Maximising youth dividend

Youths at a Presidential Interface Rally in Masvingo recently

Youths at a Presidential Interface Rally in Masvingo recently

Joram Nyathi

THE idea of the youth dividend is topical nowadays. It is in vogue. It is the talk of town from Europe to Africa.

The focus among political parties in Zimbabwe is largely on the forthcoming harmonised elections. There is a narrative that whoever wins the youth vote is set to win the elections. Whether this obsessive focus on the youth as a demographic to win an election is good for national wellbeing is the subject of the Spectrum today.

But the concept itself is part of a broader narrative driven by American and European companies searching for growth markets for their products. Given Africa’s negligible contribution to global manufacturing and trade vis-à-vis its burgeoning youth population, this has led to the beguiling but misleading “Africa rising” narrative.

To those in search of markets the Africa rising narrative is a seductive one because every modest growth in the economy means a rise in purchasing power and more consumption of finished foreign goods – cellphones, computers, iPads, and any number of electronic gadgets one can think of. The youth are likely to be the biggest consumers.

—–Youth unemployment—–

But even then, there is a political slant. Europe, and America and Britain in particular, have flooded Africa, and again in particular, Zimbabwe, with non-governmental organisations as part of the regime change agenda. The youth are prone and most susceptible to be the recruitment ground. More so given the economic challenges they face. Local universities churn out graduates without a single skill to cope in an economy offering limited formal employment opportunities.

It is a banality that most of the youths are “educated” to look for jobs in a formal market with a shrinking uptake. Such people don’t easily fit into the “new economy” in the informal sector because of their “pride”, for lack of a better term. They consider themselves educated and the informal sector is infra dig, far below the status their education makes them to expect. These youths are quickly disillusioned.

That’s where they become ready fodder and candidates for marauding NGOs. Their plight can only reflect Government’s failure to create the right jobs. The youth are lured with irresistible offers of contracts, at times a car to go with it – a veritable status symbol in Zimbabwe. It is these youth who are easily deployed to make the loudest calls for regime change. Every failure to create jobs is clinically reduced to mismanagement, corruption and wrong policies.

In the new NGO school system, the land reform and black economic empowerment policies are good examples of bad policies for unnamed investors waiting by the border to offload truckloads of foreign currency once there is a new Government. Such policies are pejoratively called populist, never mind that what is popular is what wins political parties votes and allows them to form a government to implement those policies. The idea of Western sanctions crippling the economy is dismissed as a myth to shield incompetency by the ruling party.

It is hard for a hungry youth to discern the sinister agenda coated in blatantly straight forward images from the forked tongue of an NGO with a mission.

That’s how the youth can easily be harnessed as a force for good and as a negative force. They are available on the market for harvesting by anyone with resources which address matters of the stomach and prestige, no matter however ephemeral.

—–Youth Interface Rallies—–

So far Zanu-PF has done a great job of minimising the external damage to our youths. That is against the combined efforts of NGOs, CSOs and opposition political parties. Somewhat belatedly, the message is being communicated that there are far greater enemies ranged against Zimbabwe than their local mouthpieces. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day what sweet promises the West and America make, it is never and it will never be their intentions or policies to see a prosperous African nation, let alone Zimbabwe. A prosperous Zimbabwe diminishes the self-importance and philanthropic posture of non-governmental organisations, it undermines the value of the donor community.

A divided Africa or Zimbabwe serves the nefarious interests of the West. That is why invariably we are called a democracy, even grudgingly so, for having more newspapers and more political parties and NGOs than one finds in the so-called developed world. Individually and severally, they are foreign-funded.

Is it out of the generosity of their spirit?

The answer is simple: That is how you stop people from building what became known as the Tower of Babel. There must always be more noise and never consensus on anything in Africa; every policy initiative which seeks to uplift the black man must be disparaged, attacked and derided as cronyism and corruption.

The divide and rule tactics of the colonial era didn’t perish with the dawn of majority rule.

Through Presidential Youth Interface Rallies Zanu- PF has managed to maximise the youth dividend. The capacity crowds at these rallies have awed and scared rivals. They have managed to “strike fear in the heart of the enemy” within and without. The party’s capacity for mobilisation has been so evidently overwhelming that even local media backers of the opposition have been forced to acknowledge, to accept the plain reality that Zanu-PF rivals are clueless, offer no alternative and have been reduced to peripheral spectators and ineffectual critics of its manifesto before it’s unveiled.

More importantly, everyone is getting irritated by the opposition’s tired noise about Zanu-PF rigging elections, including the latest blithering nonsense about President Mugabe bribing the entire African continent with a donation of a mere $1 million to support him even in the unlikely event that he loses next year’s harmonised elections.

—-Ideological ballast—-

That said, there is need to be careful about how this youth dividend plays out. There have been efforts to drive a crude wedge between the youth and the rest of Zanu-PF supporters, especially the war veterans. It’s something to guard against.

True, the youth can organise the rallies, etc, but the party must remain an organic whole, with the youth solidly standing on the foundations laid by their fathers.

It is possible that the youth on their own can win the vote for Zanu-PF, but it is something dangerous to try to prove or demonstrate because it would a victory devoid of cultural and historical moorings. It is a victory without ideological roots; a victory based solely on the power of a galvanised youth. It is a victory very easy to upset in the long-term given the nature and tactics of the relentless external adversaries alluded to earlier.

Zanu-PF is not about to overblow the youth bubble to a point where they can turn around and claim to own the party and the rest of those who have been its foundation and bastion from the liberation struggle can be dispensed with.

That is why it is important to note that while the youth can mobilise for the rallies, winning next year’s elections is by no means the end of the bigger war being waged against liberation movements in the region, and so far Zanu-PF seems to be the most solid in terms of grassroots resistance to foreign machinations. The new “alliance” between Julius Malema and the white DA against the ANC in South Africa warns us of the sometimes fickle nature of a youth movement thrown off the ballast of liberation war fighters, those stalwarts who know what it is to suffer, to sacrifice for a cause. In the ongoing war for economic freedom, history and ideology will prove more important than improperly deployed passion, energy and zeal.

But most importantly, it must be borne in mind that beyond the elections, when Zanu-PF wins, it determines the fate and future of the entire nation, including those opposed to its policies. That is why its overwhelming message should be one of unity even in our diversity. And the youth must drink more from the fountain of diminishing numbers of liberation veterans to engage fully in the longer and more dangerous economic war being ruthlessly waged against Africa.

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