Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders

Young people are vital to the nation’s progress. It is imperative therefore that they should be afforded every opportunity to participate in decision-making and in determining how their communities and the country should be administered. You are the future.

The Regional Youth Caucus brings together young people from all ten regions. The geographical span of today’s Caucus attests to the expanse and the diversity of our country. Guyana, geographically, is a continental country with Caribbean characteristics. It is a country of relatively large regions by Caribbean standards and some of our regions are larger than other global states:
• Barima-Waini is larger than Fiji;
• Supenaam-Pomeroon is larger than Brunei;
• Essequibo Islands-West Demerara is larger than Luxembourg;
• Demerara-Mahaica is twice the size of Mauritius;
• Mahaica-Berbice is larger than Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines combined;
• East Berbice-Corentyne is larger than Belgium;
• Cuyuni-Mazaruni is larger than the Netherlands;
• Potaro-Siparuni is larger than Kuwait;
• Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo is larger than the Republic of Costa Rica; and
• Upper Demerara-Berbice is larger than The Bahamas.

We have a lot to celebrate, a lot to be proud of. Guyana’s regions consist of a variety of ecosystems – We are proud of the islands of the Essequibo, coastland, highlands, grasslands, wetlands, rainforests, rivers and lakes – all of which are teeming with rich flora and fauna. This biodiversity is a precious resource to be protected and preserved for all time. We must not allow it to be damaged, we must allow the eco-systems to be destroyed. It is part of our national patrimony we inherited from our forefathers and we must pass it on to you. You will inherit this land and we must not destroy it and when you get it you have to preserve and pass it on to your children too.

The regions are economically and demographically dissimilar. Ninety per cent of the country’s population and most of the commercial agricultural and manufacturing enterprises are located on the coastland which accounts for 7.5 per cent of our territory.

The regions contain bountiful farming, fishing, forestry and mining resources. Oil and natural gas have been discovered in the maritime zone (Exclusive Economic Zone) and production is expected to begin next year.

So, we have the resources – human and natural – needed to achieve economic prosperity. These resources, however, have to be managed sustainably to ensure that everyone, including young people, could enjoy the good life.

These are the resources which you will inherit today and which you must hand over tomorrow to your children and to generations to come. Today’s adults, are merely ‘trustees’ of our patrimony and we must protect this trust and we must protect the wealth of this country. Young people are the heirs of its wealth – both discovered and undiscovered. Young people will be required, one day, to bear the responsibility for the management of the country’s valuable resources.

Our country’s expanse, its diversity, its bountiful resources and its low population density, however, present challenges to good governance. A strong state, administered exclusively from the centre as in the colonial era, will not achieve the good life for all. A prosperous country cannot be built on a foundation of the denial of democracy to people in rural and hinterland poverty.

This country is in transition towards becoming a ‘green state’ which will put increased emphasis on the protection of our environment, the preservation of our biodiversity, the promotion of renewable energy and the adoption of practical measures to ensure climate adaptation.

Our environment provides services necessary for our and the earth’s survival. Our environment is not only a source of food, freshwater supplies, materials for shelter and medicinal products. It provides vital environmental services such as the regulation of the water cycle, water quality and pollination. Guyana’s forests capture and store carbon, thereby mitigating the greenhouse effect.

We look to you therefore to become stewards for the protection of the environment by organizing their communities and continuing their efforts to protect our wildlife, to ensure healthier, cleaner and safer neighbourhoods and to promote the development of ‘green’ towns.

The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, once said: “A society that cuts off its youth severs its lifeline.” Your government is interested in ensuring that young people become a lifeline of this country’s economic, political and social transformation. The state must support young people to help them to assume greater responsibility and to prepare them to bear the burden of leadership.

This country, if it is to prosper and if young people are to be given the opportunity to lead, must adopt a fresh approach to governance. The emphasis must be on reinforcing the four cornerstones of youth development – education, equality, empowerment and employment.

Your government, for this reason, has pursued a strategy of regional development and that is why today, the three hundred of you here have not come from one region but from all ten regions. Our aim is to develop all ten regions. Each region needs a centre, in the form of capital towns, for more balanced development.

Guyana is not two countries – a developed one East of the Essequibo and an underdeveloped one West of the Essequibo. This government in the first three years in office introduced four new capital towns – at Bartica, Mabaruma, Mahdia and Lethem. Your Government aims, eventually, at ensuring that each region would possess its own capital town to deliver public services and to promote economic and social development. Each region should have:
• its own aerodromes, banks, courts, factories, hospitals, galleries and museums, newspapers, radio and television stations, passport and registrar’s offices, police stations, secondary schools, sporting stadiums, sub-treasuries and other amenities;
• the capacity to generate employment opportunities for its young people – by attracting investors, encouraging commerce with the Caribbean, neighbouring countries and other parts of the world and by developing thriving business districts, industrial parks, busy highways and bustling stellings in the riverine regions of this country; and
• We want the regional capitals to assume the authority and to have greater responsibility for its own development; it is for this reason that this government within the first three years in office this government held local government elections twice when the previous government had not held for over 20 years. It is not whether you win or lose, it is whether the people of this country have the right to elect the officials who will govern their regions at the level of the municipalities and neighbourhoods. So, we are promoting the participation of people and I was happy that so many young people came out last November to participate in the local government elections. This is where the leadership starts, this is where the apprenticeship starts when you get involved at the local level in elections. But this is not a political forum but a forum for the development of yourselves and regions

Young people are vital to ensuring a strong nation of strong regions. The establishment of capital towns and the renewal of local democracy countrywide go hand-in-hand and they are engines of transformation and economic growth. Young people therefore must prepare themselves to work in the ‘engine rooms’ of local, regional and national development. Government exists at three levels, at the Neighbourhood or village level, municipal level and at the regional level and at the level of the central government. So, it is good that you could enter at the local level and then you go up to the regional level and when I come back, you’d be sitting at the central government level. That is where it starts, so don’t miss out on your apprenticeship level because that is how you get here in the front row.

