A recently roused youth demographic, including 4-H members, has set its sights on social engagement in Gambia as the country takes its first steps away from the 22-year reign of former leader Yahya Jammeh.
That’s according to Ousman Sonko, vice-principal of the Rural Development Institute’s Department of Community Development and a presenter at the Global 4-H Summit in Ottawa July 11-14, 2017.
Sonko’s talk on the role of youth in national development highlighted Gambia’s political shakeup, which first ousted Jammeh in a December 2016 election in favour of current president, Adama Barrow. There were raised tensions while Jammeh initially refused to step down, Sonko said, adding the former dictator eventually went into exile, allowing Gambia’s first parliamentary election since the December result.
Gambia’s youngest voters, historically a low-turnout demographic, were active in the 2016 election, driven by employment and social concerns. Unemployment plagues about 38 per cent of Gambia’s youth between the ages of 13-30, according to a 2015 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At the same time, Sonko said, youth between 13-35 years old make up about 67 per cent of Gambia’s population, making them a potential political force.
It was a role that Barrow noted during an interview with Al Jazeera soon after winning the election.
“We will not forget the youth,” he said. “We will focus on job creation so that we can win their confidence.”
4-H fuels democracy
Sonko said youth organized voter-education events and were active in campaigning, social media and conflict resolution before and after the election.
“4-H, as a matter of fact, is at the forefront at all levels, because 4-H has been in my country since 1987 and since then it has been doing beautiful work to produce leaders. We have produced youth volunteers. We have also produced mentors,” he said. “Some of those important forums are spearheaded by 4-H volunteers.”
Sonko also pointed to the role of sports and activism in youth empowerment. Increased literacy and connection over social media has fostered this involvement in activism, he said.
Leadership, service and community engagement were among the key topics as representatives from 35 countries gathered in Ottawa.
Krista Scaldwell, vice-president of communications with Great West Life and the opening keynote speaker of the summit, said 4-H could “build leaders that can have difficult dialogues,” with potential partner companies.
“We need to know what our role is and the decisions to be taking, and moving from one goal to the next,” she told the crowd. “We need leaders willing to take the risk of making decisions, even the ones that are not popular but are in the interest of the collective good… We must, as leaders, manage the work — use the passion and ambition to inspire the people. We have to support winning against the odds, but not at all costs.”
Scaldwell encouraged delegates to contact large multinational corporations and foundations for larger projects. 4-H, she said, is a good vehicle for such partnerships because of its brand.
“It has a good footprint and it has a good corporate history,” she said. “It needs to go to the top level, go to the global sustainability chiefs, go to the foundations. To try and do it one local at a time is near impossible.”
Global 4-H aids Gambia
The Global 4-H Network, only founded in 2014, has been a boon to 4-H Gambia as the African 4-H program looks for international support on its three-year strategic plan, Sonko said.
“No one institution has everything. No institution has the required human material and finances and resources at any point in time. So the way forward is that we must find partnerships to complement the efforts of each other,” he said.
Urban migration is among those issues 4-H Gambia hopes to reduce. Agriculture makes up 75 per cent of the country’s workforce, according to the CIA World Factbook, and featured heavily on the campaign trail during the 2016 election.
Citizenship, education, rural self-sufficiency and empowerment were foremost among the 2017-19 strategic plan goals, along with a call to, “create awareness of people’s rights and responsibilities to enable them to become proactive community members who would positively change their attitudes and that of other people.”
“Thanks to 4-H, there are leaders who are in Gambia living in their own community up to today because they have that orientation that you can grow up in a community, live there and then still become a productive citizen,” Sonko said.
The organization has also tackled environmental sustainability and health concerns such as sanitation and HIV/AIDS.
“The purpose of the organization is doing comprehensive 4-H activities by equipping members with information and practical knowledge of taking care of agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and domestic duties (and) through purposeful economic and social deeds, to change the attitudes of the youth from passive to active,” the document reads.
One of the least-developed countries in the world, Gambia had a per capita GDP of US$479 annually in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the country continues to suffer under a heavy debt burden.
Like Canada, 4-H Gambia is volunteer based. Unlike Canada, most volunteers are still school aged themselves. The new strategic plan hopes to recruit 50,000 volunteers and train them in both interpersonal skills and entrepreneurship.
Likewise, the country has been historically reliant on international aid programs, something 4-H Gambia hopes to curb with increased focus on life skill and entrepreneurship training.
“Part of the intention of this presentation is to inspire others to also go and initiate similar activities, so I am highly optimistic that with continuous collaboration and partnership and interaction between us and the outside world, we will not only learn from them, but they will learn from us and we will also inspire them,” Sonko said.