In Ghana’s active quest towards economic progress, youth are unfortunately placed in the margins of the development agenda.
[pullquote]“[After the program] I want to go to school. I applied, but I’m still waiting. I pray that they should make [the programme] permanent.” [/pullquote]
I pass him every morning on my way to work and every evening on the way back to my temporary home in Kumasi. My colleagues and I jokingly refer to him as “LactoSoy”, in reference to the soy-based beverage he constantly tries to sell us. He is tall, young and thin with long, boney fingers and a firm grip. His idea of customer service is grabbing your arm and not letting go. He is not the only hawker lining the long, hilly stretch of Harper Road- there are many of them; young people selling biscuits, sachets of water, cell phone cards, alarm clocks, poster-sized maps of Ghana, toilet paper and many other useful and useless items. I wonder why they spend their days, from dusk until dawn, hawking instead of being in school or utilizing their time and skills at well-paying, formal jobs. But, this is the reality for many youth in Ghana. They are one of the most vulnerable populations who make up a majority of the country’s informal sector, living off insignificant wages with few alternative options.
Unemployment rates in Ghana are high, especially among youth. Ghana’s unemployment rate sits around 8.2 per cent with 800,000 people unemployed and 1.2 million people under-employed. About 8 million Ghanaians live in poverty while well over 5 million Ghanaians live in extreme poverty. In Ghana, youth are considered any person between the ages of 15-35. They represent the country’s hope of pursuing the nation’s social, political, and economic development goals; they are the future leaders, workers, innovators, and most vital human resources. They also make up more than 50 per cent of Ghana’s population. Ghana’s national government stands in solidarity with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living in poverty worldwide by 2015. This includes ensuring youth have access to productive jobs and that their rights to adequate livelihoods are met. Yet many Ghanaian youth are left with few opportunities to succeed in a market with few jobs, limited access to higher education and without the supportive social and economic policies they need to guarantee their futures.
Ghana is the only member of the Commonwealth that has not implemented a National Youth Policy, despite the fact its National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRSII) claims “ensuring the implementation of a coherent employment policy on the youth” as one of its broad policy guidelines. As it stands the only programme being implemented by the government for youth is the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP). The two-year programme was introduced to Ghana in 2007 and operates through the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Basically, it provides youth with temporary employment, on a non-discriminatory basis and is open to anyone from any background, whether he or she is educated or not. Youth are given the opportunity to gain practical experience in a variety of fields, including modules in health extension work, agriculture-business, community protection services, paid internship and vocation jobs, community education and volunteer work. Although, currently, it is Ghana’s only blueprint for youth employment, many feel the NYEP is not working as well as it could be.
Rabi Abdulai (left), Abraham Abubakar Sadiq (center), Osei Ansene Kwado (right). Taken in front of the Asawasi Community Centre.
I met Abraham Abubakar Sadiq, the NYEP co-ordinator for the Asawasi district in Kumasi, on a hot summer morning at the Asawasi Community Center- a young, studious and well-dressed man with unsullied enthusiasm and untarnished vigour, only about a year into the executive position. “Everyone will get something out of the programme, at least temporarily. [Some people] receive a permanent placement,” he says proudly. The programme offers support for youth in two tiers: for those with an educational background to gain experience in government sectors and other private agencies in paid internship programmes, and a chance to raise their grades; and for those with no qualifications or educational background to learn trades and acquire useful skills for meaningful employment. The NYEP is also open to placement proposals and suggestions in other unlisted job sectors. Although the programme has been well received and acts as a window of opportunity for many Ghanaian youth, it has been openly criticized as being unviable, and unsustainable. The major challenge facing the programme is its irregular and inadequate flow of funds and absence of legal framework to support it, hampering its efficacy and outreach, especially for youth without prior qualifications or schooling. “After the two years, there is no guarantee that you’ll get a permanent placement. It’s a very severe challenge,” says Abubakar Sadiq.
I met two youth presently enrolled in the NYEP later the same day. Rabi Abdulai is working as a typist and secretary at the Asawasi Community Center and has no prior background or qualifications. She would not have been able to attend school without the assistance and experience she gained from the programme, naming “lack of access” as her main obstacle. Abdulai is two years into her placement and her time is almost up. “[After the program] I want to go to school. I applied, but I’m still waiting,” she says with a straight face but with worry in her eyes. “I pray that they should make [the programme] permanent.”
Osei Ansene Kwado has been involved with the NYEP for three years and has only a few months left in his placement. He applied for the program in high school and got a paid internship position in the health sector working at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. During this time he has also been able to improve his grades and pay to write exams he wasn’t able to afford on his own. “With the National Youth Employment Programme I was able to upgrade myself. I was able to rewrite some of the subjects I couldn’t get, but I passed with the income from the Youth Employment. Because of the Youth Programme, I’ll continue my education.” Like Abdulai, Ansene Kwado has concerns about the programme’s shortcomings, specifically regarding the internship allowance. “At times, for three, four, five months, we haven’t gotten paid any allowance. It makes it difficult to even go to work.” After his placement, he would like to continue his education and get a job in the nursing sector. I asked him if he would like the programme to run on more permanent basis “That would be very good. It’s not everybody who can continue their education after being employed in such a programme. If they [made the placements] permanent, those who cannot continue their education will be able to [work] for the rest of their lifetime,” he said.
The NYEP’s new administration has recently implemented exit strategies to address the programme’s sustainability issues. Youth with qualifications will be given the opportunity and support to finish school and upgrade their marks. The government has also set up arrangements with some private agencies and public sector companies, including the Ghana Health Service for youth without qualifications to seek permanent placements. However, funding is a major problem. “We have a very long waiting list and it has to do with lack of funding. The number of people who apply for a placement is quite large, but the number of people who are taken does not match up,” says Abubakar Sadiq.
“With the National Youth Employment Programme I was able to upgrade myself. I was able to rewrite some of the subjects I couldn’t get, but I passed with the income from the Youth Employment. Because of the Youth Programme, I’ll continue my education.”
[/pullquote] Ghanaian youth have the potential to be the most active agents in revamping Ghana’s private sector and enhancing the national economy, but their lack of experience and exposure to the job market cripples their chances. Organizations like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) support local initiative projects that offer technical, social and economic support to Ghana’s local population, but the funding is minimal and they do not target youth specifically. As it stands, there is no entrepreneurship module offered in the NYEP. If youth were encouraged to start their own businesses, more jobs would be created, the economy would be expanded, and Ghana’s national development would be given a much needed boost. Abubakar Sadiq concurs, “We need to create the capacity of the youth to benefit the community they live in. Youth living in poverty… maybe some of them have a [business] idea, but to make the idea come into fruition could be a problem. They [need] the necessary support, necessary funding [and] facilities to put their ideas into useful projects.”
Statistical source: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTLM/Resources/Ghana_NATPOLICYDEC11B.pdf
CIDA’s “Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) project