The innovative civic engagement approach, which was hosted at OSIWA’s offices at Murray Town Road, Freetown, engendered youth participation in matters that affect their lives and how they could help improve on Sierra Leone’s fledgling democracy.
Dialogue and active citizenry, emphasized Country Officer of OSIWA Sierra Leone, Joe Pemagbi, are key ingredients and lubricants for democracy to thrive.
“Citizens must not only demand rights but ensure that they are responsible. If citizens don’t act and demand for effective and efficient institutions, they will hardly get them. Institutions must not revolve around institutions,” said Pemagbi, adding that education is key.
Sierra Leone holds national elections in March 2018, its fourth democratic elections since the end of the 11-year civil/rebel war in 2002. Past elections have had incidences of violence with misguided youth playing major roles as ignorant tools of unscrupulous politicians.
Additionally, unemployment rate continues to rise, accounting for about 60% of the youth population, in the wake of economic hardship, as the small West African country strives to rebound from the twin shocks of the Ebola epidemic and fall in global commodity prices, especially iron ore. This poses a major risk within the context of the elections.
According to the youth participants, democracy means strong and independent institutions like the National Electoral Commission, Political Parties Registration Commission, Judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Commission, to name but a few.
Young people need capacity and space to grow; they expect the government to create the space and financial support to make it happen; they want government to pay attention to developing middle level manpower skills as a prerequisite for national growth.
They insist scholarships and grants-in-aid should not be accessed based on political affiliations, but a right of every Sierra Leonean. They are concerned about the over-powering influence of the Executive over the other arms of government as a major obstacle to good governance and democracy.
Pemagbi encouraged the youth to constructively engage and reflect on their lives as the country prepares for the 2018 elections. He said OSIWA used the world cafe approach to help the participants to communicate their thoughts and practice active listening.
Commissioner Anthony Koroma of the National Youth Commission, Jimmy Sankaituah of Search For Common Ground and Dr. Fatou Taqi of Academic & Career Advisory & Counselling Services were lead discussants at the round table session.
Dr. Fatou Taqi presented the participants with pertinent questions for reflection and discussion using the rotational world cafe approach. The questions included: What does democracy mean to you and what makes a society democratic? In a democracy do you have roles to play? If yes, what are these roles; and how can they be effective? What support do you need to play your roles well in a democracy? In your everyday life, what practices are compatible with democracy? (Values, principles, at school, at home, with your friends, etc.). In a democratic society what should be the government’s role? What are the obstacles to the creation of democracies in Africa?
Jimmy Sankaituah urged the youth not to allow themselves to be used as tools by politicians.
“You are future leaders, and you should determine and make that happen through the ballot,” he admonished the participants.