By Njundu Drammeh
“Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth” Archimedes
Just that: a lever and a place to stand. Just the tools and a little opportunity. Nothing more.
“Our youth are lazy” is probably one of the oft-quoted, moth eaten, commonplace cliches we parrot when youth bashing is on the menu. The generalization is as wrong as it is disingenuous.
Most of our young people or youth, those 22-30years, are struggling hard to be successful in life, doing something for a living, eating from the sweat of their brows. Our young women are a definition of hard work. If you haven’t seen that then you haven’t lived in real Gambia. The philanthropic work being done around the country in this time of Covid-19 is testimony enough. We do not expect our children, those under 18 years and are about 45 percent of our population, to engage in pay work when they are in school. A sizable part of those above 18 years and below 22 years are in tertiary education or struggling to learn a trade. We have a minority living on the fringes, not in school or learning a trade or doing raba raba in town.
But who judges the efforts of a majority by the character of a microscopic minority? And who bothers to know why this minority is lazing away their time? Who cares to engage them in some conversation to discover the underlying factors?
“There is dignity in labour” is a tongue-in-cheek statement. Whose labour? What labour? Whose dignity? Who are those who often shout this statement from their rooftop? Labour is dignified which ensures your “being”, not just a “mere living”. There can only be dignity in a labour which gives you a living wage; ensures the necessaries of life are affordable; is good enough to enable you send the children to a good school, secure the best attainable standard of health, put nutritious food on the table; drive away fear of want and enable you pay the bills and still keep a savings account. What dignity is in a back breaking, laborious work which has no insurance and is both exploitative and hazardous, and whose hard earned money you end up spending on your health care? The unalloyed truth is that all those doing these laborious work just don’t have a choice. If they do, they won’t certainly choose that type of work.
Do you know that “right to work”, dignified work which gives a living wage, is a fundamental human right? As important as right to vote. That the obligation is on the State, as a primary duty bearer, to create employment for its people or provide the enabling policy and economic environment for others, such as the private sector and investors, to create employment. Do you know how many jobs have been created by the State since 2017? What is the legal and policy environment for investors and the private sector to operate and create jobs?
Have you looked at the structural injustices in our society? The privileges at the disposal of a few and the stark life of destitution that stares at the multitude and which is and will be there lot? Have you taken a look at the disparities which exist in terms of infrastructure, the kind of education facilities, the opportunities, between the rural and urban? Have you thought about the despondency which has forced a dangerous migration to Europe? And you think the State doesn’t have obligations towards its people? Obligations to re-examine the education system and prepare the young for a more productive life? Obligation to provide opportunities or create the environment for others to do so?
We can “Tekki Fi” you say. That the opportunities exist for our youth to make it at home, whatever that means. You train them in carpentry, brick making, animal husbandry, poultry, bee keeping, soap making and all the noble trades there are. Kudos. How many do you provide such opportunities for? The furniture of the carpenter you trained, the eggs from the poultry of that young lady, honey and soap made by those young men are in intense competition with similar products from Europe. There is no protection for the cottage industries. And with time they die and youth are thrown out of business. “Tekki Fi” becomes “Togg Fi”. And yes, through the gnawing teeth of corruption these projects and initiatives die a natural death. Have you tried to find out how much donor funds have been spent on such projects for the youth in the last 10 years?
From our privileged positions and ivory towers we can condemn our youth as being lazy. What do we know since we haven’t travelled a month in their moccasins. Those who have, and I assume most of us have, know the struggle of a father or a mother who has no western education, vocational training, privileges or sibling up the ladder to provide the basic necessaries of life. A parent the most hardworking, living on the sweat of his brow, but a victim of structural injustices. By dint of hard work, not any luck, most of these children get out of this rut and rot. Many others remain in it, victims of cyclical and intergenerational poverty.
And you as political leader want to instill the value of hard work in our children and youth? Be exemplary. Mirror it. Walk the talk. Live on the sweat of your brow. Live within your income or salary. Take your children to the public schools. Visit the public hospitals. Insist that all children start the race of life on the same lane. Be incorruptible. Be the change you want to see in the country. Be the role model. Have character and integrity. Let your words and actions match. Wish for other children what you wish for your own.
No, our youth aren’t lazy. We have just failed them since independence with policies, structures, laws and practices which lack vision, ingenuity, innovation and aren’t empowering enough. We haven’t and aren’t harnessing the dynamism of youth and the dividend that comes with it. And since children and youth comprise about 60 percent of our population, we will be the loser if we fail to give them the tools.