—and we must not be surprised at all that it is happening. We hear how the youth bitterly criticize their “aged” leaders for not working in their interest.

If a hungry man is an angry man, what else is a jobless, destitute, and frustrated youth if not a time-bomb waiting to explode at the poke of a finger? And there is much to trigger it: personal insecurity, resulting from inability to cope with destitution; fear of becoming “useless” (not making it in life and, therefore, written off like a bad debt and disrespected by society); exasperation at lack of self-fulfillment; desperation from wasted efforts; realization that there is no value in the education/training they spent many years of their lives and resources to attain; and constant harassment and reminder of being left behind. The list of such trials and tribulations could be long and frightening, indeed.

Having reached their elastic limits, the anger that builds up in them provides enough TNT to make the powder-keg ready for detonation. Then, a slight miscalculation by anybody in the political establishment sets it off: BOOOOOOOOM!!

That’s what we are witnessing currently. Although the spontaneity of the ongoing protests in the Arab world may be alarming in its visibly pronounced form, we have to understand that the build-up to it took long to attain. The powder-keg was gradually being filled all these years that the septuagenarian politicians remained insensitive to the worsening plight of the youth. Now that the powder-keg has exploded, it seems that all the youth’s pent-up anger that has now been unleashed cannot be easily contained or restrained from spreading further until the intended objective is achieved. No amount of placation will solve the problem.

The protesters have already succeeded in effecting dramatic changes in the political set-up, forcing concessions out of the formerly puffed-up and stubborn but now-beleaguered and subdued politicians. But the problems triggering the events are nowhere near being solved yet.

If you think that the fate of the youth in Ghana is any different from that of those making their voices heard in the Arab world, think again. There are more similarities than our politicians may want to be told. If they want to avert any rocking of our own system, they should make amends sooner than later.

One major lesson from the protests that our politicians have to learn is that a democracy requires not only institutions and procedures; it also requires a particular quality of vision in order to provide sufficient opportunities to make the youth competent caretakers of the country’s (and their own) future. Denying them the opportunities for advancement will not prepare them for that role; and threatened by this marginalization and dehumanizing practices, they will strike back. And no one dare blame them if they do.

Their immense human resources should not continue to be neglected. They must be properly harnessed for national development. But the harnessing can succeed only if our leaders change their attitude and enunciate clear-cut and workable policies to cater for them. Anything short of that approach will limit those human resources to the functions of tension and destructive acts.

The upshot is what we see happening today, which we are all concerned about. The feeling of extreme frustration and alienation will galvanize the jobless youth to resort to unorthodox means for survival, as is evident in the nationwide desperate acts by the NDC’s youthful followers to forcibly take over the management of public toilets and lorry parks as a means to eke out their livelihood. The current high crime rate and desperate efforts by the youth to survive by all possible means (e.g., through the trafficking or abuse of narcotic drugs and cyber-crime—“Sakawa” or the Nigerian 419 scam tactics) are the immediate manifestations of this desperation.

That’s not how the youth can secure a viable future. They deserve better than what our leaders have given them so far. Unfortunately, however, the situation isn’t improving in any way to assure the youth of a bright future. And as the country’s population increases (we are being told it’s now well over 24 million) without any corresponding expansion of employment avenues or improvement in living standards, the youth will definitely spearhead agitations.

A smaller version of what is shaking the Arab world is already a phenomenon known to Ghanaians. It is part of the contemporary Ghanaian political culture of expressing dissent and seeking redress or revenge. The rampaging acts of the NDC’s foot-soldiers, chasing away District Chief Executives/Municipal or Metropolitan Chief Executives and other government appointees (at the National Health Insurance Scheme, National Youth Employment Programme, etc.) from office or putting pressure on the President to dismiss them from office are clear examples. So also is their agitation for the creation of jobs for them, short of which they will either defect from the ruling party or work against it at the next polls. This threat looms large. After all, nothing comes from nothing.

Then again, demonstrations by such politically motivated pressure groups as CJA and AFAG against government’s measures that negatively affect living conditions (increases in the prices of petroleum products and utility services, for instance) are also evidently an expression of anger at officialdom by the youth. Although such demonstrations have not had any cataclysmic effect or overthrown the government, they can cause harm at several levels. We don’t anticipate any military coup as a result of such demonstrations expressing disaffection. In our contemporary Ghanaian political dispensation, military coups are unattractive; but it doesn’t give the politicians any justification to do the wrong thing.

It is depressing that despite the glaring evidence of disaffection among the youth all over the country, our politicians seem not to care about their concerns to avert any future disastrous protest. They dismiss such concerns and forget that circumstances shape not only people’s possibilities for action, but also their aspirations and desires, hopes, and fears. All of this seems highly pertinent to decisions that they are expected to make but which they fail to work on. By this failure, they come across as people in authority who are not interested in doing what will uplift conditions of life for others.

The insides of these politicians, just like the insides of stars, are not open to view. Bent on serving their own interests, they are lost in the dream world that they’ve created for themselves—in which they see only what their own minds have created, never the reality of the suffering citizens whose complaints against the harsh living conditions they ignore with impunity. They forget that their self-serving policies and measures that demoralize the youth, creating poignant moments of disappointed hope, will end up contributing to agitations of the kind that will explode in their faces. It is then that the rude awakening will shock them into making concessions in a vain attempt to hang on to the straw or drown in failure.

To be continued…

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com