By Madi Jobarteh
On International Human Rights Day 2019, where do The Gambia youth stand?
The Theme for this year’s International Human Rights Day is: Youth Standing Up for Human Rights. In its statement the United Nations provided a justification of this year’s theme as thus:
“Under our universal call to action “Stand Up for Human rights,” we aim to celebrate the potential of youth as constructive agents of change, amplify their voices, and engage a broad range of global audiences in the promotion and protection of rights.”
As we celebrate this day, the youth of The Gambia are already perishing in the high seas in their effort to seek better lives for themselves and their parents and families elsewhere simply because they cannot find opportunities and hope in their own motherland. Indeed, the change that The Gambia enjoys today and the comfort and better lives the leaders in government have is thanks to the masses of Gambian youths who stood their ground to oust tyranny out of the country in 2016. Yet three years down the line, the youth continue to be betrayed, exploited, oppressed and misused.
For twenty-two years, the ‘Back Way’ became one of the major avenues through which youths find their way to seek greener pastures. Many other youths especially our young women went to seek jobs in the Middle East where many faced abuse and untold suffering. The plight of our youth goes back to the very beginning of independence when the necessary opportunities that must be created were not created by successive governments until today.
In The Gambia right now most young people cannot obtain higher education because university fees are beyond their reach. The only public training institutions such as The Gambia College, GTTI, MDI or RDI in Mansa Konko are all not only expensive but also hugely poor in terms of facilities and services. The dilapidation at NYSS or PIA are even beyond words! Apart from these facilities and institutions most of which, except The Gambia College and RDI are all stationed within the greater Banjul area one will find it difficult to locate any other in the other regions –CRR or URR or NBR!
When one looks at the national budget constantly one will see the limited resources allocated to the Ministry of Youth and Sports. If budget is an indicator as to what is priority or no priority for a government then it is safe to say that indeed youths are not the priority for The Gambia Government. So long as the government does not invest in sectors and facilities and services that cater for the youth there is no way that youth will grow and develop! Yet this is the realty in The Gambia since Independence.
The economic policies pursued by The Gambia Government do not in any way empower young people to obtain or create jobs and earn a decent living. Not only are taxes high, but interest rates are also very high while inputs such as water and electricity remain expensive, erratic and not available everywhere. Therefore, how could a young entrepreneur start a business and grow?
In light of the foregoing who therefore is pushing young people into the Sahara Desert and the high seas to perish other than The Gambia Government? Young people must therefore realize that on a day like today the ball is in their court. One can wish to continue to build hope in the empty words of politicians and the government but the fact remains that there is no tangible plan on the ground to transform the lives of the young into one of dignity and prosperity.
Therefore, it is high time Gambian youths begin to exercise their power as the majority in the country to defend their rights and make the government provide the opportunities for the upliftment of the youth. The youth must demand tangible deliverables and action-based commitments to achieve those deliverables.
If that requires that the youth embark on massive demonstrations across the country, then they must do so. If it requires that youths take the local and central governments to court to claim their rights and demand opportunities, then they must do so. Remember that politicians and public servants will not yield to anything that does not put pressure on them. For far too long our youth have made life comfortable and easy for politicians and public officials and it is high that this ends forthwith!
Mere talking is not enough. Empty promises are not enough. Everywhere young people are rising up to demand opportunities and defend rights. In Haiti young people are combating corruption and demanding jobs by going out on the streets. In Hong Kong young people are standing against threats to their human rights and democracy from forces inside Hong Kong and China. In France young people are in yellow vests standing against bad economic policies. In Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Russia it is young people standing against corruption, bad leadership and abuse.
Our youth are no different. The Gambia is not an exception. Our youth must refuse to be born in poverty to grow up and live in poverty and die in poverty. Our youth pay taxes. Their parents pay taxes. Therefore, our youth must refuse deprivation and lack of opportunities while few men and women who obtained power on the back of young people stay at the top to swim in public wealth like parasites with impunity.
In Finland it is young women who are leading because that society and their leaders built workable systems and then invested in their young people to empower them such that today a bunch young of women are leading that nation. The only reason young people cannot lead in The Gambia is because we never have a government and leaders who value and invest and empower our young people. This is why they failed to build the necessary foundations and create opportunities for young people to empower themselves to become producers, leaders, thinkers and managers!
Young people of The Gambia, stand up! Now! You have been betrayed, hoodwinked, bamboozled, exploited and oppressed for far too long. You owe no one an apology or approval to stand up. Make this country a place that you deserve. So far our politicians and governments have shown that they lack the capacity, concern and willingness to create a Gambia you deserve. Do not let anyone scare or mislead you with imaginary fears about anything. The ball is in your court.