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Mobilizing the Youth, as drivers and beneficiaries of Ethiopia's development

By Eshete Hailu
Tigrai Online, November 18, 2013

EPRDF's Youth League conducted its two-days Congress yesterday.

It was held, alongside the EPRDF women league, under the theme of “Organized participation and benefit of Women and Youth on the basis of Meles’ thought for Renaissance”.

EPRDF Chairperson, EPRDF and Government senior officials, celebrities, Media houses, Civil societies, artists, micro and small enterprise owners, teachers and students, civil servants, and other international delegates.

More than 1300 participants of whom 1000 women and youth league members, and 300 invited guests participated in the congress.

The EPRDF youth league is established: "to carry on and sustain the successful transformation struggle being implemented by the prior generation of EPRDF Keeping the track and with high conviction believing the struggle should be sustained by the contemporary youth."

Ethiopian youth have carried out multi-faceted activities under the various political systems and during the country's various historic moments. Ethiopian youth had worked together in a spirit of unity whenever issues or problems of national interest cropped up. During the early days when opportunities for acquiring modern education were practically nonexistent, Ethiopian youth contributed towards accelerating the economic development of their country by engaging themselves in activities related to agriculture and handicrafts. They were also simultaneously engaged in the defense of their country against external aggressors. And following the introduction of modern education to Ethiopia, the youth have, by expressing protest against all forms of oppression mounted bitter and persistent struggles for economic and social development, justice, democracy and administrative reform

Young students, especially since the 1960s became pioneers in actively and widely mobilizing the community to struggle for their cause. Ethiopian young students, young workers and young farmers have played important roles in the country's political, economic, social, and cultural development efforts. These young students, young workers and young farmers have participated in the country's development efforts through their own initiatives without government recognition on the other hand, through being embraced by various associations, organizations and groupings that were supported by government, which in form and content had various objectives.

They have conducted bitter struggles to bring about drastic positive change in the country by raising the land tenure question, stressing the removal of the decadent political system and other popular issues. Many youths sacrificed their lives for these noble causes. During the period 1974-1990, youth were organized in such a way that they were closely linked with the prevailing political outlook and interest and served the existing political system. As a result, it was a period during which the youth remained isolated from democratic practices.

Even during that challenging period, a large number of youth sacrificed their lives in their struggle to ensure the protection of people's human and democratic rights. And their prolonged struggle and the sacrifice they have paid have brought our country to the present stage where the process of building a democratic system is underway.

Needless to say, the active participation of all segments of the society is an important element to bring about accelerated political, economic, social and cultural development in any country. Since the youth are not only receptive to new ideas but also have the potential capacity for creativity and productivity, they can play a major role in all sectors of development. In order to translate their potential energies and capabilities into fruitful action, however, they need favorable environment. If these conditions are not satisfied, they can immediately fall into the abyss of desperation, neglect everything and can become passive observers of the activities undertaken in the society. Not only that, they will also be exposed to social evils.

In Ethiopia, because of the fact that proper attention has not been given to addressing youth issues and their organizations, the youth were left to waste their great potential to contribute. Various governmental institutions, in line with their respective policies which they have formulated to realize their missions, have been making efforts to address the problems and needs of youth. However, these efforts were not being made in an integrated and satisfactory manner. Consequently, there were no favorable conditions under which the youth could actively and effectively participate in the process of national development and perform multi-faceted tasks that would help accelerate economic and social development, which would in turn ensure their benefits and that of their society.

A favorable political environment is prevailing in present day Ethiopia. Development induced policies and strategies have been formulated and the government has taken a firm position towards translating these policies into practical action. More than at any time in the past, priorities and serious attention have been given to capacity building activities with a view to effectively implementing these policies.

