Liberia: The Young People Are Speaking, Who is Listening?

A facially worried young man stands at a political rally in Monrovia  

Liberians are poised to go to the polls in less than a month to elect 90 officials—a President, Vice President, 73 Representatives, and 15 senators—out of a population of nearly six million people who will steer the affairs of the state for sets of six and nine years, respectively. An additional 15 Senators are not seeking reelection this year.

The campaigns leading up to the October 10 polls are getting heated, and candidates are scraping for votes in every nook and cranny of the country, though they know where to find the votes—nowhere else but to the young people, the largest demographic of the voting population, to obtain political power. But after crossing the finish-line do these politicians ever look back to get a glimpse of the people who propelled them to the higher seats? Not at all, in most cases. They see young people as tools to accomplish their selfish aims.

Politicians recognize the ‘annoyance value’ of young people so well that during elections, they become the toast of every candidate, who seeks to mobilize them into dangerous and sinister teams ready to die in doing their bidding of scattering the electoral process or defending it. They are dashed away when the mission is accomplished. 

But what these politicians have failed to realize over the years is that young people, heralded as the torchbearers of change, have the potential to shape the future of any nation. With their energy, passion, and idealism, they possess incredible power to make a positive impact on society. It is undeniable that a certain segment of young people finds themselves susceptible to being used as tools of violence. But in order to cultivate a peaceful and progressive society, it is crucial for the largest demographic of voters to assert their autonomy and channel their energy towards demanding more from their leaders.

There is no better time to pursue this trajectory than now, as the country gets set for presidential and legislative elections—a very critical juncture. 

The age structure of the population of Liberia is young. According to the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS), 63 percent of the population is less than 25 years old and 32.8 percent is 10-24 years old. The National Elections Commission also indicates that young people constitute over 35 percent of registered voters. 

From interviews to views expressed on the social media and the traditional media, there is a singular message that is echoing across the country from the young people. They are demanding from politicians a youth-oriented or youth-inclusive agenda that addresses their challenges, provides opportunities for growth and development, and secures a better future for all.

With a young population constituting a significant portion of the electorate, it is imperative that their voices and concerns are given due importance. 

Liberia's vibrant and energetic youth, representing a significant demographic, have long been regarded as the face of the nation's future. However, their potential remains largely untapped, as they grapple with numerous challenges. High unemployment rates, limited access to quality education and healthcare, inadequate youth-focus infrastructure, and a lack of opportunities for personal growth all hinder their progress and hinder the nation's overall development.

Recognizing these pressing issues, the Liberian youth are demanding an inclusive agenda that prioritizes their needs and aspirations. They want a comprehensive plan that focuses on addressing youth unemployment by promoting skills development, entrepreneurship, and job creation initiatives. Additionally, they seek improved access to quality education and healthcare, as well as the enhancement of social infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and internet connectivity.

The young people are also yearning for effective engagement in decision-making processes and the formulation of policies that prioritize unique aspirations. The youth desire the creation of platforms that allow them to voice their opinions and ideas, ensuring their input is not only valued but actively incorporated into the decision-making processes at all levels of governance.

Incorporating the voices and aspirations of the youth is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic move for Liberia's progress. National leaders should know that the vibrancy, creativity, and dynamism of the young population can serve as a driving force for economic growth, innovation, and social transformation. Through their active involvement, the nation can harness their potential to overcome existing challenges and pave the way for a brighter future.

However, addressing the demands of the Liberian youth requires a collaborative effort between young people, civil society organizations, policymakers, and political leaders. Politicians must recognize the importance of prioritizing youth concerns and work towards the development and implementation of a youth-oriented agenda. The government should foster an environment that encourages innovation, facilitates affordable access to finance for young entrepreneurs, and establishes mechanisms for youth capacity building.

The 2023 presidential election presents an opportunity for politicians to listen and respond to the voices of Liberia's youth. It is crucial that they prioritize the creation of a youth-oriented agenda that addresses the challenges faced by young people. By doing so, they can pave the way for a more inclusive, prosperous, and stable Liberia. Investing in the youth today will not only ensure a brighter future for them but also lay the foundation for sustainable development and progress for generations to come.