Friday, October 30, 2015

Oration Delivered in observance of the 2015 National Youth Day under the theme: “Promoting Community Development through Peacebuilding and Sexual and Reproductive Health Education”

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, National Orator 2015 National Youth Day

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Hon. Lenn Eugene Nagbe; Deputy Minister for Youth Development, Hon. Saa Charles N’Tow; Deputy Minister for Sports Hon. Henry Younton, Assistant Minister, Hon. Lance Gbayon; Mr. Augustine Lamin of the Ministry of National Defense; other officials of government; Mr. Augustine Tamba, President of the Federation of Liberian Youth and Officials of the FLY and other youth and student organizations
Members of Youth Organizations from across the country
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

It is with profound gratitude and humility that I accepted to speak to you today on this special occasion marking the celebration of the National Youth Day in the year 2015.

It was exactly 46 years ago in 1969 when the Liberian government chose to celebrate the lives and contributions of the young people to the progress and development of this country by setting aside this day today – October 29 – as National Youth Day. This was not meant to be a day for just pomp and pageantry as important as that maybe to us young people.

Largely, this day is a day of recognition of the enormous contributions of the young people to the political, economic and social development of this country; it is meant to be a day of reflection on the challenges faced by young people in the ordinary business of life, and the progress made by society to transform young people into productive citizens in the course of the transition to adulthood; it is meant to be a day of renewal for both government and society to renew their commitments to the development of the young people of Liberia; it is meant to be a day of inspiration and motivation for young people to feel challenged, pursue their life goals and aspire for greater roles in society; it is meant to be a day of remembrance of the contributions of great and promising young men and women whose innocence were stolen, and their lives lost to the avoidable tragedies that befell this country during the civil war and during the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus disease; and finally it is meant to be a day of celebration of the gallantry, courage, heroism and enormous sacrifices of young people to the peace and development of this country, majority of whom have made it to become statesmen and women in a terrain bereft of opportunities for social progress.

The youth of Liberia are tied in the greater struggle of the youth in other African countries who are struggling to survive and fighting economic injustice in their countries. This collective struggle was shown in the course of the last two weeks when students in Liberia and South Africa protested against increment in university tuition fees at the same time without planning and organizing together. While both seem a coincident of events, the timing of the protests epitomized the commonality of the struggles of the mass majority the African youths and their continuous demand for socio-economic opportunities.

The young people of Liberia have the same aspirations as the young people in the Middle East whose vision for peace and stability in their homelands have been blurred and disrupted by the arrogance of superpower diplomacy. This dream for peace and stability shared by young people everywhere are the concerns of global humanity, and Liberian youths stand tall for their roles in promoting peace and stability in their homeland.

Today while we observe this day in Liberia, lest we forget that thousands of young Africans are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea on a journey for a perceived good life and better future in Europe. Majority of them are escaping poverty, injustice, and conflict. Liberian youths have had their share of these vices and continue to be victims of state failure occasioned by poor service delivery as the present weakness and shambles of the health care and education systems show. Liberian youth continue to be victims of an unjust society where young women are raped, abused and assaulted with limited attempts by the state to ensure justice particularly in cases involving affluent families and elites. Mass plunder and wastage of state resources as was the recent case at the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) continue to undermine the capacity of the state to invest in the young people. These are factors that are driving young Africans including Liberians away from their homelands. It is unfortunate that African governments cannot see the mass exodus of their young people as a loss of a vital resource needed for the development and progress of their countries.

Therefore ladies and gentlemen, as we observe the day today we should consider all of the elements above and begin to ask ourselves questions like: ‘where are we as a society in respect to providing opportunities for the social progress of the youths of this country’? This is the question we should be asking ourselves on every October 29 in Liberia. At the heart of this question are the growing demand for education – both academic and vocational; the need for industrialization and economic development to accelerate job creation; the need for the provision of basic health services for young people; and the need for security and safety of the youthful population. I am talking here about 64% of the total population of this country.

The theme of the occasion today -“Promoting Community Development through Peacebuilding and Sexual and Reproductive Health Education” - is very critical to the prevailing events in our dear country. We are at a critical crossroad in our democratic transition and this has significant bearings on the peace building and state building agenda. Community development is the foundation of national development, because a nation is an amalgam of several communities coming together in their diversities, with different resources, different aspirations and needs, weaknesses and strength, but with a common goal of uniting all of the differences and similarities under a common political sovereignty that secures and protects their rights, mediate their differences and forge a common relationship and identity. Liberia therefore is a nation that represents our singular identity and political sovereignty even though we are from different communities. Contrary to the saying of the great Samora Machel that ‘for the nation to live the tribe must die’ I would say here today that for our nation Liberia to survive, our communities that also represent tribes in most respects must be strengthened and empowered.

Community development is not an abstract concept. It is practical and the key to community development is a governance arrangement that entrusts power, wealth and authority to local people through a system of decentralized and participatory governance. Through such a system, communities are capable of delivering basic services and by extension, the state makes it easier for people to access basic services in water, health care, education, sanitation and security. Young people are the principal users of these services, particularly in a country were majority of the citizens are young and below the age of 35. If given the opportunity young people in Liberia can be the key producers of these services. Key producers are community leaders, employers and employees of local businesses and officials of government. Community development therefore is tied into youth development and peace-building. I am trying to construct this nexus properly in light of our theme for today and this nexus is very instructive that government must empower communities to deliver services for the advancement of the youth who are the ultimate custodians of the peace.

