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Sierra Leone's Unemployed Youths Get Political


Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, has long been a political stronghold of the country's ruling party, the Sierra Leone People's Party. But as presidential and legislative elections draw near, young people who make up more than half the city's eligible voting population want solutions to widespread unemployment and poor education throughout the country. From the streets of Bo, Selah Hennessy reports many young voters say they are looking for alternatives to the ruling party.

Singing and dancing, blowing whistles and honking horns, young people dressed head to foot in party colors block traffic with their daily street rallies.

At a youth rally for the ruling party, the Sierra Leone People's Party, young people say they are confident the party will win Saturday's election.

A young generation leader, 23-year-old Joseph Kobbie Jr. says youths will vote for current vice president Solomon Berewa, because they feel the SLPP, which won consecutive presidential elections in 1996 and 2002, has brought change to Sierra Leone since the end of a decade-long civil war.

"They have done whatever they say, they will deliver it," he said. "They have promised us to bring peace in this country, they bring peace in this land. They promise to give a good health centers in our villages, they have done it; good schools in our different villages, they have done it."

Such support for the ruling party was once almost unanimous in Bo; in the last presidential election, in 2002, the ruling party won about 70 percent of the city's votes.

But now, support for other political parties appears to be growing.

In a photo shop where many youths gather and some work as photographers, a group of men are shouting about which party they will be voting for on Saturday.

Many are shouting support for the main opposition party, the All People's Congress, and for a new political party, the People's Movement for Democratic Change.

James Kabia is a 25-year-old photographer. He says he will vote for the All People's Congress.

"2002, SLPP had a lot of supporters in this township, and all of us vote for SLPP," he said. "But for now we are straining indeed and that is why we desire to need changes for now. There is no progress in this country."

He says youths are marginalized in Sierra Leone, and that without free education and job opportunities life will remain desolate for young people.

Many youths in Bo battle unemployment by driving motorbike taxis, earning around 30 cents a ride to transport passengers around the city.

Abdulia Barrie, who says he will vote for the People's Movement for Democratic Change, is 23 years old and has been working as a driver for more than a year. He says he wants to go to school, but he can not make enough money as a driver to live, let alone save for an education.

"I cannot make a lot of money for now because for now not everybody will be available to pay for a Honda, 1,000 leones [about 30 cents], because of the hard system," he said. "So I can just make a few money I am just doing this because there are no jobs."

He says the next government must make education a priority.

"I think the government should improve more in education facilities because now we are suffering," he said.

Legacy Sankoh, a politician and young generation leader in Bo, says too many youths are idle in the city, loitering on street corners and cafes, without money, education, or things to do.

He says this is a very dangerous situation for the security of Sierra Leone, because youth poverty and inactivity was a leading cause of the country's civil war.

Sierra Leone came second to last in the U.N. Human Development Index in 2006, meaning it is one of the least liveable countries in the world.

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