Unemployment has been a challenging phenomenon for young people in Sierra Leone. Over 70% of an already youthful population are without jobs or a source of income. With that in play, the disenfranchised crop of young men and women who are unskilled and illiterate are left at the mercy of drug intake, prostitution, burglary, and many other social vices. I mean, you can witness the gloomy faces and disorderly outlook of young people across the towns and cities.
Nevertheless, one must give a little bit of credit to so many other young people. Some are willing to press on and secure a path to greener pastures and upkeep. However, there seems to be a problem. The level at which there is a misguided political consciousness in the country has posed a significant threat. It has hampered the prospect of having many people equally access the opportunities meant for all.
This misguided political consciousness is one where beneficiaries of a given opportunity are linked to a particular set of ethnicity or political party by default. In other words, a member of Party Z is given a managerial job at the Central Bank because he is a stakeholder of Party Z. Therefore, every bureaucracy or government institution introduces its own set of party loyalists and sympathizers when there is a change of government. In that case, one’s educational qualifications become useless and less considered.
This unhealthy dynamic of political patronage had once contributed to the country’s 11-year civil war. Now, the repetition of this system is still embedded in public places of work and even government institutions. Here are two accounts or testimonies that were gathered from young people who were caught in a similar situation and deprived of an opportunity.
The Freetown Terminal (Water Quay) is home to the country’s largest port. The demand to work at the Port of Freetown is high. Thus, it has been perceived that one should have an integral connection to work in the structure. I once encountered a graduate from Fourah Bay College who was complaining intensely about the insincere protocols in gaining employment. He was privy to a job advertisement at the Freetown Terminal which he hastily applied for. He was called for an interview, only for him to be rejected. Well, of course, it is bound to happen at job interviews. However, the reason for this turndown is preposterous. The interviewer made it point-blank clear that his surname was a problem in attaining the position. His surname had not matched with that of the folks in governance since ethno-regional politics have been the order of the day. He revealed how this has been a norm for ages with a grin. You can sense the disappointment and anguish in his tone. Sadly, this is the same situation for many people like him.
Another graduate briefed me of a horrible experience she witnessed at a public institution. Fresh from university and wanting to make sense of her degree, she applied for a job at one government institution in Freetown. She arrived at the building where she met other interviewees as well. To her astonishment, they were asked to present their party cards to the interviewer. She didn’t own any. Another lady had hers which was the preferable document. Guess what? The lady had the job.
These scenarios aren’t a misconception or a political plot. It is an evidential problem bordering on the lives of so many Sierra Leoneans. We often choose not to talk about it, but the fact remains that this is a threat to peace and national cohesion. Even for local establishments or SMEs to thrive, one’s political affiliation and regional background come into contemplation. It is just definite that one must have a party document or an ethno-regional link of the political party in governance to have a job or be landed an opportunity.