The Ghana Youth Policy: A perspective

Introduction

Ghana’s projected population of 25 million has a youth population of 33%; already organisers of this median meeting affirm that Africa’s youthful population is a resource. However, the usefulness of this resource – “youth” is dependent on what policies governments put in place to leverage the youth. The ability of young people to contribute to the growth potential of their countries is largely determined by the economic buoyancy of their country. African countries are mainly characterised by high youth unemployment rates; which in turn limit the heights to which young people on the continent can aspire to. However, unemployment is only one of the limitations that plague the African youths’ ability to contribute in the development. Another key factor is the limited opportunity for young people to participate in decision-making and development in Africa. Young people are rather seen and not heard. Decision-making is the prerogative of adults[1].

As Nwuke (2002) posits, “…the development of the continent rests squarely on them (youth[2]) ; it is through them and by their agency that the vision and noble intentions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) can be developed. And it is through them that Africa can make progress towards the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, among which are the goals of halving extreme poverty and halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015”.

Though many pronouncements have been made by governments across Africa[3] of believing in the potential and development of their youth, the matching commitments are few and far between. Of the 52 countries on the continent, only 15 have been listed as having a youth policy[4].  For West Africa, the list is even pitiable! Ghana is yet to develop a comprehensive youth policy since 2000, a process Abusua Foundation finds as key.

The Ghana Case

Ghana has had a vibrant youth front from the pre-colonial periods that formed the back of the struggle of independence. Indeed, it as the actions of “youth” – largely defined as the “educated commoners” who comprised lawyers, trades people and social workers among others. The revolutions of the 1970’s were successful because of the massive youth support especially by the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS). However, the voice of the youth has largely remained very silent since except for the following during the 1990’s:

  1. The consultation process of the 1992 constitution
  2. Leading the process of promulgation of the now Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) (1996/7)
  3. Preventing the institution of the “full-cost” regime for tertiary education – the result been the current “cost-sharing” regime (1997/8)
  4. The start of the agitation for a youth policy – which was truncated when the key architects were assigned political positions (2001-2004)
  5. The new student loan facility – The student Loan Trust (2005/6)

These successes listed above were chalked through mass disobedience and violence. However, from the 2000’s student leaders resolved not to use violence, militancy and mass boycotts but rather pursue issues through dialogue. This decision was reached under the assumption that with a youth policy at the offing, you could have specific openings for dialogue and participation in decision-making. But without a plan – which is the youth policy the youth have become lost in the decision-making process or how to engage in policy issues since there are no specified entry points. This has left the youth front divided and non-functional.

Why the Youth of Ghana do not have a youth policy

While the youth of Ghana have led and won many “battles” with government many times over, the issue of the Youth Policy has eluded Ghana’s youth for nearly 8years from 2001 when the Kufour administration promised to work to give the Ghanaian youth a plan. The current Atta-Mills government has promised to pass the draft policy. However, every time the Ministry of youth and sports makes statements about the policy the dates keep changing. The new date for passing the policy is December 2009 and we have our fingers crossed hoping that it will pass.

The challenge ……..is not that there are not enough “good” youth leaders to move the process forward.  ……Youth leaders speak to the issues in the draft policy from their political persuasions and perspectives rather than as a cross-cutting issue that affect youth irrespective of whether they belong to party A or B.

Second, Youth issues do not appear to have a home Ministry! The Youth Desk has moved from one Ministry to the other; first as part of the Ministry of Education, then it was moved to Social Welfare and Employment; then to the Youth and Sports Ministry, then to Social Welfare and Employment. Currently it is housed in the Ministry of Youth and Sports. What this has done is to create a weak youth administrative structure. The Youth Desk has never had a Director in any of the various ministries it has been placed under. (Ideally, coupled ministries have Directors each for the coupled ministries; thus for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, there should be a Director for “Youth” and “Sports” each. However, it is the minister or deputy that acts as a schedule officer for matters of Youth in the “hosting” ministry).

Therefore, this has challenged the functioning of National Youth Council in the discharge of its duties. For instance, not all the 143 districts have district youth councils as is the mandate of the council.

Finally, the creation of the Youth Employment Programme has come as a distraction to the negotiation of a Youth policy and has come more as a political sign-board rather than a programme to correct youth unemployment. It is important to note that, the Youth Employment programme is outside of the National Youth Council and did not involve youth in the design and implementation as a youth programme should.

Has Ghana committed itself to Youth Development?