The Government of Ethiopia has, after having closely examined and given serious attention to the issue, established the Ministry of Women, Youth and Sports that has the duty and responsibility to follow up, direct and coordinate youth affairs. In a similar manner, measures have been taken to organize youth bureaus in the regional states. In order to alleviate the problems faced by youth the organization of executive bodies per se would not suffice. It has therefore become necessary to formulate a comprehensive National Youth Policy that would enable the youth to register meaningful results and benefit from the results by actively and widely participating in the country's development efforts and the building of a democratic system. This can only be achieved through the coordination and integration of the hitherto separate efforts being made by various bodies.

Define Youth

Various communities and cultures in Ethiopia and other countries maintain different views and outlook about youth depending on the level of their social and economic development.

This being the case, there is no single definition for the word "Youth". Some countries define the word "Youth” as young persons whose age bracket ranges between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Others refer to young persons as "Youth" when they start to engage themselves in activities that are considered by the community to be expressions of adulthood. For example, the United Nations (UN) defines the youth as persons between 15-24 years; WHO,10-24; and the Ethiopian Social Security and Development Policy, 15-24.

Experiences of other countries indicate that different age ranges have been used in defining youth. For example, Uganda has used the age ranges 12-30; Mauritius 14-29;South Africa 14-28;India 15-35; Nigeria 18-35; Djibouti 16-30 Ethiopian Youth Policy defines youth as to include part of the society who are between 15-29 years.

The Government of Ethiopia has undertaken measures that enable youth to be citizens with democratic outlook, professional competence, skill and ethics so that they can actively, efficiently and widely participate in and benefit from the country's ongoing activities that are aimed at attaining a democratic system and accelerated development. There is no doubt that youth must organize themselves and be in a position to play a leadership role in order to ensure their participation and benefits. All stakeholders are therefore duty bound to support concertedly the efforts of youth with a view to empowering them by building their capacity and competence. In order to direct this integrated activity, it has become necessary to fill in the institutional and policy gaps that existed in the past.

Realizing this, the Ministry formulated the national youth policy in 2004 with the broad objective of ensuring the active participation of youth in the economic, social and cultural life of the country, and to support democratization and good governance. The basic principles of the policy are to ensure that the youth will be active participant and beneficiary of democratization and economic development activities. The policy addresses a wide range of youth issues, ranging from HIV/AIDS to environmental protection and social services.

The policy is based on a study on the situation of youth in Ethiopia conducted by a task force whose members consisted of experts from relevant government institutions, non-governmental offices and representatives of youth associations. Various consultations forums with stakeholders of which more than 50% of the participants were youth were held with the aim gathering and compiling their views and opinions.

The Ethiopian government has also formulated the youth development package to translate in to action the national youth policy based on the formulated strategic plan with the view to alleviate the economic, social and political problems of the youth. The Ethiopian youth development package was also developed through full participation of the youth themselves and their organizations at different forum.

The package recognizes that youth are the strategic force for the implementation of the youth development package in order to address their problems. According to the implementation strategy of the package Participation of young people will be promoted at all stages of programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Young people will not only be passive implementers of of the package that affect their lives but take the leading role in implementing the formulated package. To ensure their participation in all stages of programme implementation, efforts will be made to empower them to be agents of change by providing them technical, material, financial assistance, and training opportunity with relevant and timely information to enhance their overall capacity. The package points measures that have to be taken to efficiently ensure the participation, and to develop entrepreneurship concept and, leadership capacity of youths as

“In order to develop the youth's leadership experience and promote their competence; leadership capacity building system would be designed and put into practice and engage in ventures that would enable to produce an extensive leadership force

Ensure that the training given to youth deployed in small-scale enterprise, urban farming activities and service institutions and to youths that develop them includes entrepreneurship and management training and thereby strengthen youths' leadership capacity and competence.”

It is necessary to review the policy through metrics such as education, health and sports in order to evaluate and appreciate the success of the youth policy and package.

When we take a look at the educational curriculum that had been in use in our country until the recent past, we observe that it was crammed with subjects that would not help in making any significant contribution to the overall development of youth and has not taken into consideration the country's objective socio-economic conditions.

At present, however, and deduction and training program and curriculum that could temper problems have been worked out and are put under implementation.

