I have chosen to write in English this time as I am participating in a worldwide annual event named “Blog Action Day” where thousands of bloggers will write on the same subject. This year the subject is inequality and as it is generally the purpose of this blog to describe a Dane’s experiences spending half a year working in two local NGO’s in Tamale, northern Ghana, it is this context I will address. More specifically, I will address youth inequality – that is, the marginalization of youth in relation to other elderly groups in society.
One of the things I intend to show in this post is that inequality has many dimensions. Thus, while inequality is often explained in terms of economic differences between people, the term can imply much more. In this context, it will be become apparent that inequality is certainly an economic issue but also an issue containing social and cultural dimensions. These dimensions are important to acknowledge and seriously engage in if an NGO wishes to address the issue of youth inequality in Northern Ghana.
One of the NGO’s I work in has youth empowerment and employment as its main thematic area as the name “Youth Empowerment for Life” (YEfL) suggests. And it is not without reason that youth have gotten an increased attention as a marginalized group in Northern Ghana in the recent years. YEfL identifies three main problems of youth marginalization: youth unemployment, exclusion from public decision making and the perception of youth as problems. These problems have deep roots that are all interconnected. The job market is very scarce for educated and non-educated young people alike, which means that it is not uncommon to see young people sitting in the street most of the day, drinking tea and playing games while waiting for a job to come along – an attitude which rarely pays off to be frank. This fuels the perception of young people being lazy dependents without valuable skills; a perception which is often adopted by youth themselves. Therefore, youth often do not engage in local political matters, leaving them out of important decision making. In addition to this, wisdom is often perceived to go with age, which is why elderly men traditionally possess positions of political power, most prominently in the traditional chieftaincy system which continues to be a very important part of Ghanaian culture. This is something that is even notable in daily life where younger people are expected to bow when greeting elder people of certain status and where they are not expected to start conversations except for greetings (which are also different depending on age and social status).
There is however another reason for the increased emphasis on youth among Ghanaian NGO’s; that is the unresolved potential they possess. Ghana has a huge population of children and young people with 60 % being less than 25 years old as of 2010. These are the people who will define the tomorrow of Ghana – a tomorrow which could include more gender equality and better democratic governance among other things. That is why the youth needs to be activated to realize this potential which is exactly what YEfL and many other organizations have set forth to do.
However, how can one get to the root of the problem without getting into trouble altering existing power structures? Does empowering the youth not mean taking power away from older people with power?
There is a fine line to follow in this sense. Challenging social hierarchical structures is an explosive cocktail and not something that should be superimposed by outsiders. Therefore, the approach to improve the lives of young people has rather taken a capacity building approach – to build the skills and abilities of the youth from the bottom up. In the case of YEfL, this has led to the extensive building of youth centers all around Northern Ghana where young people can meet and socialize and discuss matters they have at heart. In addition, workshops have been developed to build the young peoples’ capacities as entrepreneurs and in political advocacy issues. Just this Monday a peaceful demonstration was initiated by a group young people to advocate for better roads in the area. 1.000 people attended which is a very decent number in this area. Thus, youth are being helped initiating youth groups where more people stand together to create a strong common voice. In short, the youth that was sitting quietly in the shade of a mango tree drinking tea, waiting for a job, is now doing an active effort to improve his/her life situation. You just need a spark to start a fire.
Interestingly enough, this is a movement which to a large extent is supported by traditional authorities. Working together with and acknowledging these elderly authorities is key, if one wants to have success in any developmental area in this context. And bringing development and improved conditions for people is certainly in many decision makers’ interest; as is realizing the potential of the youth. Getting to the root of the political marginalization is thus not about challenging an existing power structure but rather using it to your advantage. It should then be up to the youth themselves to consider and, if need be, reevaluate the social hierarchical structure and their roles in the future.
It is however still a pretty new area of action. But it is an area with a lot of perspective. This is why I will encourage everyone to support the empowerment of youth in Ghana to overcome the unequal conditions they are facing: they, the youth, the decision makers of tomorrow.
- Youth Empowerment for Life. 2012. Strategic Plan Document: 2012-2016.
- Ghana Venskabsgrupperne, Ghana Developing Communities Association & Youth Empowerment for Life. 2011. Empowerment for Life: Component Description.
#BAD2014, #Inequality and #BlogAction