"Youths Must Remain Vocal," Says Conteh

By Musue N. Haddad

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 5, 2002

"...we are witnessing a digressive trend today where mundane, non Liberian interests and values have overshadowed the important role Liberian youths once manifested as agents of change in Liberian society," says Dr. Conteh.

Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh, research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania made this observation over the weekend, adding, "Throughout Liberian history [until now], youth leaders and youth movements were vocal about burning issues affecting national development."

Dr. Conteh served as keynote speaker for an Empowerment workshop, "Charting a New Course for Africa: Liberia, a Case Study." The workshop was organized by the Association Liberian Youth in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Conteh said the lack of resources, government bureaucratic red tape and politics were major constraints Liberia-based youth organizations face in the implementation of effective community oriented programs.

He urged youth organizations abroad to harness the views and skills of the youth in Liberia through partnerships in relief, skills training and development projects.

"Liberian youth leaders and their organizations are pivotal to the new struggle because they are agents of change and development. They are the central demographic force in Liberia's political momentum affecting the present and future of the nation," Dr. Conteh told the audience amidst applause.

He told the youth, "The Challenge is yours to follow through on this call for action in this new struggle for sustainable human development in Liberia."

He said though by virtue of its declaration of independence, Liberia is the oldest republic in Africa, but the country's economy and development lag behind other African states. Conteh said Liberia is far behind in an international system where integration of knowledge, communication and economies have become a focus.

"Despite Liberia's 155 year history and considerable historical contribution to African liberation and independence, relatively newer nation states, including Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, and Mali have taken the mantle that have given rise to the African Union (AU) with a New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD)," Conteh said.

He said with an adult literacy rate - 31.2 percent, gross school enrolment - 58.8 percent, Real Gross Domestic Product per capita (PPP) at $ US 225 and life expectancy at birth now 42.3 years, one of the lowest in the world, it is doubtful whether if youths abandon their engaging role Liberia would be able to take its place in the global community.

The workshop held at the Francis Myers Recreation Center brought together speakers and participants from different sectors of the Liberian community in the United States.

Dr. James Guseh, formerly Legal Advisor and Economist at the Liberian Ministry of Finance and Dr. George Gonpu served as a panelists on the Business and privatization panel.

Guseh said Liberia's economic growth rate prior to the war had been slowed and "negative" throughout the 1980s and 1990s and also characterized by rising inflation, high unemployment, massive corruption, among others.

He said although the Liberian civil war of 1989 to 1997 destroyed the nation's physical and economic infrastructure, the need for creating capital geared towards economic recovery is greater than ever in the nation's history.

"Liberia can not afford these numerous public sector enterprises that depend on government subsidies and therefore have become a burden on the economy," Dr. Guseh said.

He said the lesser role government plays in economic activity would encourage the nation's economic growth, reduce the burden of state employment and state monopoly.

Borrowing from the words of Author Jeff Drumtra, Dr. Guseh said, "The people of Liberia have rarely, if ever, possessed a national government sufficiently committed to accountability, transparency, and human rights...Therefore, there is very little pressure the voters can bring to bear on the government to address national economic problems."

Dr. George Gonpu, in his presentation, said without stability, economic success would remain illusive for Liberia.

He said because of the present government's "questionable" commitment to economic reform, democracy and good governance, the infusion of capital by investors and substantial donor assistance would remain doubtful.

Sekou Korleh, Chairman of the Liberia Youth Association in Pennsylvania said the workshop was a part of a series of activities geared towards encouraging youth leadership and to promote a continuous exchange of ideas between the older and younger community on social, academic and economic issues.

The workshop brought together former student leaders, economists, lawyers, professors and former government officials from different eras of the Liberia society.

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