Yes, Ghana is a signatory to many youth related youth conventions and charters. Prominent are:

  1. The African Youth Charter
  2. United Nation’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948)
  3. ILO Convention on Child Labour 182 (1999)

4.      International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women (1979)

5.      UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

6.      ILO Minimum Age Convention 138 (1973). [Yet to be ratified but some provisions have been adopted].

While all of these instruments have sweeping provisions for youth concerns, there is yet a Ghana specific youth policy.

What does the draft Ghanaian Youth Policy Say?[5]

At this point, I will like to recount a brief historical background to youth policy in Ghana. From 1948 to 1957 the Gold Coast Youth Council (GCYC) existed as a representative body of youth organizations. The GCYC was administered by a General Assembly made up of representatives of the youth organizations affiliated to the Council. The General Assembly met once a year to elect officers and approve training programmes and other activities.

When Ghana gained independence, the structure and functions of the GCYC were maintained but its name was changed to the Ghana National Youth Council (GNYC). However, in 1961, a Ghana Youth Authority was incorporated by an Executive Instrument whose significant feature was a direct involvement of Government in youth affairs.

A Central Advisory Committee on Youth Affairs in 1967 recommended the resuscitation of the GNYC. In 1970, a National Youth Service Corps was set up to train “unattached youth” -youth who did not belong to organized youth groups to acquire trade skills.

In 1972, the Ashley-Larson Committee was tasked, among other things, “to consider how best to organize the youth in order to avoid their exploitation…” It was on the basis of the committee’s report that NRC Decree 241 of 1974 was promulgated.  The promulgation of (NRCD) 241 of 1974 which led to the establishment of the NYC was a turning point in youth development in Ghana. There was coordination of youth programmes and activities in the midst of ‘varied youth-development related organizations. Prior to that, youth development had been organization -based and reactive to prevailing circumstances.

Youth involvement in national development was limited to participation by individual youth groups, notably the adventurous and religious groups based on foreign models, e.g. the Ghana Scouts Association and Girl Guides Association, Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Red Cross Society, Islamic Youth Organization, Ahamadiyya Muslim Youth Organization etc. These youth groups, in addition to a focus on character formation and the inculcation of religious values, attempted to address a broad range of social and cultural needs of the youth.

From 1974 to 1981 the National Youth Council through its Regional and District Youth Committees and registered youth groups undertook programmes in areas of self reliance, leadership and civic responsibility. At the international level, the Council promoted friendship and co-operation with youth organizations in other countries through exchange programmes.

In 1982, the Youth Council was changed to the National Youth Organization Commission (NYOC). The task assigned the NYOC was the establishment of the Democratic Youth League of Ghana (DYLG) with its children’s wing “The Ghana Edikanfo Movement” as the mass national youth movement. The Commission also maintained a strategic partnership with all existing youth organizations in joint planning and implementation of community initiated programmes.

The era of Constitutional rule from 1992 reverted the National Youth Organization Commission (NYOC) to the National Youth Council to enable it to fulfil its mandate as outlined in NRC Decree 241. The period 1992 to 1999 saw the need to galvanize the entire youth front and mobilize them for national development. There was therefore the need to formulate a national youth policy to develop a strong and disciplined youth imbued with a spirit of nationalism and sense of public service. A draft policy document went through various levels of consideration before being approved by cabinet. The Policy was subsequently launched on July 21st, 1999.

 

The exigencies of youth work resulting from the launch of the 1999 Youth Policy led the NYC into developing new strategies for youth development in Ghana. The NYC further built the capacity of the Committee of Youth Association of Ghana (COYA) to provide a common front’ for the youth. The COYA which comprised registered youth groups with the Youth Council later developed into a loose federation ­the “Federation of Youth Associations of Ghana” (FEDYAG).

In 2001 a youth empowerment committee set up by the Government recommended, among other things, the review of the 1999 Youth Policy. The document has since undergone a review to address the contemporary needs of the Ghanaian youth. So effectively speaking we have not had a policy since 1963. The 1999 youth policy was and has remained a draft policy that has no teeth.

Why was it necessary to review in 2001 a Policy approved by Cabinet and launched in 1999? Why review a document which has not been implemented/ has not been tried and tested? Please explain if you can.

Provisions of the Draft 2008 Policy[6]

First, the Minster for Youth and Sports has promised a week and half ago that, the policy will be passed in December 2009 [We keep our fingers crossed for this].

