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Professor discusses youth advocacy in Africa

Molly Madden | Thursday, February 5, 2009

Anthropologist Dr. Catherine Bolton of the University of Michigan spoke on the affect of socio-economic effects of rendering the youth ex-combatants socially includable through the post-war integration programs that have been established in the African country of Sierra Leone in her lecture entitled “The Politics of Inclusion: Youth Policy, Ex-Combatants, and Governmentality in Sierra Leone.”

“I really want to address the intersection of fear and governmental policy,” Bolton said in her introduction. “The war separated many young people and led them to develop alternative ideas of brotherhood which has upset the native elders.”

The war which Bolton refers to is the Sierra Leone Civil War which began in 1991 and was initiated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which was composed of mostly “youth” individuals, that is those ranging from age 15 to 35. The war was declared over on Jan. 18, 2002.

However, one former RUF combatant that Bolton interviewed on a trip to Sierra Leone said that the RUF only put down their weapons because the UN asked them for peace.

“These people were once very powerful RUF officials and now they are struggling to survive,” Bolton said.

Bolton explained that many of the traditional elders of Sierra Leone had a fear of the youth after the war came to an end.

“The elders of the country fear that the youth won’t respect their authority,” Bolton said. “In response to this fear, the government published the Sierra Leone National Youth Policy in June 2003.”

The Youth Policy is a policy that emphasizes the state and elders and defines the youth as being anywhere in the age range of 15 to 35 years of age.

“What this is saying is that anyone over the age of 35 has more authority over anyone of a lesser age,” Bolton said. “What the government is trying to accomplish with this policy is maintaining supremacy of the elders over the youth of the country.”

The policy also outlines the youth that the government wants to decrease, the “marginalized youth” and through programs of a process called reintegration, modify this group’s ideas so that they are the government acceptable form of youth, the “mainstream youth.”

“In Sierra Leone, a country with a population of 5.7 million people, four million people, that is seventy percent of the population, falls into this ‘youth’ category,” Bolton said. “This Youth Policy is not a policy paper; [it] is a statement of elder predominance and a testimony of the fear of the thirty percent.”

It doesn’t outline many rules for the “youth,” but it ensures the “elder predominance,” she said.

“The only requirement for the ‘mainstream youth’ is that they stay in school,” she said. “However, the government decides what gets taught in the schools. It’s just another way for the government to have a finger in all youth activities.”

Bolton insists that the government’s extreme fear of youth is unjustified and unnecessary.

“All these young people want is to be treated equally by the elders,” she said. “They are not trying to seek power, they are simply seeking validation and nurturing of their ideas.”

She says that all these men want is to reach their status as an “adult” and also a “man,” which is a major part of Sierra Leone culture.

“The young people want to feel needed; they want to be taken seriously. If the government recognizes this quality, it will make dealing with the problem much easier.”