While people under 35 years of age represent more than half of the Gambian population, the needs of young people’s leadership development remain acute. Despite the challenges young people face in The Gambia, we are still presented with opportunities. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address the issue of unemployment both in the short and long term.
Statistically speaking, 69% of the population of The Gambia (1.5 million) live below the poverty line: less than 1 dollar a day (2003 estimates). The youth make up about 67% percent of the population and more than half of the work force. Unemployment rates within the ranks of the youth is estimated at over 40%. Therefore, if the youth make up about 67% of the population, more than half of them are not employed, which is worrisome.
Over the years, we have seen an increase in rural urban migration. In 2003, the estimated population of the Greater Banjul Area was at 55% of the total population of The Gambia, showing a highly urbanized population trend. Most of these people migrating to the urban centers are young men and women searching for better living conditions as opposed to that of their rural communities. Even though the issue of illegal migration has subsided in recent years, the number one driving force is still existent, unfortunately.
The number of unemployed youth in the Gambia is ascending, and as such, authorities should be alerted so as to take cautious action in order to prevent social strife. Our greatest challenge in The Gambia is to make future plans. Most people live by the day.Thus, these attitudes translate to the governance structure: planning basically caters for the present generation without considering the unborn ones. This might be due to the low human resource capacity of the country. However, as a nation growing, we must continuously cater for the unborn generation. After all, the great Olof Njie says ‘Elek dou anj dou rerr, wayi lou meuta seyda la‘. Therefore, there is a great need to train many young Gambians with the requisite knowledge to take on the challenges faced by the country.
Every year, the number of high school leavers remains acute and yet there is no corresponding job market for the thousands turned out by our Secondary Institutions. Most of these young people generally don’t seek employment immediately; instead they choose to further their studies in order to get a well paid job so as to take care of their families, most of whom are relatively poor. However,a great number of them end up dropping out because they can’t afford the expensive tuition fees charged by the tertiary institutions, both government and private. However, one should not be too naïve to ignore the relevance of institutions like The Gambia College, which provides free tertiary education to aspiring teachers, nurses, agricultural extension workers and public health officers. This has, for long, been helping in a way to curb the issue of pursuing higher education. Even though some people go to the college because they have no other option, it still helps in clearing the streets of unengaged young men and women.
Currently, the lack of substantial data is a major challenge as we don’t know the exact number of youth who are unemployed. The ready availability of data is vital for any nation’s progress as this helps policy makers to make informed choices. Hence, there is a need for the Central Bureau of Statistic to do more in gathering relevant information for the socio-economic development of The Gambia.
The government has, over the years, initiated projects to address the issue of unemployment. The creation of NYSS, GamJobs and NEDI is a clear manifestation. Nevertheless, one is tempted to ask how viable these institutions are in catering for the demands of the majority of the population? Most young people go to these institutions mainly because they lack the necessary skills to compete in other lucrative areas. Others enroll, knowing it would be easy to pass time elsewhere and not get noticed. Therefore, they employ their survival instincts to be anywhere. Some young people have also been absorbed in the various security services, which is a good thing. But how much more can they take?
We all know the consequences of not providing young people with the right environment and skills to pursue happiness. For a long time, we have seen the older generation heaping blame on the young people for not taking up the opportunities provided to them, and yet, the same people frustrate the efforts of these young people they criticise. Therefore, if we want to fight crime and improve the lives of young people, we must stop blaming them and start understanding them and their needs. I think that is what we lack in our quest for development in The Gambia. There should be thorough research and consultations with young people so as to tackle the issues at hand.
It is therefore, the responsibility of all stakeholders to assess, analyze and evaluate the problems and eventually, devise solutions to them. The Gambia depends on its human resources and we all smugly resort to the famous proverb, ‘the youth are the future leaders of tomorrow’. It is high time we realize that young people are actually leaders in the making and should, therefore, be equipped with the basic skills, knowledge, expertise and opportunities to enable them take up their responsibilities when the future finally comes.