Monday, May 16, 2011

Nyei's Speech at the National Legislature

Speech Delivered at the Public Hearing on the African Youth Charter at the Legislature on May 13, 2011 by Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, President of the National Muslim Students ; Association of Liberia

Honorable Chairman and Distinguished Members of the Joint House Committee on Youth and Sports, Judiciary, Gender and Child Development; Officials of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Education; Fellow Youth Leaders; Members of the Press; Ladies and Gentlemen

I bring you greetings from the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia. I feel honored by the invitation to make a presentation before this August body on the African Youth Charter. Africa has a growing population of young people, and the youth constitute a very significant element in the continent’s development. In Liberia alone, about 64% of the 3.5 million people are below the age of 35. It is within this category that the repository for the transformation and development of this country lies.

Liberia has a large reservoir of youthful talent and we can build this country on using the energy of the youth. But only if we give young people opportunities to realize their potentials. Until the policy makers tap on those talents by creating the necessary environment for the individual and collective advancement of the young people, we will continue to vacillate in poverty and illiteracy.
The African Youth Charter presents a unique opportunity for the development of the African continent. The charter is a roadmap to poverty reduction, good governance and the rule of law in every African state, and Liberia cannot afford to be left behind as this progressive train of youth development rails through the continent.

All of the provisions of the African Youth Charter have appeared in so many different forms - in speeches made by politicians, or in policies designed by successive governments in Liberia, but never promulgated nor implemented. So there is nothing really strange in the African Youth Charter in Liberia, and there is nothing stated in the Charter that is not of immediate priority to our development as a post-war nation, and as a third world economy. We therefore have no option in Liberia, but to ratify this document and mainstream it in our development programs.

Let me call your attention to some thematic areas of the Charter honorable ladies and gentlemen.
The charter defines youth as individuals between 15 and 35 years of age; it outlines the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of young people, as well as the duties to be performed by Liberia as a signatory state, to advance the rights of young people.

I. Youth participation in Governance
In Liberia, young people have played a major role in the various stages of our country’s development, but in most cases as proxies fronting for people with parochial and hidden agendas. Sometimes young people who have been given the opportunity to participate in public activities have benefited mostly as a result of extreme roles in political processes, and so their participation end up not as a right, or on the basis of merit but as a dividend from a ‘do or die’ campaign. The African Youth Charter creates a legal framework for youth participation. Ladies and gentlemen if this charter is ratified in Liberia, young people will have the right to actively participate in all aspects of our political and socio-economic developments.

In Liberia, the minimum age requirement for one to become a member of the House of Representatives is 25, 30 for the House of Senate and the 35 for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. Those are fairly young ages, and the AYC calls for that. But what is lagging in Liberia is the necessary instrument of economic empowerment and sound education that facilitate conscientious participation. A system of generational complicity denies young people in many ways; and the property accumulation laws restrict many young and competent people from competing for roles in governance. Therefore, honorable lawmakers, we from the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia believe that ratifying this charter and overseeing its implementation will facilitate youth participation in local governance and decision making at all levels in Liberia.

The ratification of this Charter will just be a one step, because the local version which is the National Youth Policy of Liberia will also have to be enacted into law by your honorable August body. The next stage will be supporting and overseeing its implementation through appropriate budgetary allocation, and demanding transparency and accountability in youth service programs.

II. Education and Skills Development
One of the problems we have in Liberia today is the unavailability of quality education to young people all over the country. In some parts of the country where there are schools, there will be no quality; and in some areas there is no school at all. Every society that pays lip service to education indirectly promotes poverty and underdevelopment. Liberia needs affirmative action on education for its marginalized youths, particularly those in rural communities, and the girls. This Charter advocates for equal access to all levels of high quality education. Multiple forms of education are proposed to us – including formal, non-formal, informal, distance learning, and life-long learning – so as to meet the diverse needs of young people. The problem of education in Liberia cannot be overemphasized, and the need for our country to develop and adopt methods of education that are relevant to our contemporary needs cannot be understated. Ratifying, domesticating and implementing the African Youth Charter will take us a long way in building trained manpower for the development of this country which will in effect reduce poverty considerably.

