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The Youth in Sierra Leone

A boy jumps while playing football in a field in Soshanguve near Pretoria on June 22. (Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba/ AFP-Getty Images)

President Obama's call for Africa's youth to hold our leaders accountable should further motivate young people in Sierra Leone who are very keen to play an active role in the country's development. Speaking to all young people across Africa, Obama said, "The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people."

This message comes at a time when we as young people—whether in the Diaspora or in sub-Saharan Africa—are at a crossroads. On one hand, it appears we have been battered by socioeconomic crises in the past, such as the effect of wars and deliberate marginalization by our leaders. On the other hand, surviving the difficulties of the past has made us even more determined to work diligently to make the future prosperous.

In sub-Saharan Africa, young people make up a significant portion of their respective populations. In 2005, it was estimated that there were approximately 157 million youths across the region. According to the African Union, one in three people are between the ages of 15 and 34.

While young people account for 34 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa, in Sierra Leone it is almost double that figure, standing at 60 percent. It is a section of the population that is so significant that the only choice for our leaders, now and in the future, is to allow maximum participation of young people in every process of development.  

President Koroma has identified the issue of youth unemployment in his "Agenda for Change" as one of the major risks facing the country. "About 70 percent of our young people are unemployed," Koroma said. "This situation not only deprives the country of its most valuable human resource but, if not checked, could result in social unrest and threaten the country's peace and security."

This statement recognizes one of the major challenges the country currently faces, underlining what an urgent priority the issue is for the government. Youth unemployment deserves to be treated as a national emergency. Many experts and prominent national and international organizations have said that economic marginalization and political exclusion of young people was a major cause of the country's civil war.

Young people have widely expressed their desire to participate meaningfully in the socioeconomic development in Sierra Leone. We have engaged in promoting youth development in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention, peace building and the prevention of violence, and improving the use of information and technology.

However, we still look up to our leaders to do more in improving the structures of opportunity for us. While we have the responsibility as young people to build our own future, it is also the responsibility of our leaders to make it plausible for us to attain these goals and provide the best possible outcome for our country.

Obama's message reminded our leaders that youth are assets and partners for sustainable development and for the consolidation of peace and prosperity in Sierra Leone. Now it is up to our leaders to increase the opportunities for us to be properly trained, employed, and able to thrive in the workforce.

Unisa Dizo-Conteh is the president of Young Leaders-Sierra Leone (www.youngleaders-sierraleone.org), which provides a platform for young Sierra Leonean professionals at home and in the Diaspora to participate in nation building through dialogue, education, advocacy, networking, and development.

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