Zimbabweans, just like many other Africans, may be described as ‘voters” but not yet ‘citizens” (Bratton & Logan.2006). Mahmood Mamdani’s (Mamdani. 1996) classic thesis about citizens and subjects in late colonialism seems to have no greater application than to Zimbabwe, a country in which the voice of the citizen has been largely non-existent since the colonisation in 1897. The idea that citizens are at the heart of the state has never been a central notion for the state in either Rhodesia or Zimbabwe. The majority of the population were denied political voice of any significant kind virtually until the end of the settler state, forced into a brutal and bitter civil war after 1965, and were largely relegated to the minimalist role of mere voters since independence in 1980.
Surprisingly, studies have shown that Zimbabweans are a citizenry with high demand for democracy, high participation in elections, but very low demand for accountability. What might explain this? Is this “risk-aversion” (Masunungure. 2006), or is it something deeper in the Zimbabwean political psyche, what some might call Zimbabwe’s “political culture”?

It i evident that Zimbabwe has a very large population of young people. The 2012 Census reports that 76% of Zimbabwe's population is under the age of 35 years, giving Zimbabwe an enormous "youth bulge". Youth bulges can be sources of increased economic prosperity, as in China for example, or soureces of instability as has been argued by a number of authorities.
One important area in which the youth of Zimbabwe can contribute to the betterment of the country is through participation in elections. Here it was disappointing to see that that nearly 2 milliin persons under 35 were not registered voters in 2013. Did this represent apathy amongst the youth, the result of the difficulties placed intheir way in registering, or both?
Whatever the case, the lack of participation by the youth in elections casts a shadow over the claims that Zimbabwe makes to being a democracy, and may seriously undermine the legitimacy of any government that is elected without the consent of this substantial constituency.
The current opinion piece examines the issues around the participation of youth in Zimbabwean elections, highlighting all the concerns around their exclusion and raises the issues that need to be addressed.

It is conventionally assumed that the middle class will be the strongest defenders of democracy, and therefore it might be assumed that middle class women would be similarly so. However, this does not seem to be true for Zimbabwe where the middle class, and particularly young middle class women, seem disengaged from political life.

It is a conventional position that the middle-classes are the staunchest defenders of democracy, but recent research in Zimbabwe suggests that this is not the case in Zimbabwe. In this study, the educated, employed and urban, who may be crudely described as “middle-class”, were shown to be mostly uninvolved in the socio-political life of the country, and were described as “disconnected democrats” (RAU. 2015). Did this apply equally to men and women, especially as women are frequently argued to exercise less agency than men? 
This notion was tested in a study using the most recent Afrobarometer data on Zimbabwe from Round 6 (2014). In this study two basic propositions were tested:

  • Middle-class women will be more likely to support democracy and opposition political parties;
  • Middle-class women will be more likely to show higher frequencies of social capital, political participation, and political efficacy.

Since the middle class is conventionally seen as the major defenders of liberal democracy, their role in Zimbabwe is worth understanding, but a recent study suggested that this might not be the case (RAU. 2015). In a highly patriarchal society such as Zimbabwe, the role of middle class women may take on an additionally important role, but a more recent study suggested that neither social class nor residence – rural or urban – were indicative of women’s participation in the political life of the country (RAU.2016). The defining criterion for women’s voice and participation was the strength of their belief in democracy. However, with nearly 70% of Zimbabwe’s population under the age of 35 years, the role of the young may become very important in determining the direction of the country’s politics, and hence the role of young women needs to be understood.
The Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) conducted a study on middle class women under the age of 35, (defined as university educated, employed and earning above $600 per month as per the World Bank definition) that aimed at investigating what the views of this forgotten class has regarding politics in Zimbabwe and most importantly their participation. Focus group discussions and individual interviews were held with middle class women and one was held with middle class men. The focus group with the men was for comparative purposes to ascertain if their views were different. Both sexes had similar views and opinions on some issues but differed on others based on gender and societal norms. 

This is the first in a series of papers on Proportional Representation (PR) and the quota system in Zimbabwe, and a follow up on an initial paper published by RAU(Matyszak. 2013) on the confusion about Proportional Representation. Whilst RAU recognises that citizen participation is generally the key to holding duty bearers accountable, it also acknowledges the integral role of women and youth, despite the fact that their voices continue to be marginalised. 
The reasons vary but the attitudes about women and youth have to change given that these two groups constitute the largest sections in our population: women are 52% of the total populations according to the 2012 census, whilst youth, those under 35 years, are 67.8%, an enormous “youth bulge”. Full participation of citizens is at the cornerstone of democracy and this can never be achieved if one dominant section of the population continues to speak on behalf of others. This paper adds voice to this conversation and explores why efforts to increase women participation in public spaces in Zimbabwe continue to suffer a still-birth where the argument is twisted to blame the same women for not taking the ‘opportunities’ availed. Whilst there might be problems of slow uptake, it is the principle of nothing for us without us that must motivate political systems to ensure that women fully participate in all structures of society, and this should also be reflected in the political parties. 

