Statistical abstracts indicate that the youth constitute more than 60 percent of the Ethiopian population. Anything that affects the youth is likely to affect the entire population of this country. There are a number of factors that the Ethiopian youth share with the youth in the rest of Africa and probably at the global level.
Among other things, unemployment, addiction to various narcotics and alcoholic drinks, illegal migration, vulnerability to HIV and AIDS, consumer xenophobia and vulnerability to cultural neo-colonialism together with the multi-dimensional manifestations of poverty induced proximity to crimes explain the state of affairs among youth in Africa and more particularly in Ethiopia.
Analysis on youth in Ethiopia should out of expediency take into account the gender dimension of the youth. Young women comprise at least half of the youth population in Ethiopia. Although they share almost all the attributes mentioned with their male counterparts, they are subjected to additional counterproductive and harmful practices that have been cherished for ages. Although the law provides for severe punishment in case of the violation of the rights of young women, gender based harassment and violence has continued unabated in Ethiopia. The situation is far more severe among girls in rural Ethiopia who live in different cultural contexts.
The government has already issued a policy on the youth. There are also various legal instruments in favor of the rights of the youth in every aspect of social life. Youth affairs departments have already been established in the nomenclatures of regional, zonal and even at the district levels.
Pro youth development policies and affirmative action programs are already in place for young ladies and young persons alike. The fact that the government has allocated more than 10 billion Birr towards the economic empowerment of the youth shows the scale and level of government commitment to youth development. Despite these efforts, at the federal and regional levels programs and strategies designed to ensure economic benefit for the youth are not being implemented at the desired pace. There are considerable obstacles that hinder the smooth running of these programs including red tape, lack of confidence to take appropriate and legal decisions.
Most of the periodic reports delivered by sector offices are in most cases full of generalities and lame excuses that could have been corrected at all levels. There is also a vivid lack of coordination between project implementing agencies and financial institutions that are expected to provide seed money for the start up of various income generating activities particularly tailored for the youth.
It is clear that the empowerment of the youth is not restricted to providing economic support for unemployed youth. The youth that are employed by themselves, the government and civil society organizations have their own problems related to managing the various aspects of their life. Lack of discipline among some youth, absence of experience and patriotic spirit at the place of work, lack of managerial skills on their personal life still remain some of the challenges that the better off youth face.
For instance, in terms of health, the top ten killer diseases in Ethiopia target the youth, the major working force in Ethiopia. Despite the globally recognized health intervention programs that extend right up to the village level, most patients suffering from various diseases fall in the youth age bracket.
As it is vividly observed in the streets of cities and towns both in the urban and rural settings of the country our youth are already copying the life style and costumes that are from foreign lands. This may seem to be natural and acceptable as it just comes to pass through time but the neo-colonial mentality it leaves behind could have lifelong negative effects that are difficult to rectify in the short run.
Identifying the problems related to youth empowerment may seem to be easy at face value but resolving the problems that the youth in Ethiopia face remains to be a top priority issue both for the government and the public at large. The task of empowering the youth cannot be accomplished either in a single process or only through a series of disconnected youth development programs.
There are two aspects to this issue. In the first place all youth development related programs need to be effectively coordinated sharing strict duties and responsibilities to all concerned sectors. A program targeting the youth can be fruitful only when the youth are involved at all the level of program development cycles. The other aspect is creation of collective spirit of ownership among the youth through continuous training and mentoring.
Providing youth tailored quality education particularly at mid level vocational training centers and universities is critical not only for the youth but for the entire development pace of this country. There has been a lot of talk about promoting quality education in this country but the problem in the sector still persists. Why this is so and why are the sectors concerned unable to cross their rubicon?
Certainly, the Ethiopian government has the lions share in resolving the above mentioned youth related development issues but there are also stakeholders that are expected to play a major role in empowering the youth. Religious organizations, civil society organizations, professional associations and public and private institutes of higher learning have a much greater role to play in empowering the youth. On the other hand, the youth branches of the various political parties in Ethiopia and other youth organizations would need to play more practical and life changing measure instead of only focusing on political polemics. Families of the youth and the private sector can also play a key role in providing a better future for the Ethiopian youth. Various specific dialogues that involve the youth need to be conducted to ensure peaceful academic environment in the public and private universities in this country.
The Ethiopian youth need to shoulder their own responsibilities in shaping their own future. Youth professionals including engineers, medical doctors, army and police officers, teachers, athletes, entrepreneurs, lawyers need to contribute their specific parts in enabling the pull out the youth from world outlook that could possibly inhibit their development. It is very important top work on the economic empowerment of the youth but along these massive programs there are other complementary activities that need to be carried out to prepare the youth for more lifelong programs. There are thousands of traumatized, addicted and those who are in a state of limbo regarding what the future has in store for them. Special youth rehabilitation centers need to cater to the multi-faceted needs of the youth. Besides, youth who suffer from depression need to be provided with a special medical care to ensure their rehabilitation.
When programs on youth development are designed, a special consideration should be accorded to disable youth with high standards talents that they can use for the development of their country. Very little is being done in this area but the potentials for empowering disabled youth is immense.
A combination of formal and informal approach to youth development that blends cultural values of Ethiopia and its democratic content is of vital importance for ensuring youth empowerment in Ethiopia as the nation strives to become a mid level developed country by 2025.
BY SOLOMON DIBABA