Idle Youth: Using Sport to Address the Youth Bulge in Sierra Leone

By Will LA. Bennett
2010, Vol. 2 No. 05 | pg. 4/9 |
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1. The basics of personal consumption– food, shelter, clothing.

2. Access to essential services– clean water, sanitation, healthcare, , and transport.

3. Access to paid employment.

4. Qualitative needs– the provision of healthy and safe environments and ability to partake in the decision making process.45

Sport projects in Sierra Leone very much fit into the fourth category, but also provide aspects of the second such as education. And although the Basic Needs Approach is considered dated now, I argue that by going some way to provide these needs sport for projects in Sierra Leone augment the chances of participants securing access to paid employment by ‘improving the skills and education of the population [which] has the concomitant potential for contributing to greater economic growth.’46

Thus in essence, sport programs provide the social, physical and educational tools necessary to improve the individual potential of young Sierra Leoneans. Collectively, this can induce what might be coined a Sport for Development ‘multiplier effect.’

Figure 3. Keynes’ Multiplier Effect.

Figure 3

As opposed to Keynes’ cycle that depends upon governmental or private investment to create jobs and kick-st capital flows (Figure.3), this relies upon indirect job creation through the provision of better education and life-skills in a setting where uninhibited social interaction facilitates the sharing of ideas and entrepreneurship (Figure.4).

Figure 4. Sport for Development Multiplier Effect.

Figure 4


Whilst Keynes’s Multiplier Effect may have had its day at the forefront of development thinking by the time of the debt crisis in the seventies, and whilst current emphasis seems to be on the notion of , it would be myopic to assume that it is a case of choosing one or the other. Rather these two approaches must be galvanised. As such these two multiplier effects work in synergy at the micro and macro levels. The micro Sport for Development multiplier effect demonstrates how sport programs are directly beneficial to ‘non-material aspects of development, in particular empowerment, participation, and democratisation.’47 These skills endow the participants with the qualities needed to enter into the macro Keynesian cycle more easily. Furthermore, better educated, skilled, and healthy youths will not only make this transition more seamlessly, they will also offer a better standard of participation in the national economic cycle once they are there. This in turn will attract more investment and continue to drive the Keynesian cycle at a higher rate.

This cycle also fits within the current trend to see successful prevention as dependent upon pushing for deeper structural reform that addresses the roots of conflict. In Sierra Leone the roots were, as I have shown, a combination of youth marginalisation, economic stagnation, and a belief in the value of as the principal agent of social change. However youths engaging in sport for development programs have the opportunity to eradicate these social ills. From a youth perspective it is a case of being part of program that can change their fortunes and offer them a platform. From a governmental point of view, supporting youth sport for development projects works primarily to rebuild a social contract by appearing to place the citizen rather than the state at the centre of its policy initiatives. This human approach encourages incorporation of youths into programs regardless of ethnicity, ability or gender, and is in keeping with new conflict preventative measures that are directed at reducing structural horizontal inequalities at the local level.

When local investments of time and money in youth schemes are undertaken correctly, project ownership can be given to local community members– and as Save the Children, War Child and Right To Play have found, local ownership of projects renders them locally accountable and more likely to succeed. As such the community members with whom they work have more say, and their participation can lead to a ‘stronger civil society and contribute to the democratic process’48 by familiarising those involved with political values.

To sum up, the two flow diagrams in this chapter concerning micro and macro development must be merged to better understand how to approach the new societal challenges arising from the changing nature of warfare. It would therefore also make sense to merge the thinking of Paul Collier and David Keen. The former’s heavy reliance upon data and economic rationality renders his judgements often quite impersonal. Greed, as he asserts was a huge factor in prolonging the war in Sierra Leone, but so too was the lack of respect and recognition shown to a violent minded and disaffected youth highlighted by Keen. Disillusionment and shame fuelled the conflict as in the absence of channels of communication violence became a means of raising grievances. As the next chapter will show, using sport to open such channels so as to prevent the populace resorting to violence has been a crucial and transferable lesson from Sierra Leone. By highlighting and addressing the root causes of the within society, sport can endow to a generation the skills needed for societal and community progress as the micro-economic level, which at the same time work to induce structural improvements required for long term macro-economic growth.

IV: Sport as a Transferable Medium of Engagement Suitable for Fractious Social Environments

I will divide this chapter into distinct sections. Firstly, I will endeavour to fully clarify the first assumption underlying this paper, namely how sport can replicate war to a certain degree and therefore both ease the reintroduction of combatants into the weave of the social fabric and simultaneously reinvigorate civil society. Secondly I will demonstrate the benefits of social inclusivity that sport encourages. Thirdly I will highlight how sport can and has served as a tool in its own right to plug the gaps in the Sierra Leone’s fledgling government’s schooling system and provide both health and education services that afford it a special status as promoting truly holistic development.

Colin McInnes has argued that the west has become physically removed from modern warfare. The increasingly localised and intra-state nature of war, especially in Africa, has rendered the richest and most powerful nations detached from their realities and largely unable to settle their outcomes as they had done with relative ease until the 1960s.49 This has reduced the west to the role of bystander within the complicated triadic nexus of bystander, executioner, and victim. This has various impacting consequences. Negatively, the consequence of this new and largely passive role is that the West finds itself unable to significantly engage with fragile and failing states and as such is able to prevent conflicts relapsing within five years only fifty percent of the time.50 The wider regional and global impact of these new wars makes the need to engage with failed, failing, or fragile states of absolutely the highest importance, with Mark Duffield correctly remarking that the mantra of ‘letting them fight it out amongst themselves’ is no longer a viable option from ‘either an altruistic or realistic perspective.’51 However doing so in an unobtrusive, economical and yet meaningful way is not easy.

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