When Politicians Step on the Toes of the Youth… – The second of a two-part series by Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The problems that the youth are complaining about are not new but the fact that nothing has been done to solve them irritates; hence, the need to take on our leaders. The worn-out quip that a stitch in time saves nine should alert us to the danger that lies ahead if the country’s millions of youth continue to feel the pinch of joblessness and hopelessness in life. It is not as if the authorities don’t know that the youth face monumental problems of the sort that I am complaining about in this opinion piece. They know but are handicapped by their visionlessness and outright incompetence. That’s the crux of the national crisis.

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Major causes of the problem

Although many calls have been made over the years for our governments to take decisive steps to solve the unemployment problem “killing” the youth, they haven’t done anything noteworthy. The implementation of effective policies has often lagged far behind their empty political rhetoric; neither has it been supported by any laying of the groundwork for increasingly progressive measures to change the situation. Solving the problem calls for honesty and discipline in de-politicizing issues and retooling the existing institutions charged with addressing problems of the youth.

The rural-urban drift is still active although the extension of electricity and provision of social amenities to rural areas have improved conditions there. The youth don’t find the rural areas attractive despite such improvements. After all, those places are still “rural” and don’t offer the youth what they think the urban areas hold in store for them, especially in terms of jobs, however menial (or non-existent) they may be.

Our educational system churns out graduates who have no job opportunities. Probably, the general education bent itself is a problem because the economy doesn’t any more have room for products with that kind of education. The economy needs a skills-based labour force, not people armed with the spurious techniques of sophistry to waste everybody’s time arguing loudly and ceaselessly at public forums over dead people’s theories and grandiose ideas. Such dry and empty rhetorical manouevres produce nothing but headache for Ghanaians. Our educational system seems not to be ready to prepare the youth adequately for the job market.

Specialized education/training (as is given by the polytechnics, for example) could be a good way to prepare the youth for the job market; but in a country where politicians make it difficult for holders of the Higher National Diploma, for instance, to be recognized as valuable, nothing concrete is done to absorb these products. Instead, they are ridiculed and their fate sealed as unemployable or miseducated products. In undermining the HND, our politicians have succeeded in demoralizing and ridiculing these graduates.

The economy itself hampers initiatives. Our economy is still maintaining a discouraging lack of progress. It seems to be at the crossroads between the factory-line type of industry-based economic activities and the service-oriented productions now catching on with the advancements in the information and communications technology. Here is the exact point of conflict. For as long as our economy cannot expand to offer new avenues of employment for the graduates, they’ll be at the losing end.

The agricultural sector (especially the subsistence farming element) is hampered by primitive methods of production, which cannot provide enough to feed the teeming population. While our politicians capitalize on the situation, the farmers still rely on the hoe-and-cutlass method without any official support to enhance their efforts. No bank will give them loans because they lack the so-called “collateral security” nor will the insurance companies even dream of cushioning them through a scheme such as “Farmers’ Insurance.” Mechanized farming is still a concept that is doing the rounds in the policy-makers’ imagination. The youth will NEVER be attracted into the agricultural sector, knowing very well the fate of those already in it. Does the late Nigerian writer Ola Rotimi not tell us that when the frog in front falls into a pit, those behind take caution?

Our governments have been wayward. By investing themselves with the function of job-creation, our governments have further compounded the problem. The fate of State-Owned Enterprises should have served as a useful guide; but our wrongheaded politicians see things differently. Job-creation should not be the direct responsibility of the government. It is the responsibility of the small-scale private sector, especially, to do so at the local level. All the government has to do is to enunciate favourable policies and provide the much-needed push to encourage the private sector to create jobs.

Sadly, the governments have gone astray and invested resources in creating jobs that collapse as the partisan politicking intensifies and red-tapeism and outright mismanagement take the better part of such initiatives. The jobs avenues exist on paper, which are left to gather dust in the bureaucratic maze. Functions that should have been strictly left to those who know how to perform them are taken over and botched by the square pegs in the round holes parading the corridors of power and annoying the youth.