The objectives of the draft policy are to:

  1. Enable the Ghanaian youth to develop his or her potential and self-esteem.
  2. Institutionalize youth participation at all levels of the decision-making process to ensure the nurturing of democratic culture.
  3. Enable the youth to acquire, share and transfer knowledge, expertise and experience through networking and peer-learning.
  4. Demonstrate the aptitude of the youth for innovation and self-discovery in improving their quality of life.
  5. Inculcate in the youth a strong sense of patriotism, nationalism and voluntarism.

Briefly, the 2008 Draft Youth policy has as its key focus the following:

  1. Education and Skills Training (Goal:  To provide access to quality education and skills training)
  2. Research, Science and Technology (Goal:  Build Capacity of the Youth In Research, Science and Appropriate Technology)
  3. Entrepreneurial Development (Goal: To develop entrepreneurial skills among the youth for sustainable employment.)
  4. Youth and Employment (Goal:  To provide the youth with labour market information and opportunities for employment)
  5. Youth in Modern Agriculture (Goal:  To promote active youth participation in agriculture.)
  6. Gender Mainstreaming ( Goal: to mainstream gender into youth development programmes)
  7. The Environment (Goal: To promote practices that will ensure sustainable environment)
  8. HIV/AIDS (Goal: To promote practices to reduce HIV/AIDS among youth)
  9. Networking and Partnerships (Goal: To strengthen networking and partnership among the youth (Associations) internally & internationally.)
  10. Mentoring (Goal: To a provide platform for emulation of achievers (as a motivation for the youth))
  11. Arts and Culture (Goal:  To promote youth participation in arts & culture for national integration)
  12. Governance, Democracy and Leadership (To inculcate in the youth the democratic principles for active participation in Good Governance )
  13. Sports and Recreation (Goal: To promote youth participation III sports, recreation and leisure time activities)
  14. Youth in conflict prevention and peace building (Goal: to promote active youth participation in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building)
  15. National Youth Week (Goal: To bring to the fore the potentials of the youth in national development.)
  16. Youth and Vulnerability (Goal: Provide Social Protection for Vulnerable and Excluded Youth.)

According to the draft policy “Youth” is “persons who are within the age bracket of fifteen (15) and thirty-five (35) years.”

The reasons provided for the choice of the age brackets are explained as:

  1. The lower age limit of fifteen years provides a major human-development watershed. That is, it coincides with that period when most children enter into the adolescent age; and
  2. The upper limit of thirty-five years is the age where most youth enter adulthood.

 

The Challenge of Ghanaian Youth

The challenges the Ghanaian youth faces many challenges prominent been:

  1. Unemployment
  2. Access to “soft skills” development
  3. Agriculture and Climate change
  4. HIV/AIDS
  5. Access to decision making process

Unemployment

Ghana’s youth unemployment rate is 11% as at 2008[7] of 22.4million representing nearly 2.5million people. Clear evidence is that many young people street hawking in the major cities of Ghana at the peril of their lives. These young people risk their lives every day to sell their wares in traffic. In June, over 15 of such hawkers died when a truck lost control on the Accra-Coast road. Similar cases have been reported in other parts of the country.

Graduate unemployment rates is set at 3% showing that, many young people leave school without any hope of getting jobs.

The evidential effect is the increased armed robbery and other violent crimes; internet scamming (called “sakawa”) is very popular with young people in Ghana.  High unemployment among young people is also evident in what I describe as the escapement complex – where young people look for any means possible to leave the shores of Ghana. To do this, young people assume all sorts of dangers such as forging documents to travelling through the desert to Europe or stowaying on ships. There are long queues at all non-African embassies with young people seeking passage with the ultimate aim of “making it”.

Access to “soft skills” and ICT

Soft skills are skills that young people will not usually be thought at school or in their homes. They are skills that you make “extra effort” to acquire – typing, reading, internet usage, writing, public speaking, etc. These skills most of which are not thought in the classroom or at home are essential if young people can take advantage of opportunities or to create opportunities. Ultimately, soft skills determine the quality of input that young people bring to the table when they have the opportunity to be at the table. Mentoring and community programmes for students are almost non-existent across all levels of Ghana’s educational system. Thus young people are increasingly loosing the values of volunteerism and communalism that have shape the pre- and post-independence socio-cultural polity of Ghana.

Soft skills combined with ICT skills has put many countries ahead in job creation and entrepreneurship – the social networks – facebook[8],  twitter[9] and countless other are now multi-million dollar businesses that  were founded by young people. Ghanaian youth are deprived when it comes to access to ICT. University students still have to depend on erratic internet from private businesses on campuses while whole universities do not have the technology or the financial wherewithal to finance such project that will add value to the degrees they offer their students.

