In the headlines: contrasting images of Ghana youth

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

It was thought-provoking, how two very contrasting representations of Ghanaian youth made the headlines last week and earlier this week, the induction of the Nation Builders Corps (NaBco) trainees and the unprecedented university violence in Kumasi.

Last Wednesday, October 17, saw the inauguration of the NaBco trainees by President Akufo-Addo in a grand, televised ceremony at the Independence Square, in Accra, amid singing and dancing by the young people granted a lifeline by the initiative. Clearly the exuberant youth were celebrating the end of their unemployment nightmare.

No wonder the gospel tract they were dancing to as they welcomed the President to the Square, had the chorus that translates as “it’s like a dream”.

Compare that to the horrifying TV pictures on Monday of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) mayhem and thuggery!

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The images of rampaging, stick-wielding students destroying everything in their path on the campus of their university made chilling viewing. I wondered how the parents would be feeling if any had identified their sons among the mob.

As the students gleefully smashed windscreens, motorbikes, glass doors and windows and signboards; upturned vehicles and blocked the campus roads, did any of them pause to think how they would have felt if it was their parents’ vehicle, or other property, being so savagely vandalized? It looked like a scene from a horror movie.

Did any of them stop to think who was going to pay for the damage – including, reportedly, 30 vandalized cars? For sure anything that was damaged will have to be replaced. And my guess is that first in line to be billed will be the students and their parents and guardians, as lessons from elsewhere, notably rampaging second-cycle schools, should have taught them.

It was difficult to believe that the raging young men, some of them bare-chested, were university students, some of whom in a couple of years will be officials in the forefront of Ghana’s development agenda.

The root cause of the riot is said to have been the decision of the university management to convert all-male University Hall (also known as ‘Katanga’) and Unity Hall (‘Conti’) into mixed halls. The Katanga and Conti students have been fiercely resisting the conversion, which is allegedly a decision taken under a previous administration, but which the new Vice-Chancellor, Prof Kwasi Obiri Danso, is implementing.

An immediate cause of the rioting was said to be the alleged brutalizing of some of the students and the arrest of 11 of them by the KNUST campus security. They may have had very genuine grievances but, in my view, nothing, absolutely no harassment that some of the students have suffered, warrants the vicious, senseless havoc.

After all, they had already petitioned the President himself over the conversion, so why didn’t they wait for the outcome – or even add the latest developments – to their pending petition?

They reportedly base their resistance to the conversion of the halls to “tradition”, that the two all-male halls have been that way from the beginning and so there should be no change!

Some Katanga old students, many of whom undoubtedly completed university ages ago, are said to be driving the anti-conversion movement. They’re probably high office holders, yet these alumni appear to be fanning the non-conversion flames, citing “tradition”. They need to listen to themselves!

What do they really lose if in 2018, a new tradition of inclusiveness, gender mainstreaming, is introduced in their alma mater? Change is a part of life and they should learn to accept it, and even support the university administration to open this new, progressive chapter in the story of the halls and the KNUST.
In fact, the hall residents should use the opportunity of the conversion to get the hall facilities expanded and new ones added!

Significantly, in August, a move by the Katanga alumni to get a court injunction to stop the conversion was dismissed by a Kumasi High Court, pointing out that the room allocations had already been done.

Incidentally, Africa Hall, the only all-women hall, has also reportedly been converted into a unisex hall, but the women have apparently not been protesting.
The organisers may have planned the demonstration as a peaceful one, but judging by the media reports, some of their colleagues had other plans, diabolical plans.

There is also a rumour of infiltrators.

Why would participants in a peaceful demonstration have masks on their faces? Why would they need to hide their identity?

One sobering thought: if university students don’t understand that dialogue achieves much more than violence, do they deserve their place on the academic ladder?

Given the scale of the violence and destruction, little wonder that the Ashanti Regional Security Council together with the university authorities imposed a curfew, closed down the university until further notice and ordered all students, apart from foreigners, off the campus by noon on Tuesday, October 23.

What a difference, the KNUST havoc images and the NaBco inauguration images!

Under the NaBco programme, 100,000 young people have undergone basic training for deployment in areas of national need, and to give them practical experience for the job market. The modules include Education, Health and Agriculture.

Also, they will each be getting a monthly stipend of GHC700.

However, the surprisingly negative attitude of one NaBco trainee interviewed by Joy News during the induction caught my attention.

Asked for his views on the scheme and the inauguration, the young man questioned the fact that they had all been made to come to Accra to participate in the inauguration!

He said it was a waste of money, and inconvenient, for them to have had to come to Accra just for the ceremony! I wondered why he had bothered to come if he felt so annoyed about it.

Secondly, what is he doing in the Corps in the first place? If having to come to Accra to join in the celebration of such a welcome strategy as the NaBco, if he so obviously lacks the spirit of the scheme, and clearly misunderstands it, why did he apply to join?

More importantly, how come his negative attitude was not spotted by his recruitment team?

I just hope that the young man is not a ‘Trojan Horse’, a ‘spoiler’, somebody who has found his way into the Corps, or been brought in, to cause disaffection among them!

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