III. Economic Empowerment and Sustainable livelihoodsUnemployment among Liberian youths is contributing to many social problems in our country. The real data on unemployment is not yet clear, because there have been debates in the country on what constitute employment and unemployment, and the arguments have mostly been on political conveniences. But the reality is clear to us that most of our young people do not have job, or do not have the capacity for the job available, or there is no job at all. We cannot make everybody to get the same level of training and education before making employment available across the country; but I am sure we can lay the foundations through which everyone can get a livelihood from the level and quality of training he/she gets.

Unemployment in Liberia is largely a youth issue. This has been marked as a trigger of crime, deviant behavior and even violent conflict. The African Youth Charter affords young people the right to gainful employment and mandates states to focus on macroeconomic policies that lead to job creation for young men and women. In particular, Liberia will be required to develop measures to regulate the informal economy, where the majority of young people work, and to promote alternative employment opportunities and entrepreneurship. Let me state here that the economic empowerment of the young people of Liberia will go a long way in providing for the livelihood of the entire population.

IV. Peace and Security
Conflict is another issue that limits developmental opportunities for many young people across Africa. We are quite aware of the role of the youth in the civil wars that destroyed this country. Peace and security cannot be sustained without the participation the young people. The AYC mandates states to engage in capacity strengthening of young people and youth organizations in the fields of peace building, conflict prevention and conflict resolution. In addition, under the Charter, Liberia like any other signatory state will be obligated to condemn armed conflict and institute all possible measures to prevent the participation, involvement, recruitment and sexual slavery of young people in this context.

Finally, Distinguished Lawmakers, ladies and gentlemen, let us be clear about our intention to develop and transform this country. We need no more agenda on youth development in Liberia than the African Youth Charter and its local version the National Youth Policy. You need no more vision of progressive development, economic empowerment, youth participation than the African Youth Charter. So for those of our leaders who have always entreated us with speeches, the African Youth Charter is a one stop shop opportunity for you to demonstrate your intention and commitment to Liberia’s development through the young people.

In addition to the numerous rights afforded to young people, the charter also outlines the responsibilities that young people bear towards their families, the society and the state. It is of paramount importance that young people become the custodians of their own development, partake fully in citizenship duties, and contribute towards the economic development of their country. With these rights young people will become the vanguards of developing Liberia, preserving, its cultural heritage, making it compete with other nations globally. Therefore honorable lawmakers, I believe you want the best for this country, and you cannot afford this to be delayed. The National Muslim Students Association of Liberia therefore recommends that you concur with the House of Senate in ratifying this Charter.

I thank you all.

Nyei's Speech at the US Embassy Public Diplomacy Section

Speech Delivered at the Interactive Panel in Commemoration of Young African Leaders Forum at the United States Embassy Public Diplomacy Section in Monrovia, May 12, 2011by Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, President of the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia

Her Excellency Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Officials of the US Embassy, Members of the Panel, Invited Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I bring you greetings from the National Muslim Students Association of Liberia. I am personally gratified and honored by your invitation to speak at this Young African Leaders Dialogue. This day also falls in the month we celebrate what has been popularly dubbed as ‘African Liberation Day’. I have been one of those who have continuously challenged the limited concept of African liberation under the guise of territorial sovereignty. But as an Afro-optimist encouraged by the emergence of progressive intellectualism in the African youth, and the wave of democratization of African politics, I am filled with the hope that one day Africa and its people will be free of the scourges of poverty, bad governance, and neo-imperialism.

Two days from now (May 14) we will be celebrating in Liberia what we call ‘Unification Day’. As we meet here today my fellow panelist and distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we must in mutual exchanges make attempts to understand ‘Unification’ in the context of developments in our country. I am particularly pleased by the theme of this occasion: ‘Unification – a meeting of the minds’; because it is only through meetings of the minds we will be able to discern the complex problems of our country, and derive sustainable solutions.

What then is Unification in the context of Liberia? And what do we have to show as a symbol of Liberian identity that serve (s) as the natural magnet that pulls us together and portray a Liberian affinity amongst us in Liberia, and amongst Liberians in other parts of the world. What distinguishes a Liberian from other people of the black race?

