The 10th Edition of the National Youth Conference and Festival (NAYCONF) opened Thursday in Bansang, Central River Region (CRR), on the theme, 'Directing and re-orienting youth participation towards the productive sectors of the economy'. The event is hosted by the National Youth Council Secretariat.
Declaring the event open on behalf of the president of the Republic of The Gambia, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, the vice president and minister of Women's Affairs, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, expressed hope that the gathering will not only be interactive for amusement and competition in games and other activities, but will also engage delegates in deep reflection provoked by searching questions raised around the theme. She stressed that the platform created will be meaningful only if the discussions generated lead to concrete and realistic recommendations and resolutions that will feed into a national operational framework.
"Such a framework should outline the role of government, stakeholders and partners and, above all, delineate the role and involvement of the youth in transforming their circumstances and refocusing themselves to tackle issues of self-advancement and national development. The occasion may be perceived justifiably as a source of optimism and inspiration for all of us and a symbolic representation of our collective sense of achievement over the years and desire to forge ahead towards our national vision and aspirations.
In examining the theme, which is of special interest to me, we may have to reflect how government has been working towards directing and orienting the youth, and how the youth have been responding to government initiatives over the years. In addition, it is logical to reflect on how the youth can partner further with government and with all non-state actors to participate optimally in the productive sectors and in national development generally," she said
VP Njie-Saidy averred that it is obvious that over the past 18 years, the situation of Gambian youths has significantly shifted from one of despondency to one of hope and progress. She said such despondency arose from restricted employment opportunities, inadequate and poorly equipped schools at the basic and secondary levels, inaccessibility to university education in the country and outside; rampant corruption, nepotism and favoritism that led to marginalisation of some sections of the Gambian community, and frustrations emanating from injustice and inefficient public institutions and structures.
"In these years, all these negative tendencies, among many others, have been reversed as consequences of the creation and broadening of multiple youth development initiatives, avenues and projects," she said.
VP Njie-Saidy also said that from a logical perspective, the thrust of directing and re-orienting youth participation towards the productive sectors of the economy calls for situating the youth within the development equation of the country vis-à-vis the role or importance of the productive sectors in economic growth and development.
She observed that the difference made by the youth during the past 18 years has eclipsed the development efforts of the 30 years that preceded their appearance on the national stage. According to her, the Gambia does not have enormous wealth as some countries in the sub-region do; but have outpaced them in all spheres of development: education, civil and telecommunication infrastructure, energy, health, tourism, and the list goes on.
VP Njie-Saidy further stated that guided by such arguments and evidence, reorienting the Gambian youth must include education and training as well as acquisition of skills and competencies for efficient application or utilisation of existing knowledge, technology and the limited resources available. She went on to state that during the course of this year, 2013, skills training will be expanded and diversified with the establishment of the Ndemban Skills Centre.
She continued: "On line or distance learning courses are now provided in the country, in addition to traditional modes of course delivery, both of which will be scaled up. To assure quality, registration and accreditation procures for institutions of higher learning will be instituted. It is planned also that the UTG Science Park will, from this year on, provide opportunities for innovation and technology transfer, development and application. All these, meant to support productivity and enhance efficacy, will ultimately be put at the disposal of the youth."
VP Njie-Saidy also informed the gathering that government has invested in a multi-million dollar ICT project -the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) project, which is aimed at triggering a major transformation of the telecommunication sector by multiplying the country's bandwidth. She said one of the intended benefits of this intervention is the creation of greater opportunities for young Gambians.
"The year 2012 was declared 'Year of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), and I am aware of all the efforts made to promote and, subsequently, exploit STI to stimulate and scale-up productivity in the adoption of the National STI Policy (2012-2022) that has been developed, and I urge mismatch between expectations and behaviour," she added.
She then made it clear that hard as government may try, success will not be achieved, unless if the youth reorient themselves or allow their reorientation, and endeavour to redirect their energies and skills in ways that contribute to productivity, and not destruction. She further reminded them of the importance of discipline saying, 'no matter what you do, you will not succeed in the absence of self-discipline that propels you to develop the right attitude to life'.
According to the VP, such discipline must appreciate the value and honour tied to honesty, being law-abiding and contributing productively to the advancement of the nation and to humanity at large. She advised the youths to develop their potentials and work towards leading a decent life as good citizens, stressing that it is the quality that will help them repel the multitudinous temptations that Satan will entice them with to commit evil and deadly crimes.
VP Njie-Saidy concluded by commending the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the NYC, the Organising Committee, the host region and all those who participated in or contributed in one way or the other to the success of the event.
For his part, Alieu K Jammeh, the minister of Youth and Sports, thanked President Jammeh for his support for the event. He said NAYCONF as it has been known for, is by far one of the most significant events for the youth and by extension to the people of this country.
He said over the years, NAYCONF has progressed from being a mainly sports jamboree affair to now incorporate a conference component that avails stakeholders in youth development the platform where tangible programmes and activities are proposed for the positive engagement of the youth of this country.
"Therefore, in this equation of excellence, we continue to call upon ourselves, the youths, to refuse being on the periphery, but rather be in the midst of unprecedented and incremental development that the country is going through. Usual excuses of not doing anything because of lack of opportunities are inexcusable because it is true that we, the youths, with only some effort and perseverance, can become successful fisherman, agriculturists, bakers, tailors, petty traders," he said.
Minister Jammeh challenged the youth to come out of the ghettoes, resist the fantasy of instant success of the Babylon syndrome and illegal migration, defeat dependency, and rather accept to toil harder and join hands with government in her collective national development endeavours.
Fabakary Kalleh, the chairman of the NYC, who is also the chairman of the National Organising Committee of the NAYCONF, hailed President Jammeh for his contribution towards youth development and for donating D2.5M to the event. He urged the youth population to understand that they have a fundamental responsibility in the development of the nation, adding that this cannot happen without youth participation in trades like agriculture, fishing, and skill acquisitions among others.
Alhaji Ganyie Touray, the governor of CRR, welcomed the delegates to his region. He urged the youth of the country to take advantage of the opportunities that have been provided for them by the government of the day. He also advised them to make best use of the conference to come out with tangible recommendations that will benefit the young people of this country.
He reminded them that since 1994, government has made youth empowerment a top development agenda, with lots of job opportunities being provided ranging from GAMJOBS, NYSS among others. He saluted the chiefs, alkalos and the entire people of the region for their contribution in ensuring that the event is successful.
The opening ceremony wrapped-up with a cultural performance by different cultural troupes. The ceremony was moderated by the executive secretary of the National Youth Council- Marchel Mendy.