The number of students in higher institutions was extremely low denying the youth the opportunity and the nation its growth potential. This is more evident when the number of female students was considered. The focus given to rectify this has resulted in unprecedented growth of higher education institutions with more than 100,000 students backed by the almost universal reach of elementary and secondary education and the near full enrollment rate achieved. Various programs that aim to support female students to succeed better have been expanded at secondary and higher educational institutions with significant result. Special needs educational programs are also designed to meet the needs of mentally challenged youth though it is early to assess the results.

The health status of youth was similar to that of the rest of the society. And it is described in relation to the country's economic, social and cultural situation.

The health coverage, has grown tremendously however, it is difficult to say that the youth health services coverage has increased at the desired type, quantity and standard, as is the case with rest of the population. This issue was given due attention by the policy and has shown tremendous improvement with integrated effort with the health extention drive of the Ministry of Health that built an army of youth health workers to educate and assist the public.

This has resulted in improvement of health status of youth women that used to be severely affected by lack of medical help at birth and family planning.

As is well known, youth are in a state of rapid physical and psychological change. Because of their curiosity, enthusiasm and urge to try and see new phenomenon, a considerable number of youth have become addicted to alcohol, smoking, chat, dangerous medical drugs and narcotics drugs all of which are detrimental to health. These and many similar health hazards challenge the youth's proper physical, mental and psychological development. As a result, the youth get exposed to unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, various venereal diseases and most of all, to HIV/AIDS pandemic.

This failure of the health system to bring about attitudinal and behavioral changes in society regarding personal hygiene and environmental sanitation was a major challenge that was addressed by the youth policy. To address this the government has focused on construction of youth centers at kebele level to provide the youth a health alternative to spend their leisure. These centers have served in providing sexual education.

Our society does not seem to have recognized the fact that sports and recreation are essential not only for the youth's physical and mental development and serve as a means of spending their leisure but also considerably serve as platforms where they socialize and develop their communication skill and talent.

It is obvious sports have made contributions towards our country's economic development efforts and considerably promoted the country's image at international arena. It would however be difficult to say that all the necessary requirements for the development and expansion of sports in the country have been fully met. Lack of entertainment facilities such as sports centers, theatres and cultural centers in the vicinities of residential areas and in schools; scarcity of public library services where youth could broaden their scope of knowledge; and lack of physical education training institutions have all had negative impacts on the activity which is directed for inculcating ethical values in the minds of youth and creating healthy and productive citizens. As a result, in-school and out-of-school youth have been forced to spend their leisure in undesirable place and corners.

In this regard, thousands sporting facilities have been constructed, upgraded and maintained in the six years since the adoption of the Policy. Perhaps, one of the major achievements is the construction of hundreds of multi-purpose Youth Centers as well as local football playing games in urban and semi-urban areas across the country. In line with the policy, this was done with the active involvement and contribution of the local population, sectoral offices and other stakeholders.

Using the same principle of community involvement, currently the nation has embarked on the construction of five standard Football Stadiums in main regional cities as well as a Sport academy in the Capital city. The design of a new stadium, with 60,000 seats, to be built in our Capital city has been recently approved and its construction is expected to begin next year.

All this was not a result of knee-jerk decisions or a sudden revelation about the importance of sport. Instead, it was a result of a logical assessment of the economic state of the country.

This is best expressed in what the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said, in 2007(8), during his annual conference with thousands youth representatives convenient from across the country. The youth asked him regarding the level of attention given for the expansion of sport and recreational facilities. Meles responded, as in a humorous, simple and youth-friendly manner of speaking, as follows:

“At first, our whole attention was directed to reducing poverty and improving the economy. You can’t prescribe recreation for a hungry person. But when your stomach becomes fuller and fuller, sporting becomes mandatory for your mental and physical health. Thus, as our country economic condition is improving, we shall allocate more resources for sport and recreational facilities. That is what we are doing now. And, we will continue to allocate more and more resources, in proportion to the progress in the general economy.”