Liberia

Liberia

Located on the west coast of Africa with the Atlantic Ocean on its western border, Liberia has an estimated population in 2010 of about 4 million people, of which 2 million are under the age of 18. Liberia has a GNI per capital of US$ 190. [1]

Youth Civic Participation Overview

Liberia has a large population of young people willing to become involved in the future of their country if opportunities are available. There are many civil society organizations active in Liberia focusing on peace-building, combating HIV/AIDS and poverty, and rebuilding infrastructure.

For example, the Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), established in May of 1974, is an umbrella organization of youth organizations in Liberia. FLY organizes and coordinates youth and student activity throughout Liberia. FLY’s stated goals are to “direct social change wherever possible and necessary, to organize the young people of Liberia into active youth service corps, and to cooperate and work with other agencies and youth groups on a national or international level. FLY is currently engaged in a program called Mapping Up which is a mapping exercise to determine the number of youth organizations in each county in Liberia and their capacity, focus and membership. FLY also conducts regular youth leadership trainings and conferences which provide basic leadership skills and education to young Liberians while also promoting cultural interaction and cultivating new friendships.[2]

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in partnership with UNDP and USAID, implements the Mano River Union Youth, Peace and Development Forum. The Forum exists to enhance youth participation in reconciliation, stabilization and peace-building throughout the Mano River Union Countries. In 2004, 48 youth representatives from all of the Mano River Union Countries, including: Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire, were brought together to discuss concerns, needs and priorities in an effort to examine potential cross-border peace-building and reconstruction projects throughout the region. In addition to providing young people with the opportunity to participate in the process, these projects strive to facilitate job creation, rebuilding of houses, training in agriculture, conflict management and peace-building. [3]

Policy Overview

The National Youth Policy (NYP) of Liberia should be seen as a basis for prioritizing public actions and programs undertaken by the government and other youth serving agencies, primarily to ensure that they make an impact in responding to the aspirations of young people. The NYP is consistent with existing laws of Liberia and the broader development aspirations of the country. Specifically, it is an integral part of the past conflict recovery and reconstruction phase, articulating the needs, defining the roles and spelling out the responsibilities of young people of Liberia. The overall goal of the NYP is to promote youth participation in the national decision making process. It also aims to enable young people to provide input in community activities, national programs and democratically chosen youth-centered activities and initiatives. The NYP emerges out of the needs expressed by young people themselves and their desire to stake their claim in national life. At the global level, the NYP is a means to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development goals by articulating the key role of youth in society. [4]

Liberia’s Ministry of Youth and Sports oversees youth affairs. The Liberian National Youth Policy developed out of the National Youth Consultative Conference in August 2005. This conference brought together government ministers, heads of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and young people from all over Liberia to commit to drafting a National Youth Policy for Liberia.[5] The resulting policy emerged four months later, with the Liberian National Youth Policy of 2005.[6] The Youth Policy aims to empower its young people “to take initiative and promote the spirit of national service, volunteerism and self-help activities” through equal opportunity, civic responsibility and active participation at all levels.[7] Additionally, it aims to promote youth participation in the national decision making process and is also formulated to provide an appropriate framework that will promote fundamental human rights and protect the health, social, economic and political well being of all young men and women in order to enhance their participation in the overall development process and improve their quality of life. [8]

The administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf formally endorsed the Policy, [9] and in December 2006 the Minister of Youth and Sports called on the Liberian legislature to enact the Youth Policy by passing the National Youth Law, which would enforce the National Youth Policy and pave the way for its implementation.[10] However, to date the Liberian legislature has not passed the law enacting the National Youth Policy. It is before the legislature and the government continues to push for its approval. [11]

In June 2007, the Government of Liberia and the United Nations Development Fund signed an agreement establishing the National Youth Volunteer Service (NYVS) program of Liberia. This three-year program is funded by Liberia and UNDP and managed by UN Volunteers (UNV). In this program, about 100 graduates each year from different Liberian universities serve a 12-month term volunteering in locations throughout Liberia. The program began in 2008 with a class of 100 volunteers [12] and in 2009 it had 121 participants. [13] The third class was deployed in 2010, numbering 122 participants.[14] Participants teach in elementary schools and carry out health awareness campaigns against malaria, cholera, STDS, HIV/AIDS and TB. They also organize environment cleaning campaigns to educate the community on environmental issues and develop peace-building campaigns to reduce divisions and polarization after 15 years of civil conflict.[15] UNV is scheduled to turn over the program to the Liberian government at the end of 2010, at which point the government will assume the running and funding of the program.

Rationale/Background

Liberia recently emerged from years of war and civil conflict. As a result, the country’s industry and infrastructure are depleted and there exists limited economic opportunities for young people in Liberia. The vast majority of Liberian affected by the war was the youth, a large number of whom now feel alienated, frustrated and vulnerable. Some of these youth were witnesses to the horrific murders being carried out in their country, and some of them were the main perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Changing their mindset is at the top of the priority list. Liberia’s youth are most affected by change and also have the potential to be the most powerful agents of change. This means that Liberian youth could either sustain peace of generate further instability in the country. [16] Liberia has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in West Africa, with one in three females aged 15-19 years old having a child.[17] Additionally, unemployed and idle young people are increasingly at risk of drug and substance abuse, further exposing them to HIV/AIDS.[18] As a result, Liberia’s National Youth Policy (NYP, 2005) identifies youth unemployment and idleness as one of the country’s most pressing issues, one that exacerbates many other social and economic problems.[19] The NYP calls for access to secondary schools and skills training to be among the nations priorities, along with support programs and services geared toward unemployed young people. Furthermore, the policy recognizes the fact that the Liberian labor market is not producing the necessary number of jobs to sustain additionally trained young people. [20] As a result, government initiatives and civil society are striving to enhance youth employment prospects through civic participation activities that build participant skills while addressing community needs.

