Information Minister Hosts Smart Africa Director General

By Zachariah Jalloh – Strat Comm – MIC

Director General and Chief Executive Officer of Smart Africa, Mr. Lacina Kone has paid the Minister of Information and Communications Mr Mohamed Rahman Swaray an official visit, to discuss areas for investment in Sierra Leone’s digitalization drive.

The meeting, which was hosted in the Minister’s Youyibuilding office on Wednesday 13th July 2022, was also witnessed by the Deputy Minister of information and Communications, Solomon Jamiru Esq. and other senior IT staff of the Ministry.

Addressing the Minister, Mr. Lacina Kone thanked the Minister for the warm welcome and discussed the continued partnership between Smart Africa and the Ministry. He spoke about digital identity, digital academy and the interconnectivity between Sierra Leone and Guinea which is coming back through Smart Africa. In addition, he expressed his fears about the phenomenon of individuals with phone numbers but can’t be identified and urged the need for thorough digital identification. 

“Digital skills will reduce unemployment and ICT has the potential to employ a huge amount of unemployed youths if they are trained and capacitated digitally” he said.

Mr. Kone revealed that as the Director General of smart Africa, he oversees the process of defining and advancing Africa’s digital agenda and has overseen the development of continental blueprints for Africa on Digital identity, ICT start- ups and innovation Ecosystems, Smart villages, and the definition of Africa’s Smart Broadband 2025 Strategy.

In response, Minister of Information and Communications, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, expressed his delight in having him in the country to discuss how they can create a synergy with Smart Africa to build resilient digital systems that will improve governance and other social service delivery, while emphasizing Government’s profound commitment to making the country part of the digital world.

Mr. Swaray also spoke about the $50million World Bank Project, which will be rolled out in the coming months and noted that there are components in the Project that the Ministry will work with Smart Africa to achieve.

The Minister was happy to hear about the Digital Academy through Smart Africa which empowers youths to learn digital skills and prepare them for the global digital Transformation.

“This is one of the areas I see the marriage with your efforts and that of World Bank because with the digital academy, I don’t see how we can implement the digital skills training in silos” he said.

In wrapping up the engagement, Minister Rahman Swaray assured the Director General of their continued partnership in developing and advancing the digital aspiration of Sierra Leone.

Copyright © Heroes Media Newspaper

Day Break Column

Youths as agency in politics: can we blame the youths of Sierra Leone?

Saidu Bangura, PhD.  

A discussion of youths and/in politics is as controversial a topic as the allusion I have made in the title that youths are agency in politics. Agency as used in this context should be understood to mean “instrumental” given the role youths play or the roles they are made to play in politics. However, when we consider the question “can we blame the youths of Sierra Leone?”, two old but pertinent songs come to mind: Peter Tosh’s “Can’t Blame the Youths” and Musical Youth’s “The Youth of Today”. While both songs may not have been writtento have any political undertones as we may want to imagine or interpret them, some aspects of the lyrics can be juxtaposed to give us an interesting reading in this article, especially as they pertain to how we should perceive youths in society or how they should perceive themselves.  

Peter Tosh’s “Can’t Blame the Youths” opens with a strong but contentious caution “you can’t blame the youths; you can’t fool the youths” whereas Musical Youth’s “The Youth of Today” opens with a straightforward and categorical message: “don’t blame the youth … don’t take us for fools”. When we put both choruses into perspective, the songs seem to tell us the prevailing conditions of the youths in society have nothing to do with them, but what their polities want them to be or how their societies condition them to be. While I do not intend to critique both songs, I equally will not make any critical interpretations here. Rather, some aspects of the lyrics of the songs will be used to make my case in this article. To do so, I may have to pick a few things from the songs and see how they rhyme with the political reality of Sierra Leone and how the youths of our country are consequently impacted by the politics of the day. 