Agriculture and Climate Change

While agriculture remains a valuable source of employment and offers scope for Ghana to build its economy and reduce unemployment, this sector over the last ten years is faced with myriad of challenges due to climate change – poor and inconsistent rainfall patterns, high temperature, erosion and desertification has negated many of the opportunities that agriculture offers to youth.

In addition to the issue of climate change, access to land, the unattractive nature of farming – cutlass and hoe farming has turned many youth away from agriculture. Also, many times, agriculture has been reduced to farming leaving out fishing, aqua-farming and processing as viable options to youth employment.

The current NDC government under President Atta-Mills has started a youth and “modern” agriculture project as part of its policies to involve in agriculture and to create jobs, however, even before the project is under way, none involvement of youth in the design and implementation seem to put the project failure as the targeted youth are not on the project.

HIV/AIDS

Youth remain very vulnerable to HIV/AIDS across the world and Ghana’s case is not different. Young people in the age 18-35 years remain very vulnerable accounting for 35% of all HIV/AIDS case recorded for 2008[10]. While this figure is worrying, young females are the hardest hit according to the statistics as compared to the male figures. Percentage of young people who use protection, have knowledge of HIV, etc, the females have all the low figures.

HIV/AIDS also means that young people are not or will not be able to reach their fullest potential. Access to sexual reproductive health (SRH) matters is very difficult given our cultural and social circumstances. Access to condom, abortion and post abortion care is almost non-existent so that young people take various unreasonable risks to solve their sexual and reproductive health issues.

Access to decision-making

At the local and national levels, there are no clear points of entry for youth in the decision making process. This contributes to the perpetuation of the abuse of the rights of youth as enshrined in the 1992 constitution.

While FEDYAG, NYC, the Ministry of Youth and Sports provide… avenues to youth involvement in decision making, the obvious disconnect of how and through what means at all levels of decision making eventually disengage the youth.

Opportunities

While the above challenges seem huge, inherent in them are equally huge opportunities if the issues around them are well handled.

I will discuss three of these:

  1. Agriculture and Climate Change

Agriculture still presents massive opportunities to youth from crop cultivation, to animal rearing to processing and distribution. In each of these (i.e. cultivation, animal rearing, processing and distribution) with proper backward and forward linkages and with the proper policies, can create thousands of jobs for youth in Ghana. There is opportunity for ICT, banking, transport, packaging, etc that agric and bring to the table.

Climate change threats to agriculture may well be an opportunity for the youth to engage in high-value organic farming which can enhance incomes and also support sustainable use of land and other resources required for agriculture.

  1. Youth in governance

I maintain that the best experts in youth development are youth themselves, therefore, creating appropriate openings for bring youth on board the decision making process has huge net benefits to government. First, there must be the effort to create affirmative action for youth in local governance where a quota of seats in the district assemblies could be guaranteed for youth as is the case for women and other groups. It is important though that, the legislature or policy for this will not be one that will be reduced to tokenism. Also, outlets for youth to use other means to influence and participate in decision making such as blogging, social networks and other internet tools must be developed and encourage however, there is the need to first train many armies of youth to be able to use internet as a governance tool. If we are able to do this, the issues of HIV/AIDS, unemployment etc, will be more easily tackled because of the supports that online networking can provide.

  1. Supporting Youth initiatives

Finally, it is important to develop a national programme of mentoring and internship (formalised) that youth can get inspiration from and be prepared to effectively assume the mantle of leadership.

To funders, such as OSIWA, I will suggest that as part of their programming they should look at providing core funding to youth organizations that they fund. This will help to keep the organisations focused, committed and transparent. Youth initiatives are not well funded and this could be an opportunity to build sustainability and growth in the youth development sector. After all, “youth” will always be with us.

Thank you.


[1] See Tsike-Sossah E. Simon in “Promoting Youth Participation in Local Governance: The Abusua Foundation experience”, WACSIERS March 2009

[2] Emphasis mine

[3] Key being the Agenda 21 of the Rio Summit in 1992

[5] Text extracted from the current Draft National Youth Policy, 2008

[6] Ghana is still listed as not having a youth policy. See: http://www.thecommonwealth.org/shared_asp_files/GFSR.asp?NodeID=162579

[7] Commonwealth Yearbook 2007

[10] Source: Ghana AIDS Commission:

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