As Guinea has moved from crisis to crisis, with development perpetually stalled, its youth have been side-lined, lacking the means to make a decent living or to take the mineral-rich country forward.
This is the view of many young Guineans and aid experts, who say the country lacks a comprehensive strategy for its youth, who make up more than half the population.
“Efforts by the government are one-off, usually projects supported by NGOs,” said Mamadou Dian Baldé, head of protection at the international NGO Terre des Hommes (TdH) in Guinea. “Programmes are fragmented. There is no dynamic, global policy coordinated by the state.”
Guinean sociologist Alpha Amadou Bano Barry says the “multiplicity” of projects for the youth has young people chasing initiatives and trying to adapt to them. It should be the other way around, say young Guineans; programmes should begin with the youths’ reality, needs and ideas.
“Those who want to help the youth need to come hear us,” said Tambaké Tounkara, coordinator of Guinea’s chapter of the regional group Association of Child and Youth Workers (AEJT). He said projects for youth are often conceived by outsiders without youths’ participation.
Better projects needed
The UN has just completed a study of government, NGO and UN projects targeting the country’s youth, to catalogue what is underway and better coordinate efforts, according to Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah.
“In Guinea as in other countries you have a ministry for youth, you have a ministry that deals with vocational training, a ministry that deals with education, another for social affairs – and all these ministries tend to deal with aspects of the youth problem,” he told IRIN. He said the government needs to fuse these different strategies to begin responding effectively to youth challenges like unemployment, high dropout rates and violence.
He said some UN projects have been fragmented and short-term. “In many UN-targeted interventions, we have provided jobs or training at critical moments in order to prevent youth being used for demonstrations and, potentially, violence. They are all pilot schemes, and the question becomes how you scale them up - hence this study.”
The youth unemployment rate in Guinea is estimated at 60 percent, according to government statistics. Guinea’s Peacebuilding Commission, created in 2011, listed youth and women’s employment as one of three top priorities, along with national reconciliation and security sector reform.
When Guinea held its first legitimate presidential election, in 2010, youths had high hopes. But the transition has yet to be completed - the country still has no elected parliament - and, as the European Union says in a recent paper, this institutional gap, poor governance and general insecurity have severely hampered Guinea’s development.
“Today the refrain is ‘wait - after the legislative elections, things will improve for the youth’,” said AEJT member Charles Keïta. “But the youths want to know: wait until when?”
Amara Camara, 19, quit his studies and left N’zérékoré for the capital, Conakry, to find work to help his aging parents. He sells clothing in a market known as “Bordeaux”, where vendors, most of them university graduates, sell used clothes and shoes.
“The government says that after the legislative elections, corporations will come and there will be mechanisms to help us apply and get jobs,” he said. “People are preparing their CVs and hoping, but many are sceptical because, for as long as we can recall in Guinea, people get jobs through connections, not competence. We’ll see.”
Government spokesperson Albert Damantang Camara says the government’s principal enemy is time. “To say to youths - who for years lack[ed] training and jobs - that they must wait some more, that’s difficult. To tell them that the most important deadline right now is the legislative elections and that after that we’ll see the prospects, this adds to their scepticism and their thinking that they are being manipulated. Unfortunately, these are necessary steps.”
He acknowledges that efforts for the youth have been disjointed.
“To a certain extent, the young people are right. Many African countries have been in crisis, and for a long time the only sector that generated employment was the humanitarian or social affairs sector, led by NGOs that come with targeted and limited programmes with jobs that are not sustainable,” he said.
“Today, despite that we’re seeing growth, this has not yet translated into employment opportunity and creation of wealth. In Guinea, we’ve got many long-term programmes underway that will create jobs once the political and institutional environment lends itself to that," he said. He referred to the amended 2013 mining code, which pushes companies to prioritize the hiring and training of local Guineans, as well as ongoing work with other businesses to train Guinean youths.
But another question is whether Guinea’s young people will be equipped for those jobs.
The International Monetary Fund said in a recent paper that Guinea must make reforms to ensure people have the right skills for the job market in emerging sectors such as agriculture, tourism and mining.
“The lack of vocational training programs in secondary and tertiary education leads to an excessive orientation towards general education with a focus on humanities,” the IMF says. “This is a serious problem for a country that requires manpower with technical and scientific knowledge and competencies…for its economic and social development.”
Government spokesperson Camara, who is also the minister of technical education and professional training, told IRIN the government is working to link training and education with the requirements of the job market. “We are all working toward that goal. It’s a long-term undertaking.”
AEJT's Tounkara pointed out that the government and civil society must also have a plan for those who have not received formal educations.
Despite the odds, most youth are optimistic.
“Here’s a positive thing we’ve got going for us,” said Fatoumata Binta Sow, 17, a member of AEJT. “We are here, and we continue the fight every day.”
Still, there are youths who turn to violence, abetted by Guinea’s socio-political instability and culture of impunity.
“Indeed there is a strong link between idleness and violence,” said Mohamed Sylla, who works at the mayor’s office in Conakry and runs a youth-led NGO. “A young man with an empty stomach is a rebel. His parents or other authorities just can’t reach him. He is idle, prone to drug use, and ready to lash out at the slightest trigger.”
AEJT coordinator Tounkara said that whenever there are political demonstrations, many youths join out of pure exasperation. “Many have no interest whatsoever in or even knowledge of the candidate or the cause of the day - they simply take advantage of the demonstration to vent their frustration.”
“We can deal with poverty, but not extreme poverty,” Tounkara said. “We can accept lacking some things, but not lacking everything.”
By neglecting the youth, authorities are undermining the country’s long-term prospects, he pointed out. “People mustn’t kid themselves. This country’s greatest wealth is its youth - not gold or diamonds.”
TdH’s Baldé said an important first step in reassuring the country’s youth is simply to reach out to them. “Civil society and the authorities must acknowledge that they have failed the youth. That’s the first step in gaining their trust.”