You too, must be prepared to defend and protect your birth right – our natural patrimony – against external threats. Our main hinterland regions all have borders with foreign, neighbouring countries. This country has over 2,900 km borders with Brazil; Venezuela; and Suriname and a 459 km Atlantic coastline.

These borders have to be defended by all of us and as I look around some of you are fit to participate in that form of territorial defence by joining the Guyana People’s Militia and if you wish the Guyana Defence Force.

You constitute half of our population. One in every five of our citizens is between the ages of 15 and 24. You cannot be ignored. If anybody tries to ignore you, they would put the development, the future of this country in jeopardy. You are the ones who have to bring about change. You are the ones who possess the imagination to innovate, initiate and to invent.

But my friends you must be trained and empowered to assume leadership. It would be reckless of older persons to expect young people to lead simply by trial and error. You can learn to lead only when the state strengthens the foundation – through education, equality, employment and empowerment– which will support and sustain their leadership.

Some time ago, the Report of the Caribbean Community [CARICOM] Commission on Youth – entitled, Eye on the Future: Investing in Youth Now for Tomorrow’s Community of July 2010 – had urged:

In order for youth governance to be effective it must provide opportunities for young people to become empowered and to make a contribution to development through participation in decision-making generally but more specifically on matters in which they have an interest and which affect them.

Youth empowerment can strengthen the competencies of leaders, can sharpen their talents and harden their resolve to allow them to assume responsibility for leading others.

Education always is the basis of empowerment and the training of young people is an act of empowerment. The training of our youths is necessary if they are to be instruments of their own self-actualisation, development and if they are to be architects of their destiny.

Your Government, since 2015, has been enhancing educational opportunities for our young people. It has awarded 1,534 scholarships to students drawn from every administrative region, as part of our policy to provide education and training to youths.

Your Government is empowering youth by involving them in decision-making in their neighbourhoods and villages and at the regional and national levels. It is listening increasingly to the concerns of youth and giving them, voice and I hope that this is not the last caucus we want to hear more from you, not only here on the coast but from the regions from which you come. More important, it is empowering our young people economically and providing them with opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

Youth empowerment will help to equip our young people with the skills, attitudes and values which are needed for them to become leaders. These attributes need to be inculcated in young people so that, when placed in positions of leadership, they could cope successfully with its demands.

Youth involvement must be seen not only in governmental terms but also in cultural expression and activities – including art, dance, drama, literature and sports – which encourage healthy interactions with other young people, boost, self-confidence and self-esteem and promote social cohesion and social cooperation.

I was particularly moved, immensely impressed by going into the Cuyuni-Mazaruni. Every year in August, I go to the Upper Mazaruni District Games is model of friendly sporting competition which brings together people from the villages of the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region for one week of spirited sporting competition. Young people are encouraged not just to participate, but to be involved in, and organise such events.

Involvement in the work of social, non-political, self-managed clubs and non-governmental organisations can serve as apprenticeship for young leaders. It allows for young people to be exposed to skills in teamwork, managing groups and organizing events. It provides young people opportunities for the exercise of social responsibility.

Unemployment is the foremost challenge facing our youths. School graduates frequently face difficulties in securing satisfactory employment. Many of them seek jobs in the public sector but opportunities are limited. New means have to be found to create employment for our young people.

Unemployment has been exacerbated by changes with labour market which, increasingly, is being influenced by technology – computers, machines and innovative systems – which are replacing and reducing the need for workers.

Young people, faced with these challenges, must become more entrepreneurial in their outlook by seeking self-employment through the establishment of small businesses. Young people must be must look forward to becoming a generation of entrepreneurs and pioneers who are prepared to pursue new avenues of economic opportunities.

Your government is promoting job creation through self-employment. It is catalysing opportunities for youth entrepreneurship so that they can become self-employed. Initiatives aimed at developing the entrepreneurial skills of our young people include:
• Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme;
– Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS) and, now, the Guyana Youth Corps (GYC).

The Guyana Youth Corps aims at ensuring that young people can be equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become productive citizens and at providing for themselves and their families while enhancing national and community development.

Young people, therefore, can rest assured that the Government will continue to work towards empowering them for leadership. We aim at creating a cadre of youth leaders in every region, committed to developing that region and including providing jobs.

Your Government remains resolute in encouraging promoting youth entrepreneurship. We see this as critical to eliminating inequality and reducing unemployment. The responsibility devolves on young people to accept the training opportunities available, develop their leadership skills and to utilise these skills for the development of themselves, their families, their communities and their country.

Guyana’s destiny is in the hands of its young people. The state is lending a helping hand but young people’s hands must seize the opportunities being provided.

Young people must not be afraid to lead. They have an invaluable contribution to make to society, particularly within their neighbourhoods, villages and regions. They possess the exuberance, enthusiasm and energy to make a positive contribution to national development.

I therefore urge you to empower yourselves to lead. Ώ

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