For 61 years now, successive political parties and individual politicians in Sierra Leone have used the youths as agency to launch, promote and champion their political careers, and maintain their grip on political power and the consequent assault on our resources given the politicians’ easy access to the youths and the latter’s prompt willingness to propel the former to Parliament and State House. While the youths may not (have) be(en) aware of how politicians have been “robbing”, “raping”, “kidnapping” and “killing” their future (echoing Peter Tosh) even before the politicians assume their respective offices, and considering the continued and constant “brainwashing” of the youths in Sierra Leone by politicians, my goal in this article is to reflect on how the Sierra Leonean youths have been used, abused, misused, refused, un(der)represented, misrepresented and abandoned by the political parties and politicians in Sierra Leone for the latter’s selfish political gains and that of their associates.    

Considering the sociopolitical and economic milieu in which the African youths were (are) born into, and raised, and consequently survive through, the Sierra Leonean youths inclusive, we learn in Jon Abbink’s article “Being Young in Africa: the politics of despair and renewal” that the African young (wo)man faces a lot of odds and challenges and has no control over her/his future. While some African countries may have made progress in areas such as education that leads to a gainful technical career pathway immediately after secondary school, youth entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for university graduates, access to improved health care facilities, access to a sustainable livelihood and housing for young families, and the creation and promotion of an enabling environment for private businesses to thrive, and, hence, the creation of jobs for the youths, can we say the same for Sierra Leone? 

The continued economic challenges faced by the parents and older relatives of these young (wo)men who could have guided them into a profitable professional path, the unavailability of technical training facilities and institutions for these young people to learn trades that will lead them to becoming self-employed and self-sufficient, their permanently being relegated to unemployment and poverty taking into account the lack of production industries except the few extractive ones, their subsequent exclusion and marginalization from mainstream society unless when needed by rogue politicians, has made many youths to see prostitution as a way to survive, drug addiction as an escape route, the 24/7 laid-back spending time attitude mostly at Ataya Bases, and their relentless following of politicians and other “Big Men” for pittances to execute their political and other errands while they continue poor and destitute. Can this be a result of their hopelessness in laying their hands on something tangibly profitable or is it due to bad politics practiced by our politicians and the culture of dependency installed and maintained for decades?    

Do we blame the youths, or do we blame the politicians for the predicament of the youths? 

The answer to the above question takes us back to the words of the choruses of Peter Tosh’s song: “you can’t blame the youths; you can’t fool the youths” and that of Musical Youth’s “don’t blame the youth … don’t take us for fools”. Or can we (not)? The binary opposition in the words of the chorus of Peter Tosh’s song, “you can’t blame the youths” on the one hand, and “you can’t fool the youths” on the other, introduces us to the linguistic and political dialectics of where and on whom to cast the blame for the predicament of the youths: the fault is not theirs and you can’t make it theirs. Musical Youth’s no-nonsense direct message “don’t blame the youth … don’t take us for fools” is as clear as crystal: we are not responsible for our dilemma; we know where our problems emanate, and we know who to blame. Is it their fault or are they victims of the societies and political dispensations they were born, raised, and live in? Is it the politicians’ fault in not implementing programmes or creating opportunities that benefit the youths or are the youths not ambitious enough to task the politicians to deliver services that benefit the people, particularly the youths, the future of the nation, they govern? 

While we may want to say politicians have been arrogating for themselves and their families and immediate allies all the resources of the state at the detriment of the entire nation, especially these vulnerable young (wo)men who are mostly used for electioneering purposes and abandoned immediately after that process, are the youths themselves not responsible for their conditions? The culture of dependency on the affluent cultivated and cared for by the politicians and other prominent citizens has made many people, especially the young (wo)men who are in the majority, not to be too concerned that time wasted is never regained or to aspire for a better future for themselves. 

The instrumentalization of the youths by politicians due to the former’s socioeconomic vulnerability and their lack of a sustainable means of sustenance, livelihood, and economic engagement and independence, makes one wonder: why do people go into politics? Do they go into politics to serve the people and their communities and consequently the country as a whole or do they go into politics to serve themselves? The answer to these questions depends on where you find yourself, and probably how you perceive politics and political participation. 

