Rethinking Ghana's youth development architecture: The case for a separate Youth Ministry
hana’s youth constitute a third of the nation’s population, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census. Since returning to constitutional democracy in 1992, there has been growing recognition in Ghana of the importance of investing in youth, with successive governments acknowledging that youth are an important human resource with the potential to contribute significantly to national development. Beyond the rhetoric, however, little concerted effort has gone into harnessing the youth potential after over two decades of democratic consolidation.
Consequently, the youth have remained largely at the periphery of socio-economic processes and development structures, with little recognition as social stakeholders. This has caused many to question the genuineness of government efforts towards mainstreaming youth both as targets and partners for the attainment of national development goals.
If Ghana must harness its youth dividend, it must first take a second look at its architecture for youth development, with the view of repositioning youth at the centre of the broader governance and development agenda. One of the most important debates in this regard is whether or not to decouple youth from the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS). Given that this ministry is the highest organ in the prevailing architecture of youth development in Ghana, it not surprising that its operations have been the subject of scrutiny by several stakeholders in the youth development sphere, especially civil society organisations, development partners and youth themselves.
Inadequate funding for the youth ministry
Overall, there is consensus among stakeholders that the current structure of the MoYS has disadvantaged the nation’s quest to harness its youth dividend. The foremost setback to the youth development agenda within the MoYS is in the important area of budget allocation and expenditures. Traditionally, budget allocations from central government to the MoYS have been much lower than allocations to other ministries. For example, in the current administration of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, budgetary allocations to the MoYS have amounted to GHS¢47 million in 2017, GHS¢33 million in 2018, and GHS¢44 million in 2019. These compare unfavourably with allocations to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) amounting to GHS¢255 million, GHS¢61, and GHS¢493 million respectively for the same period.
In the face of inadequate funding, it is argued that the sports section of the ministry relies heavily on additional external funding (such as from African football authority CAF and the world football body FIFA) for its operations, whereas the youth section has no such extra support. Yet, historical data from the MoYS reveals a worrying trend in which more than 80% of the ministry’s meagre budgetary allocations over the years have been spent in the sports section, leaving the youth section to run on less than 20% of the funds.
With such scanty resources to support its annual work programme, it is not surprising that the implementing agency for the youth section under the ministry – the National Youth Authority (NYA) – has struggled to fulfil its mandate over the years. For example, primary mandates of the NYA include spearheading the development of a National Youth Policy that reflects government’s youth agenda, and facilitating the national effort for harnessing the youth potential towards national development through broad consultations with all relevant stakeholders.
"The policy landscape has thus become littered with fragmented youth programmes that are characterised by overlapping and sometimes conflicting objectives with the consequence that no effective policy implementation is achieved."
However, the unattractive financial position of the NYA over the years has not enabled it to boldly assume their important role as convenor of the national youth effort. The result is a fragmented youth sector where all stakeholders face different directions with their youth effort in the absence of a common vision and a common facilitator. The policy landscape has thus become littered with fragmented youth programmes that are characterised by overlapping and sometimes conflicting objectives with the consequence that no effective policy implementation is achieved.
The case for a separate youth ministry
To improve the development architecture for Ghana’s youth, government should work to delineate ‘youth’ (or ‘youth affairs’) as a sector on its own through a separate Ministry of Youth Affairs (MoYA) that can finally play the important role of convening multi-stakeholder efforts, devoid of the disruptions of a sports sector that hitherto distracted the youth imperative. Given that prevailing legal provisions allow governments to create new ministries or alter existing ones, there has been substantial changes in the ministerial setup in Ghana since 1992, as successive governments have created and/or aligned ministries to suit their political agenda and strategic priorities. In this regard, creating a separate youth ministry will be a practical demonstration that youth are a priority. It will mark a departure from rhetoric to substantive action in recognition of the youth imperative for socio-economic progress of the nation.
When well-coordinated, MoYA will be able to improve its financial position by drawing both statutory budgetary allocations and funding from non-state development partners working in the youth space. This approach to achieving improved financial position of a new ministry is not new. Before the MoGCSP was carved out of the then Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (now Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations) in 2001, women and children’s issues did not receive so much national recognition to warrant such massive financial inflows. But a bold political statement in favour of the women and children’s agenda by the then government of president John Agyekum Kufour became a force for good in favour of women, children, the disabled and other socially deprived citizens. For 2019 alone, the MoGCSP received GHS¢493 million, three times the budget of its source ministry where it would have been competing with other social sector priorities for a share of GH¢157 million that was allocated for the same year. A separate youth ministry can also achieve this.
Another feat that MoYA can achieve for Ghana is policy coherence on youth development. Improvements in its financial position, coupled with a complete focus on the youth agenda without the previous distractions of a sports section will embolden the MoYA to assume its rightful role as the convenor of a multi-stakeholder effort to harness the youth dividend in an organised, systematic and measurable way. Such a dedicated ministry would have the highest level of political authority to build inter-ministerial synergies in favour of a cross-sectorial youth policy that situates centrally within government’s broader development vision.
That means the MoYA would become the go-to destination for youth policy practice by galvanising a global platform of action for youth development in Ghana. In this regard, the youth ministry would bring harmony to the national youth effort and lead the way in leveraging both technical and financial support of national and international partners in favour of a bold youth agenda that all stakeholders, including youth themselves, would work together to achieve in the short and long term.
"Many developed and developing nations have already taken the lead in putting in place dedicated youth ministries and are yielding immediate dividends for their youth agenda."
The traditional approach of combining youth and sports in one ministry has failed to deliver on the youth imperative. But a MoYA will become the strong coordination mechanism between all governmental and non-governmental stakeholders involved in translating political commitments into concrete youth programming and services. This is relevant both for horizontal (inter-ministerial) and vertical (across different levels of government and also the wider group of stakeholders) coordination.
Fortunately, many developed and developing nations have already taken the lead in putting in place dedicated youth ministries and are yielding immediate dividends for their youth agenda. Since President Paul Kagame created a separate Ministry of Youth, Rwanda has had the lowest youth unemployment rate (0.7 per cent) in Africa. The United Arabs Emirates (UAE), with a median age of 30 years, not only established a separate Ministry of Youth Affairs but also appointed a 22-year-old to head the ministry. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made history when he appointed himself as the Minister of Youth with overall responsibility for the national youth effort at the highest level of government. New Zealand also has a dedicated Ministry of Youth Development that leads on a wide range of youth development initiatives and on supporting initiatives across the youth sector. And there are several other examples.
It is said that doing the same thing all the time and yet expecting a different outcome is baloney. If Ghana has used the approach of a youth and sports combination over all these years and it has not yielded the desired results, then the nation must decide to do things differently in order to achieve the maximum benefits that youth can contribute to its development. Difficult challenges require bold new approaches. Youth are Ghana’s greatest asset and therefore should have a separate ministry.
(Main image: Jordi Perdig/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.