My Sierra Leone, My Responsibility: Youths, Jobs and Enterprises
By Dr Samura Kamara – The APC Presidential Candidate
At Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone
25th, January 2017
Good afternoon distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I am particularly pleased to be here this afternoon, at this historic amphitheater, on this equally historic campus, and during this very important period in our country’s history.
As an academic and a development expert of over forty years standing; I recognize that interaction with university students on the critical issues of national development is an imperative research exercise by itself. And there can be no better place to be at this moment than at the almighty FBC, to discuss this very thought-provoking topic: ‘My Sierra Leone, My Responsibility: Youths, Jobs, and Enterprises’.
I therefore feel very honoured to be here, but also for the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds amongst our young people. Many Sierra Leoneans want to be here, many families want to have a representative amongst you right here on top of the hill, but not everyone has this opportunity. It is for a reason, this is a special place for special people like you. And at this special moment in our country’s history, I am particularly pleased for this unique opportunity to exchange ideas with the crème de la crème of society. Make no mistake, it is a fact, an undeniably, unassailable, and incontrovertible fact that our beloved country is about to take off; Sierra Leone is at the cusp of irreversible development. Let no one deceive you with meaningless semantics, the stakes are high. I say so because I know so, because unlike those who have been breezing in and out; looking for greener pasture in other places, I have stayed on for the longest period, shaping policies, negotiating with the international community, representing and making the case for a better Sierra Leone. I have stayed on because this is my Sierra Leone, like all of you here, I do not have another Sierra Leone, I do not owe allegiance to another country – not before, not now, not at any time. I therefore do not have to renounce any nationality. Sierra Leone has always been my country, and this is why I have worked hard, all these over forty years, helping to do the hard work, to initiate the right development programmes, and to put our country back on the right development trajectory because I have always accepted it as my responsibility. I believe, and I know you agree that with my unique and unparalleled institutional knowledge, now is the time to take the front seat, in order to implement those transformative initiatives more forcefully, to get things done faster and more effectively.
My dear friends, Africa is a youthful continent with about 65 percent of the population below age 35 years, and over 35 percent between the ages of 15 and 35 years. By 2020, it is projected that 3 out of 4 people will be 20 years old. About 10 million young African youth enter the job market yearly. In Sierra Leone, the youth population (15-35yrs) of Sierra Leone is currently estimated to be 32% of the population (2015 Census) and 46% of the population is under 15 years. This means that 78% of our population is below 35 years. This youth bulge is the demographic dividend that we must harness; there are no two ways about it. In my estimation therefore, these elections are about the youth, especially those of you who are working so hard to prepare yourselves for the job market.
But first it is crucial that you take it is as your responsibility to stand your ground, to remain focused because there could be no better time to bring to the fore the issues relating to youths, jobs, and enterprises than right now. Sierra Leone’s vast deposits of extractives including oil, gas and energy resources; and in addition to the fact that our country is home to nearly 60% of uncultivated arable land; are all meaningless if we do not harness what to me is the most important natural resource – our youth population. It is my vision and my responsibility to capitalize on this great resource for the better use of Sierra Leone’s natural wealth. It is only through the more efficient combination of the two that we will be able to create gainful job opportunities, to engender prosperity, and to sustain the transformation and development of Sierra Leone. This is my responsibility because this my Sierra Leone.
And I have the formula, the expertise and the international network to achieve this. From our party’s symbol, the sun, it is obvious that the APC dislikes darkness and backwardness. This is why we have been working and will continue to work hard to banish darkness from Sierra Leone by bringing hydro, thermal, and solar energy to our cities, towns, and to our communities. With electricity, we are bringing in water, and the internet, and then we are building the roads. Together, we are improving services in hospitals, in schools, in universities; and we are encouraging agribusiness and processing through strong private sector participation. Strong companies will come in, banks will expand, and innovation will be stimulated to create opportunities for young people, especially university graduates. For me, you should be at the front and center of this important decision making progress. I have taken it as my responsibility to translate your aspiration to the reality of job creation, all you need to do is to march with me Tolongbo so that after March 7, we would not have to start all over again.