If the youths constitute agency in politics or are instrumental in the election of who govern them, then those who govern owe the youths a huge responsibility. On this note, Musical Youth’s resounding statement that “The youth of today has got lots to say/It’s our life, it’s our future/Because we’re living today/So don’t blame the youth” becomes so relevant for the youths of Sierra Leone as for the UK youths then that the song may have been made for. 

Inasmuch as we may want to apportion blames on the youths for their plight in Sierra Leone, and much as we must encourage them to own their responsibilities, we must consider the following: (a) what existing national, regional, district, town, and community level programmes are there to remove our young (wo)men from their current socioeconomic predicament? (b) what is the income level of the older family members of these young (wo)men? (c) what is the educational level or what do the parents/guardians of these young (wo)men do? (d) where do these young (wo)men come from, where do they currently live and how do they earn their living? (e) are they in conflict with the law and if so which area(s)? (f) what do they aspire or want to do in life? and (g) how and where do they spend the day? These questions and many more like them should be on the minds of current and aspiring politicians if we are to build a nation that cares for its future. Today’s youths are tomorrow’s politicians, law enforcement officers, teachers, nurses, and other state functionaries. 

As I have written in some other articles, our politicians are selfish. The politics of Sierra Leone is about them and their cronies and immediate family members. Our Parliament is a theatre of dramatic monologues and political party soliloquies. The problems of the country are not part of the order of their discussions. Our MPs are actors whose scripts contain bills that benefit only them and their political parties. There was no controversy over the Welfare Bill for Parliamentarians (Parliamentary Act 2022), which was for the benefit of the entire membership of Parliament, but for others that present political disadvantage or advantage to one side of the aisle or the other, the petulant bickering is unending (the case of the Proposed Public Elections Act 2022). The basic needs of the people are never discussed in parliament because they are very much unconcern about the future of the people they claim to represent, especially these young (wo)men that they instrumentalise before and during political campaigns, and consequently abandon them after elections, and whose aspirations and future are never discussed in parliament. 

Until our politicians understand that one goes into politics to serve the country and its people and not to get rich, and to prepare the present generation to take after them irrespective of their socioeconomic background and political affiliations, the responsibility of our young (wo)men is on them. Until our politicians understand that they need to have tangible programmes that are executable so that today’s youths can be well prepared for tomorrow’s challenges, the future of our country is bleak. Until our politicians understand that siphoning off our resources for their personal benefits and that of their immediate families and cronies is a disservice and a threat to the sustainability and peace of Sierra Leone, these young (wo)men that are neglected today and whose future is not a concern, will be tomorrow’s aching challenges.

For the 2023 municipal and town council, parliamentary and presidential elections, I would love to see a serene but politically challenging and active youth; a youth that will tell the politicians to bring their children and other family members in their campaign trail; a youth that will ask politicians what programmes they have for their communities and the future of the nation, especially the future of their group – the youths; a youth that will refuse to accept drugs and alcoholic drinks, T-shirts and peanuts to campaign for people that will abandon them immediately after the results are announced; a vigilant youth that will discourage politicians from buying their way to political offices; a youth that will ask critical questions about how and why the country has been mis-governed for 61 years by two political parties, and how it will be governed for the next five years; a youth that will be more concerned about the future of the country, and less so about the religion and sex of the candidates, or the ethnolinguistic group and region a candidate hails from; a youth that will put the future of the country first, second, third, fourth and fifth and hence tell the politicians that the future of the country is at stake and it is their biggest concern; a youth that will not fight other youths for politicians or for political parties, but will engage themselves in civility and camaraderie as they challenge politicians for the future of Sierra Leone.

Copyright © Heroes Media Newspaper

Citizens Manifesto Report Launched

By Ishmail Saidu Kanu

The Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) together with the Review Committee of the Citizens’ Manifesto (CM) Steering Committee on Thursday 7th July, 2022 launched the Assessment Report on the Citizens’ Manifesto in order to develop citizens’ capacities as decision-makers in selecting the type of leader they wish to elect and to make political leadership more responsible through persistent dialogues between citizens and political leaders.