Going Forward

The formulation and adoption of the Liberian NYP was a major step forward in addressing the pressing issues confronting the youth in the country. It is the resolve of the government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Federation of Liberian Youth and other partners and stakeholders that this policy does not sit in one corner but rather, be further enacted into a National Youth Law by the National Legislature to set the basis for enforced implementation. [21]

The current UNV-managed NYVS is scheduled to be turned over to the Government of Liberia for management, but government officials have stated they are not ready to independently implement the program. One reason is because the UNV program has been paying volunteers based on UNV salary levels, which the Government of Liberia cannot afford. Secondly, the program has been facing challenges in recruitment, and, when participation levels are reached, the government has noted a need to convince participants to serve in rural areas. [22] Despite these challenges, Liberia is still making plans for the future of the program. President Sirleaf stated that individuals will have to go through the service scheme in order to qualify for a civil service post, and going forward Liberia would like to see more volunteers engage in agriculture and farming techniques in order to assist the nation as it faces chronic food shortages and a large urban population that is hesitant to repopulate rural areas and engage in farming. [23]

Contact Information

George Wisner, Assistant Minister for Afro-Asian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gwisner19@yahoo.com
Sam Hare, Deputy Minister of Youth Development, Ministry of Youth and Sports, serashare@yahoo.com
Veronica Snoh, Executive Officer, Federation of Liberian Youth, veronicasnoh@yahoo.com
Rukaya Mohammed, Program Officer, UNV, rukaya.mohammed@undp.org
Olufemi Olugbemi, Program Manager, UNV, olugbemi@un.org

Additional Resources

Ministry of Youth & Sports: http://www.moys.gov.lr/
National Youth Service news in Liberia

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[1] “Liberia,” UNICEF Info by Country, Web, 16 November 2012, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/liberia_statistics.html
[2] Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Web, 30 September 2010, http://www.flyliberia.org/Programs.html.
[3] Youth and Violent Conflict, Society and Development in Crisis?, UNDP, Web, 30 September 2010, http://www.undp.org/cpr/whats_new/UNDP_Youth_PN.pdf.
[4] African Development Forum, “Country Brief: Liberia”, Presented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Republic of Liberia, November 2006, Web, 15 November 2012, http://www.uneca.org/adfv/docs/Report_Consultation_Liberia.pdf
[5] Press Release: Over 150 Youth end a Week-long Youth Conference Charting a new Future…‘Kakata Declaration’ heralds new Youth Policy for Liberia, UNDP Liberia, Web, 30 September 2010, http://www.lr.undp.org/pressreleaseKakataDeclaration2.pdf. Note: The National Youth Policy Process was a multi-partner initiative, championed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and including the Federation of Liberian Youth, UNDP, UNMIL, Action Aid Liberia, UNICEF, USAID and the YMCA.
[6] Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY), Web, 21 October 2010, http://www.flyliberia.org/index.html.
[7] “A National Youth Policy for Liberia: A Framework for Setting Priorities and Executing Action,” Republic of Liberia, December 2005, Web, 30 September 2010, www.flyliberia.org/Youth%20Policy%20-%20Final%20Doc%2006.doc.
[8] Presentation by Mohammed A. Nasser, President, Federation of Liberian Youths, September 18, 2012, “ The Revised National Youth Policy (2012-2017), Web, November 14, 2012, http://www.sfcg.org/programmes/childrenandyouth/pdf/WNCAC%20presentation…
[9] “Liberian President Advocates Youth Empowerment,” Ghana News Agency, 20 February 2010,Web, 21 October 2010, http://www.ghananewsagency.org/s_social/r_12687/.
[10] “Country Brief: Liberia,” African Development Forum, November 2006, Web, 21 October 2010, http://www.uneca.org/adfv/docs/Report_Consultation_Liberia.pdf.
[11] Conversation between Jean Manney, Innovations in Civic Participation, and Sam Hare, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister for Youth Development, Republic of Liberia, July 2010, On file with author.
[12] “UNV Supports New Volunteer Program in Liberia,” United Nations Volunteers, Web, 21 October 2010, http://www.unv.org/en/news-resources/news/doc/-6be38f25bd.html.
[13] “Illustrative Program Description – Youth Service Corps in Liberia Created by EQUIP3 / Youth Trust,” Web, May 2006, 21 October 2010, http://www.equip123.net/docs/e3-LiberiaServiceCorps.pdf.
[14] Manney/Hare, 2010.
[15] “UNV Supports New Volunteer Program in Liberia.”
[16] African Development Forum, “Country Brief: Liberia”, Presented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Republic of Liberia, November 2006, Web, 15 November 2012, http://www.uneca.org/adfv/docs/Report_Consultation_Liberia.pdf
[17] “Liberia: Acute Malnutrition a ‘Social Problem.,” IRIN, Web, 23 November 2009, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=87104.
[18] “Illustrative Program Description – Youth Service Corps in Liberia Created by EQUIP3 / Youth Trust.”
[19] Ibid.
[20] “A National Youth Policy for Liberia: A Framework for Setting Priorities and Executing Action.”
[21] African Development Forum, “Country Brief: Liberia”, Presented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Republic of Liberia, November 2006, Web, 15 November 2012, http://www.uneca.org/adfv/docs/Report_Consultation_Liberia.pdf
[22] Manney/Hare 2010.
[23] Ibid.