A serious question in gender politics is the participation of women in politics and particularly in representative politics. In Zimbabwe, this has been addressed through a proportional representation mechanism that has added 60 women to parliament, but, however, this is due to a quota system, and, the number of women directly elected has dropped significantly. Representation is however not the only issue of importance, and the participation of women in political life generally is equally important.
In Africa, survey research suggests that there are actually few differences between men and women: women are more likely to support one-party states and were generally more ambivalent in their views. In Zimbabwe, research suggests similar attitudes amongst women, but also reveals marked differences between rural and urban women, as well as differences due to age. It may also be that there are differences due to social class, but this is an area that is poorly researched, as Everjoice Win has pointed out (Win. 2004).
It is a conventional position that the middle-classes are the staunchest defenders of democracy, but recent research in Zimbabwe suggests that this is not the case in Zimbabwe. In this study, the educated, employed and urban, who may be crudely described as “middle-class”, were shown to be mostly uninvolved in the socio-political life of the country, and were described as “disconnected democrats” (RAU. 2015). Did this apply equally to men and women, especially as women are frequently argued to exercise less agency than men?

This paper takes a preliminary look at middle-class young women under 35, to ascertain their views of politics in Zimbabwe today. These are educated and professional women holding jobs in the corporate sector, civil society or running their own businesses. They have strong opinions on politics and at the same time are cautious in engaging in active politics even though they have the financial means, the educational backing and the skills to do so.

A report by the Institute of Development Studies in conjunction with the Research And Advocacy Unit titled: The Violent Politics of Informal Work and How Young People Navigate Them: A Conceptual Framework explores the linkages between young people’s economic engagement and their social and political engagement in contexts of violence in Africa. 
The enquiry started from the assumption that, in the everyday lives of young people in Africa, engagement in formal or informal livelihood activities is rarely separated from their social lives and politics, especially the politics that operate in the local economy. 
As young people are embedded in social and, possibly, also in political relationships, the ways in which they pursue opportunities for work will depend not only on their skills and demand for labour, but on their navigation of the political actors that shape the nature of the local labour market and economy. 
These issues become all the more complex in settings that are in the middle of, or recovering from, violent conflict; or are otherwise affected by high levels of violence. In these settings, the politics of the local economy might be entangled with the dynamics that sustain the violence.
Why is this important, and why now? 
The year 2015 saw an historical peak in youth unemployment, with 74 million young people in the 15 to 24 year age group unemployed worldwide (UNDP 2015). The highest youth unemployment rate was in the Arab states with 29 per cent; the youth unemployment rates in East Asia and Pacific and in sub-Saharan Africa are respectively 18.6 per cent and 13.5 per cent, while the world’s average is 15 per cent (ibid.: 64). 
In policy circles and in the field of international development, high levels of youth unemployment are considered problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, it will have a negative impact on young people as they seek to sustain their livelihoods and further the development and wellbeing of their families, and it will negatively affect economic development of the country at large. 
Second, the presence of demographic youth bulges (where youth form the majority of the population) and youth unemployment are regularly associated with increased levels of instability in a country and, in the age of the so-called ‘war on terrorism’, with the increased risk of radicalisation that encourages young people to join extremist groups (UNDP 2015), despite the fact that there are major evidence gaps to support these claims (Cramer 2010).
The association of large numbers of unemployed youth with instability has urged international development actors to develop and support youth employment and entrepreneurship programmes, many of which aim to not just improve young people’s employability and material conditions, but also to foster peace and conflict transformation (Boudreaux 2007; Williams 2008).
 Given the importance of informal work for young people, there are also calls to focus interventions on the informal economy (Fox, Senbet and Simbanegavi 2016). However, others argue that the informal economy cannot provide definite and sustainable solutions because it cannot absorb all unemployed youth (Hansen 2010). 
More critical voices, such as Munive (2010), point out that too often ideas about the ‘crisis of youth’ means that the issue of youth (un)employment is securitised by state actors. and international agencies, and that young people are objectified. Moreover, there are many ‘unknowns’ about the linkages between forms of youth engagement in the economic, social and political sphere, particularly for contexts of violence. 
Concerning entrepreneurship, Tobias, Mair and Barbosa-Leiker (2013) argue that little is known about the mechanisms that might lead to entrepreneurship playing a role in promoting peace, and in general there is only fragmented knowledge about how entrepreneurship can produce social change. There is, therefore, a need for critical research into how young people deal with unemployment and navigate opportunities in the informal sector, and how this might relate to other forms of social and political action.
The objective of this Evidence Report is to develop a conceptual framework for studying the links between young people’s economic activities in the informal economy and forms of social and political engagement, in contexts affected by violent conflict. The report puts the agency of young people at the centre of the enquiry, and relates this to the question of youth identity: young people’s awareness about what ‘youth’ means in a particular context, how this has implications for their agency, and their perspectives on how work relates to the process of ‘becoming’ adults. This requires attention to be paid to social differentiation among the highly diverse social category of ‘youth’ and the multiple identities that young people ascribe to, which affect their experiences and possibilities in the informal economy as well as their agency.
The conceptual framework will enable research on the politics of youth employment and youth entrepreneurship, and the meaning of work for youth identities, to address the following questions that are relevant for policy and programmes: How can programmes that support economic activities among youth be implemented with due attention for local and
national politics? Might these programmes be improved in a way that they may also strengthen social and political engagement among youth?


Last year - 2015 was a busy for RAU and 30 reports, opinion pieces and blogs were producedunder  three thematic areas as stated in the Strategic Plan, 2015- 2022.
All these are available on our website.
To read more about activities and challenges please read our Annual Report 2015 which has been uploaded onto the website. 
If you want any further information please contact the Research and Advocacy Unit on landline - 302764 or on email -