At the End of the Line? A Thought on Young People’s Prospects in Zimbabwe

It is now incontrovertible that Africa has a demographically young population. The demographic youth bulge is now a centre of focus in development theory and the practice quest for forward-looking governance planning. 

For Zimbabwe, the youth bulge is an opportunity that must not be let to slip away. It is a concern for the Zimbabwean youth that youth concerns appear to be at the end of the long line of other national priorities. 

Why is it important to tap into the demographic youth bulge? 

Their numbers alone are cause for concern. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa [UNECA] (2016) youth aged 15-24 increased in number from 90.8 million in 1980 to 230 million in 2015, expected to get to 293 million in 2025 and rise further to 535 million in 2065 and is 18 projected to reach 293 million in 2025 and 535 million in 2065. An African Union report from 2012 emphatically states that 60% of Africa’s 1 billion inhabitants are aged 35 and below. This means there is a mass of young people, mostly running around the African continent unemployed, dependent on parents/guardians, without capital to generate own income and thus, exposed to poverty, unemployment, under-employment, disillusionment with their governments, patriarchy and in danger of being tapped up into violent extremism and a life of crime.  

In theory, the youth bulge should provide the country with a massive financial lift, on the condition that the economy can provide that bulge with employment opportunities. However, this is not the case for Zimbabwe. Without being drawn into the debate of the unemployment statistics, under-employment, self-employment among others, we can already see the need to craft responsive policies to address the dangers of the youth bulge and take a further step to maximise on the benefits of this youth bulge.

The African Union recognises the importance of youth to Africa’s development, seeing them as assets and much needed partners. According to the AU Youth Charter Africa’s youthful population is Africa’s greatest resource, and through the effective participation of youth, Africa can overcome some of the challenges that have are projected to befall the continent (African Youth Charter pp1). 

Are the market conditions able to absorb the youth through employment, opportunities to start their own enterprises and thrive? The country’s waning economy is making it tough for start-ups, only established corporates that have decades of operations as a buffer against changing market, policy and legal conditions can thrive under the current circumstances. What does this mean for the army of unemployed youth?

The African Union launched the AU Youth Decade Plan of Action  (DPoA) from 2009 to 2018 with the 5 key priority areas of (1) Education and Skills development, (2)Youth Empowerment and Entrepreneurship, (3) Governance, Peace and Security, (4) Youth Health and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and (5) Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment . Each country is supposed to personalise this DPoA and publicise it among the youth in the country. However, we are yet to see any action on this front in Zimbabwe. In informal conversations with some young people, one can feel the disconnect they feel with their government and the inefficacy, if not total absence of youth–centred programming.

Some of the key principles of the African Union Youth Charter include: (i) the need to facilitate active youth participation at local, national, regional and international levels to determine their own development and the advancement of society at large, (ii) the need to holistically address inter-related challenges facing African youth and (iii) acceptance that the promotion and protection of the rights of youth implies the performance of duties by youth as by all other actors in society. There is a need for the policy makers in Zimbabwe to also uphold these principles and ensure they are translated into meaningful action that makes a difference in the lives of the rising youth numbers in Zimbabwe. 

Framed by such noble principles as those guiding the African Youth Charter,  there is an urgent need for important stakeholders in the youth sphere such as the Zimbabwe Youth Council, Ministry of Youth, Youth-led and youth-centred NGOs and academia to come together in a structured and sustained dialogue on youth issues in Zimbabwe. It is only when youth are pushed up from the end of the line of national priorities that we can develop comprehensive and coherent youth policies to create employment, reduce structural barriers to youth enterprises, and encourage youth participation in governance and development sectors.

While the government and non-state actors are preoccupied with reportedly more pressing issues such as the cash crunch, sorting out the economy, the hashtag movements, traffic offences and elections it is vital for stakeholders to come together and determine avenues to help young people to venture into structurally supported economic enterprises so as to reap the dividend of this youth bulge that is evidently, unapologetically and irreversibly upon us. 

Daniel Mususa 06.02.2017

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