The ceremony which took place at the New Brookfield’s Hotel in Freetown brought together Steering Committee members including Civil Society groups and the media to discuss the report. 

According to the Executive Director of IGR, Andrew Lavali,the idea of a Citizens’ Manifesto (CM) is to place citizens at the forefront of shaping a democratic and accountable political system in Sierra Leone. “The initiative is a collaborative action of several established civil society agencies, media outlets, and formal and informal institutions that are dedicated to improving good governance in Sierra Leone”, he added.

Mr. Lavali continued: “In November 2017 when the country was preparing to hold its presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2018, there was a tense political atmosphere between the two major political parties, the APC and the SLPP, and a vibrant presidential flagbearer from the NGC party. The Citizens’ Manifesto initiative intended to shift the growing tension in politics to policy-driven discussions by helping voters better understand the value of their votes rather than simply relying upon self-serving politicians, hence, the “My Vote, My Life” catchphrase. 

“As the nation is now preparing for its upcoming June 2023 elections, the general political discourse is bordering largely on “ethno-regional politics, hate messages spread via social media, especially from those who reside abroad and send abusive and incendiary messages into the country, and intimidation of dissenting voices by “security personnel”. These unpleasant developments have potentially devastating consequences on the country’s democratic consolidation process.

Making her presentation, IGR’s Governance Expert Emmanuella E. Sandy mentioned that the review process looks at the commitment made by political parties/candidates during the Launch of the CM. “It assesses the extent to which issues raised by citizens were adopted into party manifestos and/or policies leading up to and after the March 2018 general election. It also provides an assessment of the incumbent’s uptake of citizens’ demands in the first year of administration. Seven issues were identified in the 2017 CM; these issues have been reviewed to highlight the progress made, as well as to make recommendations for robust advocacy efforts and monitoring of the indicators”, the Governance Expert noted. 

Emmanuella Sandy

She further outlined the key contents in the report: “The seven issues in the CM are Asset declaration, Women’s political representation, Youth political representation, Representation of persons with disabilities (PWDs), Citizens’ shares in mining and agricultural investments, Transparency in campaign financing, and Commitment to the following targets in the first year of the winning (incumbent) administration. These targets are the right to food, housing, health, education, and a national cohesion policy to unify the nation, 20% of national revenue allocated for education, 20% of domestic revenue allocated for health, repeal of the criminal libel law, and the execution of programs to save the environment.

“The Review process further aims at revisiting the intent of strengthening citizens’ capacities as decision-makers in choosing the type of leader they seek to elect and making political leadership more accountable through sustained dialogues between citizens and political leaders. The objective or goal is that through this process a people-centered political system and leadership that is responsive to citizens’ priorities would emerge”.

Speaking on the methodology, Mrs. Sandy pointed out that the review process is in two parts; the first six issues identified within the CM have to do with the commitments of the 2017 presidential candidates, saying it looks at the uptake of the indicators by the candidates while the second aspect concentrates on the seventh indicator, which has six sub-indicators that comprise the incumbent’s uptake on the commitment to the sub-issues. 

“Generally, uptake of the CM by the presidential candidates was minimal. The commitments from political parties/candidates are gauged by party manifestos as well as policies/laws that have been enacted by the incumbent that speak to the seventh indicator. The latter has achieved some progress, although some of the achievements were not accomplished within the first year of administration as prescribed in the CM. Additionally, some issues were not achieved as citizens requested”, she stated. 

She concluded by saying that there is a need for continuous advocacy campaigns on identified CM indicators after every election, maintaining that asset declaration is an approach that seeks to minimize corruption in a nation that routinely scores high on corruption indices over the years by anchoring the issue of ethics and integrity to the political class. “Hopefully, the next district consultation captures and expounds on this so that CSOs can design a robust campaign on Assert Declaration”.

The report was launched by Josephus Ellie, Governance Advisor of Irish Aid SL.

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