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21st February, what’s in it for the young?

It’s the 21st of February, a public holiday in Zimbabwe declared “Robert Mugabe National Youth Day” in 2017. For young people, is the day worth celebrating?

The day comes at a time when the Zimbabwean economy continues to shrink at an alarming rate. A significant number of young people have left the country in search of greener pastures. Most of the youth are unemployed and many face tremendous challenges setting up entrepreneurship ventures. Young people are disgruntled by the prevailing socio-economic situation. The impact of climate change evinced by prolonged droughts and flooding resulting in prevailing mealie meal shortages further exacerbates the situation by adding onto the burden of care and/or contributing to household income. The failure of past interventions to address the challenges and change lives for the better have failed dismally. As a result, limited youth participation has permeated most spheres of society.

Nqobizitha Mlambo an ardent social and economic justice activist says today is an ordinary day with nothing worth celebrating.

“Youths face a plethora of socio-economic challenges that make the youth day a mockery to us! Look at political exclusion, the majority of young people are not in key decision-making positions. Inversely the same youths are expected to vote and take roles in political party youth wings that are nothing more than pliant wings of older people who occupy strategic leadership positions. We lack access to education, decent work, and other fundamentals key for our survival and livelihoods as indicated in Section 20 of the national constitution. The government’s economic policies were crafted without the input of us the youth who constitute a greater demographic percentage. For instance, the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) is silent on proper job creation, Vision 2030 (Upper Middle-Income Economy Agenda) proposes to liberalise the economy but is silent on how young people will benefit from such a policy.”

Zimbabwe has various legal and policy instruments that guide youth participation. These include the Constitution specifically Section 20 that states that government must ensure that youth have opportunities to participate in political, social, economic and other spheres of life. Zimbabwe has a progressive National Youth Policy, a framework to provide common aspirations and priorities for the youths. It seeks to achieve several goals including empowering young men and women to participate and contribute to the social, economic and political development of the nation by eradicating all forms of social, economic, and political exclusion. However, what remains of paramount importance is to ensure that implementation takes centre stage. There are also several international and regional legal instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party that give youth the right to participate. These include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Youth Charter that give youth and children the right to participate.

 The low involvement of young people in socio-economic development discourse is a cause for concern. For starters, the youth may have fresh ideas to address the prevailing socio-economic challenges being faced by the country and these will go unheard resulting in the country missing crucial development opportunities. Civic engagement is incomplete without youth participation and critical for the design of youth-sensitive development initiatives to address the challenges being faced by the youth. Efficient public service delivery is hinged to the ability to respond to the needs of all groups in the community. Leaving youth behind results in ineffective service delivery and further increases the vulnerabilities of youth.

Given the above context, to most youth, the national youth day is an ideological tool which is meant to blind youths and divert them from the real situation they are facing. These sentiments below are shared by Rodrick Moyo a recent University graduate.

“Making up the largest population percentage in Zimbabwe yet we are the ones suffering the most. As if almost being totally disenfranchised by the socio-economic problems bedevilling the country was not enough, youths were at the epicentre of machete violence, the floods which wreaked havoc in Binga recently leaving a trail of destruction and displacing several including the same young people.

“Strikingly this day falls on the herald of the Decade of Action, a decade to deliver a prosperous Africa. The Decade of Action calls for accelerating sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges-ranging from poverty and gender to climate change, inequality and closing the finance gap.

“It would be a sad day for any youth movement to celebrate this fallacy unless and until youths are included in policy formulation not as passive participants but active contributors to national development. When that happens, then we will start talking of a national youth day. Economically we are struggling so there is need to open more opportunities for youths. We need farms, mining opportunities, not to be left out is our demand for greater representation in politics,” he adds.

Having a well written Constitution and faithful adherence and implementation of the supreme law is another. Departing from the Constitution is never justifiable.

As we celebrate the day it is important for all and sundry to;

  • Remove all discriminatory policies that hinder the full participation of young people in social, political and economic development;
  • The dire economic situation has forced youths to participate in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). To expand opportunities for youth in the ASM sector, youth empowerment and employment strategies including programs that are designed to provide financial and technical support to uplift their status should be implemented;
  • Some of the initiatives that government can implement include creating an enabling environment for licensing, registration of the youths;
  • The youths could also consider forming their own consortia that can focus on developing interventions that are specific to their needs;
  • The government must fully decriminalize the sector by formalizing ASM including  creating departments to monitor the ASM sector and ensure that information on their activities and especially tax payment is captured, analysed and utilised to promote sustainable development;
  • The bludgeoning youth population should commensurate with Youth community centres where the youths are taught diverse skills and given the platform to explore their capabilities;
  • Addressing gender issues is critical, a comprehensive gender strategy is needed so that gender concerns are addressed in the country’s development programs;
  • Policies are likely to be successful if youth issues are well integrated into national policy formulation and implementation mechanisms.

If these recommendations are addressed, maybe we can have most young people recognising the 21st of February and seeing it as a day worth celebrating.

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