Our country has suffered years of marginalization in its political and socio-economic spheres since independence. In fact, the foundation of the Republic of Liberia was rested on separatist and segregationist premises which are historically responsible for the cultural confusions, and class divisions we have. We have been haunted by this segregationist establishment, and today we find it very difficult to neutralize those forces that keep us apart. With freed men and women from the United States of America imposing American traditions on African people, two different cultures and traditions in addition to the numerous different African sub-traditions existed in Liberia and in constant confrontations. The result today is a nation with a people in lost identity. This is probably why Prof. Amos Sawyer has launched an enquiry into the kind of civilization in Liberia. Prof. Sawyer has asked “is Liberia an outpost of American civilization or an element of African civilization?” I hope from this forum we will be able to answer this question, and not only that, but to popularly promote the kind of civilization that we find common to our heritage, and which is appealing enough to unite us as Liberians – children of African ancestry.

Language is the lifeblood of every culture and civilization. It constitutes a significant instrument of identity which every society cannot afford to lose to the uncontrolled wave of modernity. We have English very unique to us, and up to now we have not developed and popularized a script on our Liberian English. This Language could be an effective means of official written and spoken communication in promoting a unique identity and unity amongst us. We also have languages in Liberia that have written scripts to promote a language identity for this country.

In some countries Like Kenya, Swahili is popularly spoken in addition to English, and in Rwanda Kinyarwanda, French and English are all used as official languages. This is happening in other African countries, and there are many parts of Africa with a common general language that promotes unity, even if not for official transactions, like the Tri language in Ghana, the Mende in Southeastern Sierra Leone. So I join those in Liberia who advocate for the teaching and popularization of a Liberian language, and I implore those carving our national vision to consider the issue of language as an instrument of unity and identity.

It is true that we do have multiple identities, many of which are competing identities. One of the challenges of governance in Africa, particularly Liberia today has to do with how we manage our various ethnic, religious, and other identities. We are too divided in Liberia on the basis of ethnic and religious identities – and in most cases at the expense of our national identity. We do not simply want to stop considering our diversity as stumbling blocks to development; we want to begin to use our diversities as building blocks for development and democracy in Liberia. With a common national identity and a sense of Liberian unity beyond ethnic and sectarian considerations we can develop a progressive and democratic state in Liberia.

Now my fellow countrymen let me remind you that we cannot discuss unity in the face of mounting national challenges and in a country rolling on shaky political foundations. Let me remind you that after 14 years of civil war we are yet to reconcile our differences - and to date - the necessary political leadership is lacking in addressing looming political crises that still hang over us as vestiges of the civil war.

We still have a constitution that needs to be generally overhauled as part of our post-conflict governance arrangements, but today we see a quick-fix process attempting to patch the constitution to suit electoral conveniences; we have an emerging citizenship crises: some of our countrymen are coming back and want to regain their Liberian citizenship in addition to other citizenship they obtain when they were forced by circumstances back home. We also have other African nationals who have had children and are growing their own communities here in Liberia. Those children know other home, but Liberia, and very soon they will begin to make demands for citizenship.

We have an overly centralized political governance system that still concentrates power and wealth in the capital and at the presidency. We need to find solutions to the above and the many other crises that hang over this country. That way, we can easily unite our people and build a progressive country.
The civil war exposed the deep-seated grievances and divisions that exist in this country even beyond the Native-Settler divide. After the civil war, we ought to learn lessons and build on our shortcomings.

I say again that we have not yet reconcile the various forces to forge this country ahead. And I believe that unity in postwar Liberia will highly depend on how deep we reconcile our people. Reconciliation and unity cannot be donated by any donors. Reconciliation and unity depend on our emotional attachment to our country. Our love, loyalty and readiness to serve our country are emotional elements that serve as bedrocks in building a progressive state.

Thus, for us to be united we must be nationalistic. Nationalism is gravely undermined by tribal, religious and class interests, individual or sectarian motives. Our national renewal and rebuilding therefore must be characterized by love for our country and countrymen which supersedes class or individual interests. Former American President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, ‘’I am an American, a Texan and a Democrat – in that order’’. He meant his love for America was beyond the others. We, too, in Liberia must learn to rank our Liberian nationality above all other connections and identities.

I thank you all