Sierra Leone has launched a National Youths Service (NYS) programme to foster national cohesion.
The programme, similar to Nigeria's, is designed to inculcate nationalism and dedication to public service, the government said.
It said it will also prepare the youth to take up skilful jobs.
Some 200 youths, comprising 75 females and 125 males, all of them graduates from various local colleges and universities, were selected through a competitive process as part of the first batch of the scheme.
They will undergo a 32-day orientation, before their deployments for a year of dedicated national service.
Officials say the youth will be attached to government and private institutions in various sectors.
Deputy Youth minister Luseni Kallon, said the objective of the scheme is to promote self-discipline, expand young people’s knowledge of cultural diversity, and help bridge the ethnic divide, as well as provide opportunity for work experience.
Sierra Leone’s political system has divided the country into two main ethnic blocs of northwest and southeast. The divide has permeated every fabric of society, sometimes being as obstacle to development.
In the last General Election, the country came close to an ethnic conflict after accusations and counter-accusations of incitement across the divide.
The NYS was conceived over 50 years ago by the first indigenous Prime Minister, Sir Milton Margai.
Rite of passage
In 2016, the government of former President Ernest Bai Koroma took a major leap towards its realisation with the enactment of the National Youths Service Act.
Besides national cohesion, the government also intends to use NYS to empower its younger population, in a country with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world.
Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who presided over the inauguration ceremony in Freetown, described the scheme as “a rite of passage into a world of citizenship and responsibility”.
He added in a statement that the event represented part of a fulfilment of President Julius Maada Bio’s commitment to youth development as one of his government’s strategies of ending employment.
Dr Jalloh noted that the scheme would also increase youth participation in governance.