Raphael Marrah

As if the challenges of COVID-19 are not enough, every day in Sierra Leone is beginning to appear like we are in a war situation. Battles, or so-called “political violence “mainly orchestrated by its youths against the very state they had sworn to serve. In just about ten days we witnessed a plethora of skirmishes rite across the country that left almost close to fifteen people dead; more than the number of deaths from the novel coronavirus during the pandemic’s initial ten days in Sierra Leone. From an attempted prison break to the burning down of police stations and hospitals, a marauding gang of youths has made it a duty to undo every semblance of peace that the country has been struggling to maintain. But this is not only starting today. We have been here before time and again thus justifying why it goes against sound reasoning to suggest that the current spate of violence perpetrated by renegade youths is aimed solely at the current governance system.

It is not enough that we refer to them as “misguided youths”. It is never enough that we call them “common peasants or prostitutes”. It’s equally not enough to suggest that the bulk of them are “ravaging drug addicts”. Let us for once go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves pertinent questions as a country. What options there are for the average Sierra Leone youth? As Christians will say, “If there is a man to pray, there is a God to answer”. I will say if there is money to steal from state coffers, then there is a way to get our youths out of their current predicament. If a single cabinet official in the last administration can take the advantage of building himself a three million United States Dollars house in this day and age and with state resources, then there was money to build and equip state of the art skills training centers for every youth in this country that can’t go to University. Our youths are not engaged. And what do they say is an idle mind? ” the devil’s workshop”.

What we are experiencing as a country is not political violence, what we have at hand is a youth -bulge situation that we have not as a country done justice to solving. An ever-increasing youth population that has been offered very little livelihood alternatives by those whose duty it has always been to provide them with one. I am not talking of a fancy lifestyle where every youth in Sierra Leone is to be provided with the luxury of driving a Lamborghini Veneno. I am talking of innovative solutions wherein, for example, the seas of TOMBO are flooded with 150 to 200 fishing vessels, a project that is properly designed possibly through a Public-Private Partnership(PPP) arrangement, the management of which is left solely in the hands of the private sector for it to maximize profit and replicate itself. Today, fish landing sites built by a certain multinational organization exist in known riverine communities of Bonthe, Shengeh, Tombo, and Goderich. The last time I checked, these facilities twelve years on seem obsolete with no proper plan in sight for them. These could have been facilities producing sardines for Sierra Leone and with export potential to neighboring Liberia and Guinea employing a minimum of ten thousand youths. These are all viable youth options to an already youth- bulge catastrophe that is waiting to happen.

The average Sierra Leone youth I will say is not trigger happy. They have got lives to live and that they will do with whatever means possible even at the expense of losing their own lives. Think about it, when was it the last time you saw a 30-year-old youth who has got a university degree and is working or is a professional carpenter/ plumber got arrested during a so-called “political violence”? Aren’t they youth as well? They sure are! But the only difference is that whilst those youths who are our usual suspect get arrested more often than not, the privileged youth have got options in life and those options they have learned to guard jealously and cannot be persuaded into perpetrating violence for what so ever reason. During our recent lockdown, a group of youth managed to cut the water pipe leading to my home. My first natural predisposition was to go get the hell out of them (that is if I was even man enough) for cutting the pipe that I bought with my hard-earned cash. Then it dawned on me how our “it’s none of my business” type of attitude towards our youth and the broader society, in general, continues to put us in harm’s way. These were youths who had galvanized themselves into fetching water for others in the neighborhood for a fee albeit in the wrong way, but who cares to do things in the proper way when survival is at stake? These guys were in a lockdown situation and with no food, neighbors had food but didn’t have water –the very basics of necessity at home because of a broken infrastructure that is not of their choosing. So everybody had a need in that situation and a dare one too, I had to negotiate with them to fix my pipe when they Were all done.

Our current youth- bulge situation is creating a case of what Joseph Hills of blessed memory called ” the poor sharing their poverty with the rich because they have failed to share their riches with them” Until and unless we realize that it is not ok to be at ease in our luxury apartments and take pictures of idle youth around street corners. Until we accept the fact that it is a security risk to all that we have worked for if our youths are not further engaged until that day comes when every youth out there is catered for by the state not on the basis of the region they hail from but on the basis of the fact that the state owes it to them, we have a ticking time bomb waiting to manifest and in a grand style.

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