I therefore entreat you to stay with the APC and resist the temptation of political grandiloquence; they can’t bring change; not now. When this country needed change ten years ago, only the APC answered that call. Ours is the only party with the proven track record to effect change and ten years on, we have come a long way. The fact that you are seated here, this moment, in this university, is testimony to the giant strides the APC has taken to empower you. Look around you, look at your hostels, go up at Courtright and you would notice the changes the APC has brought to this great institution. Before 2007, this place, the only opportunity for higher learning in Sierra Leone, was a rundown settlement, a pale shadow of its former self. You have endured years of the most inadequate facilities and services you can ever imagine. But the wait is over, we are changing this opprobrium to make Fourah Bay College, the citadel of higher learning, a place we all will be happy about. And in addition to the University of Sierra Leone, to reduce the overcrowding to expand access to higher education, we have provided alternatives so that if one is not so lucky as some of you to be here, they could have several other options to choose from. These are the opportunities we want to build on.
I have the required international network to expand on the Youth Service Scheme, through Youth Internship programmes, through initiatives such as youth villages to serve as centers of excellence from where you would gain the requisite hands on experience to quickly join the job market. And now that we are poised to take off Tolongbo with the vision of youth empowerment, they have landed with theories that do not benefit from in-country experience. And talking about experience, mine stretches way beyond just one international organization. What Sierra Leone needs to go to the next level of development is not limited experience. No, we need multi – dimensional experience which you can only find within the Tolongbo party. And ‘Tolongbo’ we shall continue on the path of sustaining and of building on the change we have already brought ten years ago. We cannot be taken back; we must stay with my vision and together; we would realize your aspiration – Youths, Jobs, and Enterprises.
Remember, the APC is the only political institution with the proven record to ensure a healthy and educated workforce with the right skills set. We believe that this is in the interest of peace, security and a prosperous Sierra Leone. I believe that a sufficiently educated and gainfully employed population, driven by innovation and technologies would improve living standards and considerably address the risk of social and political instability. Few days ago, I launched the 4G/LTE technology which will better harness the immeasurable potential that lies with the fibre optic. And yesterday, president Koroma launched yet another extension of our port as part of our ongoing programme of making Sierra Leone a transshipment hub; all of which will bring in millions of dollars in revenue. Ultimately, these are part of our package to leverage on the private sector in order to boost business enterprises, to create job opportunities, and also to create the enabling environment for your sharp minds to innovate, start your own businesses and become employers like Mark Zuckerberg and his college mates Dustin Moskovitz, Edwardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum and Chris Hughes who founded Facebook; or Jawed Karim, Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, who founded YouTube. These creative minds have made a difference in our world and made the lives of millions much better. Closer at home in Africa, Fahad Awadh, a 29-year old entrepreneur from Tanzania, set up a cashew processing facility in Tanzania in an effort to bring international standards and traceability to the cashew nuts. He is the founder of an Agro-Processing facility that is adding value locally while creating jobs and boosting the income of farmers and the community as a whole.
Within our sub region, Alloysius Attah, Ghanaian, at 27, founded Farmerline, a Ghanaian software company and social enterprise, in 2013. Attah builds technologies to connect rural customers to information, financial services, and supply chains, with an emphasis on smallholder farmers. Attah is now a successful businessman and has provided employment of scores of his compatriots.
Here at home, our own Kelvin Doe, you all know his story- his engineering innovation – building and powering a radio station from scrap material- has demonstrated that young people in Sierra Leone too can do it.
This reality demands Sierra Leone to think beyond the high sounding political rhetoric of extractives, to promote local industry and entrepreneurship. We must also appreciate that to harness the almost 65% of our labour force in agriculture, there must be a considerable shift to agribusiness with emphasis on value addition.
This is why as a party, we have taken action to do the first things first by easing the movement of our people, goods and services throughout Sierra Leone. Our next step has been to press on with our drive to improve the investment climate and our information and communications infrastructure; increase school enrollment, and improve on university and higher education completion rates. We are also pressing on with the alignment of tertiary and university education to the demands of the labour market.
In all of these, I strongly believe that empowering women and girls should be central to sustainable development. My responsibility is therefore to expand access to deserving students by providing grants to women in universities and colleges. We will expand on the affirmative action of improving the intake of women in the sciences.
There is also the need to redouble our efforts in preparing our young generation for effective political leadership through the appointment of many young people into management positions in ministries, departments and agencies. This is My vision and it is my responsibility to make your aspiration a reality. Tolongbo!
As I close, let me reiterate that evidence has shown that our success in youth empowerment, job creation, and private sector development depends on the investments we make in human capital; particularly amongst young people. With your productivity, entrepreneurship and innovation, we will drive future economic growth by ensuring that the labour market is able to absorb new workers.
These are the realities of our time; these are the issues in these elections; these are the choices you have to make. This is why I am in this race, to discuss with you, to deploy my expertise, and to leverage my international network in ensuring that your aspirations for jobs, entrepreneurship and a better life become my responsibility. Tolongbo!
I thank you.