Opening statement by President Adama Barrow at the 13th National Youth Conference and Festival in Banjul from 15 to 23 December 2022

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It is quite thrilling and inspiring to be in the midst of a cross section of the youth of this nation, who constitute not only the backbone of our human resource, but also the most vibrant and promising segment of our community.

As you converge in the capital city of Banjul for the 13th edition of the National Youth Conference and Festival, NAYCONF, I reassure you, on behalf of the government and people of The Gambia, that the entire nation is with you, either physically, morally, or in spirit. For all of us, this is an event that rekindles our hopes and strengthens our faith in the youth.

Because everyone wants to be considered a youth or remain youthful throughout one’s life, the act of categorising the youth varies as a concept from country to country, or organisation to organisation, or person to person.

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In The Gambia, we boast of a youthful population, based on the evidence that more than seventy per cent of the population are under the age of thirty-five. This makes us comfortable to look into the future and conclude that the country has immense potential to develop, and we have a lot to tap into with the younger generation.

There is agreement that the youths are the cream of society, and they play an important role in the socio-economic advancement of nations.

It is vital, therefore, to hear their ‘voice’ and, indeed, listen to them attentively.

NAYCONF is an event that allows this to happen. It also creates openings to explore and promote youth matters and to chart new pathways in the best interest of the youth and from their perspective.

Out of necessity, NAYCONF derives its legitimacy from the National Youth Council Act 2000. We applaud it as a peaceful convergence that accommodates festivity and sport alongside in-depth reflection on serious issues and productive work that attracts Government’s attention and influences policy and programme development.

Over the years, the Government has been taking the NAYCONF resolutions with utmost importance. This, in itself, clearly manifests the significance of NAYCONF as a platform to articulate ideas, examine issues, propose solutions to challenges, and initiate change and development.

This year’s theme, The Role of Young People in the Maintenance of Peace and Security for Socio-Economic Development Opportunities and Challenges, is definitely suitable, considering that The Gambia has embraced democratic values and principles for inclusive growth, development, progress, and stability. These cannot be attained in the absence of sustained peace and security.

As a result, the need is obvious for the youth to take a lead role in jealously safeguarding our peace and security. Hand-in-glove, we must work to guarantee prosperity and stability so that future generations lead comfortable lives in peace and be proud of us all.

We are encouraged that Gambian youths have taken the responsibility to discuss issues of education, technology and innovation, entrepreneurship, and skills. It is through these elements that the youth can be empowered enough to become more productive and better useful citizens.

I acknowledge the strides taken by the National Youth Council to bring all the youths under one umbrella and represent their interests.

With certainty, there cannot be any peace anywhere without the absolute cooperation of the youth; so, I advise all young persons and citizens in the country to remain peaceful and law-abiding and defend or claim their rights in a civil and democratic manner.

The government will continue to provide the enabling environment for Gambian youths to succeed in the country without the need to embark on dangerous journeys.

For this reason, the forthcoming national blueprint, The Recovery Focus National Development Plan, contains youth issues as a stand-alone Pillar and not a critical enabler, as in the previous plan.

In addition, the legal and statutory documents of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and its satellite institutions are currently under review. The reviews will put these institutions on a better footing to serve the needs of all Gambian youths.

A five-year Strategic Plan, 2022-2026 for the Ministry has also been developed for a keener focus on youth matters.

I thank the UN Peace-building fund, through UNFPA, for providing the needed funds for the successful implementation of these instruments.

As you may know already, I recently launched the National Employment Policy and Action Plan – 2022-2026.

Its goal is to create gainful and decent employment opportunities for the growing labour force to improve their living conditions and contribute to economic growth and national development within the framework of equity, fairness, security, and dignity.

We are now on course towards achieving the Youthconnekt Goals, which include creating jobs and opportunities through education, entrepreneurship and skills, as well as closing the gender gap. To this effect, we thank the UNDP for their support and Youthconnekt Africa Hub for their collaboration.

The lately ended Tekki-Fii programme, supported through the European Union Trust Fund, has also laid a solid foundation for the Promotion of Entrepreneurship and skills training among young people across all spheres of the country’s economy. All these indicate the serious and passionate regard my government has for the youth.  

As we head towards the local government elections next year, I urge you all to spread the message of peace. Elections are not meant to incite trouble. Instead, they are a peaceful means of choosing representatives. Your role, as youths, to make sure that all elections are peaceful is critical and, therefore, solicited.

We are aware of the efforts of the National Youth Council and its youth organisations in spreading the message of peace and tolerance. Continue loving one another with conviction, knowing that unity is the only avenue through which we can collectively achieve our goals as a people.

Besides being present, it is my singular joy and honour to declare the 2022 National Youth Conference and Festival officially open. I wish you a very fruitful and memorable week of exciting activities. God bless us all.