Politicization of everything

Discrimination has been entrenched (based on ethnic identities or political party affiliation), denying the youth opportunities they need to advance in life. Institutions established to manage affairs of the youth (e.g., the National Youth Council, National Service Scheme, National Youth Employment Programme, Youth in Agriculture, etc.) have been turned into arenas for partisan political experiments. Even the Civil Service and other strictly non-political institutions (Police Service, Armed Forces, Prison Service, Immigration Service, Fire Service, etc.) have become the playground for political interests. Recruitment into these institutions is done on ethnic or partisan political party lines and is a source of constant irritation to those qualified youth being discriminated against. They will be the nucleus for agitations.

Just last Monday, we were informed about the presence in the premises of the Ghana Immigration Service of 300 activists of the NDC seeking recruitment just because someone in government had opened the floodgates to them. Such a move is deplorable because it defeats the purposes for which such an institution was established and will create human-centered problems, especially in terms of the calibre of those party activists being dumped on the institution to employ on the basis of mere political persuasion, not the requisite qualifications needed to maximize productivity and efficiency in such an institution.

At a higher level, bloating such service-oriented institutions unnecessarily strains the economy because those institutions are not profit-making. They are not designed to generate funds to be self-reliant. They are rather heavily supported by the Consolidated Fund. What, then, does our economy gain from such over-bloated recruitment drives into these service-oriented institutions? The simple conclusion is that these service-oriented institutions can’t be the appropriate job markets for the youth. The more personnel they recruit, the more resources meant for other sectors are diverted to them. So, why rely on such institutions to absorb the jobless youth? A case of merely robbing Peter to pay Paul just in search for political capital?

Diverting resources to support such service-oriented institutions creates more serious problems. Ultimately, it hampers the provision of social amenities and important human-centered services to the people. No wonder that we still have children attending classes under trees in some parts of the country while many in the service-oriented organizations earn salaries for virtually doing nothing beneficial.

Solving the problem their own ways

The anxieties facing the youth manifest at other levels too, which suggests a situation to be wary of. Have we ever paused to find out why the youth are the bastion of the various political camps or why they are rushing into politics as if it is the panacea to their personal economic problems? At no other time in our political history have the youth been so politically active as we’ve seen of late. Once they get a foothold in the political arena, they dig in and become potential sources of influence or trouble. There lies the real danger—some become easy agents for corruption, physical aggression against opponents, and for causing trouble by serving those who instigate and pay them the highest fees to settle personal scores.

Unfortunately, these youth are not properly groomed for politics—hence, their misperceptions that being in politics means seizing the opportunity to amass wealth. Those who get appointed to positions of trust quickly learn the ways of the “old timers” and tend to support the status quo. They participate actively in the mischief to alienate and starve their fellow youth of opportunities for self-advancement. Politics then provides a false magic carpet for such “successful youthful politicians” to ride! But it doesn’t last.

Frustration at not being relevant makes the youth vulnerable and leaves them amenable to manipulation by unscrupulous politicians and so-called pastors. The young women turn to prostitution and the police mount periodic exercises to humiliate them, not for the government to solve the problems that send them to the streets but to prove that those who are employed by the state can use the resources at their disposal against those who are solving the problem of unemployment in their own ways.

Generally, however, a good number of the youth join the brain-drain caravan; but sojourning in other lands has its own negative effects on them; and they become more frustrated to the point as to lose hope in themselves. It’s a painful reality.

My message must be clear by now. As our politicians continue to disregard the interests of the youth, they create conditions for aggression; and when the youth can no more contain the frustration, they will take to the streets. No one can foretell the extent to which such agitations can reach; but from hindsight, it shouldn’t be difficult to predict the impact.

Our politicians need to know that by refusing to implement policies that favour the youth, they are treading on dangerous quick-sand which will not bear their weight for long. And when it caves in, it will swallow them up. All that is going on is not a secret; our leaders know the scope of the problems that the youth are complaining about and must not pretend. Solving those problems doesn’t call for anything extra-ordinary but a conscientious appraisal of existing programmes and initiatives with the view to implementing useful policies. It is not too late to do what will make the youth take charge of their own lives and become competent caretakers of our country. Is anybody listening, at all?

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com