In a democracy, the state works with the communities through local governments structures, and ensures that development programs originate from within the communities. This practice is at times being mimicked in Liberia, but in most cases at the discretion of a sitting government official, but not as a matter of public policy or legal requirement. The failure to liaise with communities have made us to ignore a vital resource needed for social development, and in all of our crises we have seen how young people in communities have led self-governance initiatives that have made communities to survive during the civil war and during the Ebola outbreak. During the civil war, youth in communities mobilized to establish transport services taking the sick to hospitals in wheel barrows and hammocks, provided health care services, ran recreational programs and in some cases where communities were threatened by armed bands, the youths formed vigilante organizations to protect their towns, villages and communities.

Again the failure to consult with communities has led to situations of mistrust between local communities and government. This mistrust symbolizes a broken relationship between the people and their government. We have learned lots of lessons from our two recent crises which I continue to refer to – the civil war and the Ebola epidemic. Both events were critical junctures in the contemporary history of our country and the lessons from both events provide us with opportunities for doing things differently, particularly in rethinking the idea of this hegemonic and powerful centralized state that has proven ineffective, inefficient and in some cases dysfunctional thereby weakening the bond between the communities and the state, and flaring despair amongst the citizen. It was this lack of proper relationship between the state and the people and the hopelessness that set in that led to the unfortunate incident of August 20, 2014 in West Point when the government reintroduced armed violence in the streets against a peaceful assembly of citizens resisting the militarization of a health crisis. The victims of this incident of August 20 were all young people who have gathered and mobilized their people in conscious resistance and protest against a state that they thought was failing them due to the trends of event then. A young man named Shaki Kamara was murdered and today he is the symbol of that courage and resistance. It is his memory, his heroism, and his gallantry that we should be celebrating today. May peace be to his remains!

Many young Liberians live in the same condition as Shaki Kamara did. They are live in slums that lack basic services, they peddle the streets to make a living, and they all have great dreams for a better future. We all see the efforts of young people in long lines at various universities and high schools trying to get registered, we see the huge crowd of youth assembling seasonally at the Ministry of Youth and Sports or the Monrovia City Corporation in search of vacation jobs; and we see the rise of community discussion centers or ‘intellectual forums’ established by youth in their areas to dialogue, build relationship and forge peace. All these are happening in the midst of huge challenges. Indeed, Liberian youth are determined to progress and this is symbolized by their courage amidst the shortages of opportunities. It is that courage and determination to persevere that we should be celebrating today.

Young people need opportunities, inspiration and hopes to move on, and this is what we want to encourage our government to do – to develop programs that educate, build capacities and deliver services to the young people. There are reports about continual decrease in female enrollment at higher levels of education Liberia. We believe that girls should have the necessary support to continue to go to school in Liberia, and we think the best thing to do now is for the Government of Liberia to cover the education of all girls from the primary to the secondary levels, particularly a government that has campaigned on slogans of women’s empowerment.

This is what the Federation of Liberian Youth and other youth organizations should be advocating for. FLY should continuously make the case for the youth of this country, and ensure that youth concerns are matters of public policy. The Federation of Liberian Youth, The Mano River Union Youth Parliament and the Liberia National Students Union should be the vehicles for advocacy, capacity building and voluntary services to the youth community. These organizations should not be seen as permanent employment opportunities. Therefore if you serve in the leadership for one or two years, you should strive to make an impact, and give other young people the chance to serve, but not to perpetuate yourselves.
Through the works of these organizations, many young men and women have become leaders, entrepreneurs, and teachers in our country, and their roles in society continue to inspire many of us.

In spite of these efforts and contributions, young people are often condemned as “troublemakers” in Liberia, they are criticized for being “violent”; they are dubbed to be “lawless” and “unserious” people. That has been the argument of those who fear the current wave of a youthful generation taking on key leadership positions in this country, either in civil society, religious organization, academia, or government. Those who cannot stand the competence, vision and energy of an emerging generation blowing the wind of change have found those misguided descriptions of young people as justifications to perpetuate themselves amidst plunder, incompetence and social stagnation. That argument has largely been biased because it ignores the resourcefulness, integrity, intelligence and contributions of many young people today who are making significant gains in Liberia whether in public service, private sector, sports and entertainment and the international community. The argument therefore that youth are violent and unserious is not only counterintuitive, but absolutely counterproductive.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen it is worth mentioning here that the Federation of Liberian Youth is making steady gains in ensuring that the views and aspiration of the young people are heard at all levels of national policy making. Ten years ago, precisely in 2005, the National Youth Policy was drafted in Kakata and after years of advocacy and engagement, we have succeeded getting it through the Legislature. The President is yet to sign it into law. This instrument is very important to the political, economic and social inclusion of young people as a critical mass in the development of Liberia. It is important that all of us, young or old, add our voice and follow this through until it becomes a law, and not just that but a functional instrument that is implemented. In the meantime I would like to challenge the officials of the Federation of Liberian Youth to work towards greater awareness and mass mobilization of young people around its programs. When we sought the leadership of FLY about five years ago, it was our vision to see the Federation of Liberian Youth as a motor for youth advocacy and an organization to which youth in all parts of Liberia and all sectors would turn for leadership , for capacity building and for hopes . This vision is still alive, and we believe that this organization under the current leadership is making strides towards that end through its numerous policy dialogues and community engagement programs. The greatest challenge and risk is that the Federation continues to survive on government’s subsidy and donor grants as its lifeblood. This is a risk to the survival of any organization particularly one with an advocacy agenda. It is high time that the Federation begins to explore opportunities for self-reliance as a means of not only raising money for projects, but principally for securing its integrity and independence.

Long live the Federation of Liberian Youth! Long live the youth movement! Long live our collective dreams! And Long, Long Live the Republic of Liberia.

Thank you all!!

Buchanan, Grand Bassa County
October 29, 2015