National and international policy reforms and programmes have focussed on youth exclusion and underemployment in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Liberian Joint Programme on Youth Employment and Empowerment seeks to boost youth employability and enable young people to contribute to peacebuilding. In Sierra Leone, a National Youth Commission established in 2010 engages and advises government ministries and stakeholders on the needs of young people.
The UN, the German Development Cooperation, the World Bank and the European Union set up the $46 million Joint Response to Youth Employment for Sierra Leone in 2010. This includes a Youth Employment and Empowerment Programme, which hopes to generate 61,000 jobs in 2011, rising to 174,000 by 2015. Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Labour in 2008 reported that 45.8 per cent of all unemployed Sierra Leoneans (3 million of a population of 6.5 million) were youths [see Further Reading].
Quick impact projects, such as road-building, digging wells and supporting agriculture, have been aimed at kick-starting local economies and normalising economic conditions for young people in the short-term. Numerous non-governmental organisations also try to complement the efforts of governmental and inter-governmental actors.
But economic challenges for West African youths remain. Private sectors in Liberia and Sierra Leone are small and can only create a limited number of jobs. Public sectors cannot afford good salaries. Employability remains a problem. Many Liberian and Sierra Leonean youths, especially girls and young women, are illiterate and there are few educational opportunities in either country. Even educated youth lack specific employment skills or vocational training.
Many young people have migrated to cities or to other countries in search of opportunities. Freetown and Monrovia have become overcrowded and living conditions are poor. Ami Kanneh describes life in Monrovia:
I have no place to call home. I have to wait every night for the market to be empty so I can find a place to sleep. I eat from leftovers in restaurants and market stalls. Before the war, I had a home and there was food to eat no matter how little. Now I have nothing except my death to wait for.
Youths in Liberia and Sierra Leone feel that there is a lack of will on the part of politicians to help them. They express their anger in different ways. Musicians such as Emerson Bockarie, Pupa-Bajah, the Bow-Wow Society and Dry-Yai Crew are an important voice for young people’s frustrations. Information and communication technologies such as cell phones and social networking are linking young people together.