As elections loom in Zimbabwe, can the Digital Native Youths seize this chance to determine own future?


By Fungai Alexander Mapondera

As Zimbabwe hurtles towards yet another election, probably the last thing the country needs right now with the economy considered, political parties have been clamouring to reach out to the youth electorate. Within the seriousness of their pursuits it is probably lost on them that the youth electorate base to which they are pinning their hopes on was equally the biggest demography in 2013.

Supporters of Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai take part in a Harare rally by the main opposition parties calling for free and fair elections next year
Supporters of Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai take part in a Harare rally by the main opposition parties calling for free and fair elections next year

So what has changed this time round? In the views of this writer, thanks to technology, today’s Zimbabwean youths are more informed about what is going on politically and what the impediment to the future they desire could be.

Casting our eyes to Europe for a minute where disruption to politics brought upon by the active participation of youths has had a seismic effect. In the UK, the incumbent Theresa May managed to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory. This was thanks in part to a surge in social media driven campaigns encouraging youths to register to vote. It is that same youth base that went on to swing the election in Jeremy Corbyn’s favour with the country ending up with a hung parliament.

While across the English Channel in France, a youthful Emmanuel Macron, at 39 years old, becomes the youngest leader the country has ever seen since Napoleon. What makes both cases of Corbyn and Macron interesting is that for the former, the youth electorate base put its trust in a candidate who at 68 years old has been portrayed by the hostile traditional media as being old and out of touch with the needs of today’s youth. For the latter, the youths considered Macron as their third choice after Jean-Luc Melenchon and Marie Le Pen, however the majority of the country believed in a fresh youthful start and a move away from traditional politics of the old guard.

Coming back to Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe recently kicked off of his 10-venue tour dubbed ‘Meet the Youths’. At the rallies he has been promising to address several issues that will uplift youths’ livelihoods. Chief to this was the acceleration of the implementation of the youth empowerment programmes of which his nephew Patrick Zhuwao, the minister responsible for that portfolio, has been tasked with seeing through. His success thus far or lack thereof depends on who you ask.

I briefly outlined some of the shortcomings of his endeavours when it came to funding of youth empowerment initiatives in this Sunday Mail article from 2 years ago ‘Politicking has no business sin economics’. Most recently other protagonists of sustainable youth empowerment have argued that ZANU PF as a party has nothing to offer the youths of the country.

They point to how the party has presided over a shrinking economy that has seen the value of their education and subsequent employment opportunities evaporate in a short space of time. The opposition parties have also been quick to remind the party of the 2.2 million jobs they promised in their manifesto during the run up to the 2013 watershed elections.

Looking at the youths themselves on all political sides there seems to be a myopic view in terms of what is acceptable when it comes to advocating for what their parties should prioritize when looking to address the plight of youths once and for all. ZANU PF’s national youth leader Kudzai Chipanga has been vocal recently, reminding the President during one of his meet the youth rallies, that youths remained landless despite a ZANU PF led fast-track land reform program. 

Some among ZANU PF affiliated youths have chided the party leadership for neglecting the youths when it came to distributing minerals and other resources concessions. A leading voice on this subject, James Pande alluded to this on the eve of Zimbabwe’s Independence Day celebrations when he was addressing his multitude of followers on Facebook.

He said, “Is our generation really free or we still need to fight for economic independence…let’s preserve the gains of the struggle by fighting head-on all idiots masquerading as leaders looting our resources, not only for our sake but for the next generations to come.”

Among the rank and file of opposition youths it’s primarily a return to democracy and a rule of law that they highlight as they have been at the receiving end of what they believe to be ZANU PF injustices.

In an event held at the Harare gardens to mark ‘Day of the African Child’ the MDC youths were demanding what they called, “…accessible, affordable, quality education, jobs and equal opportunities for all.” But if elected do they actually believe that their party can deliver on their demands?

Given that with less than 13 months to go until the election there hasn’t been much prospective policy pronouncements that prioritise the party’s purported target electorate which they hope to tap into for victory.

When we reflect back at the cases of UK and France, both outcomes showed us that ultimately it wasn’t about the age of the candidate or what is perceived to be the demands of the youth. The same should apply in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean youths, especially those at the forefront of party politics need not be parochial when it comes to choosing their leadership and matters that affect their future.

Far from the elusive things ZANU PF has been promising in the last elections, the biggest message that President Mugabe can sell to the youths is the opportunity to have a significant say and contributions within the higher echelons of power and the economy, to truly take control of their destiny. The same applies to opposition parties.

Should any one of them pull off an election victory that they seem confident of; the unpalatable truth is that youths are once again faced with the same old guard who would want to see to it that the business of patronage is attended to first. All this will be done at the expense of the same youths that would have no doubt contributed to their entry into office.

So if President Mugabe wants to be taken seriously not only by those youths within ZANU PF, but also those new youth voters and the neutrals alike, he would be best advised to engage the youths on those demands that affect them way after he has departed this world.

Within the context of his meet the youths rallies he could start by encouraging youths to take the initiative in primaries to represent the party during the parliamentary elections rather than wait for quota based allocations after. His coterie of youth party activists from across all walks of life should be at the forefront at the rallies presenting the future not asking for trinkets of yesteryear.

To also give an added sense of proximity between the party leadership and the youths, President Mugabe should be taking questions directly from the youths during the rallies, thus showing them they are committed to putting their future first. With ZANU PF controlling the state broadcaster, President Mugabe could actually host his own live studio based ‘meet the youths’ tour where he can take questions from the audience comprising of youths. Dare I add social media to the mix.

Currently Professor Jonathan Moyo, the Minister of Higher Education is the lone voice on social media through his presence on Twitter and reportedly to the chagrin of other party members. Apart from running campaigns that specifically target youths on social networking sites showing them how they intend to make them custodians of their own future, ZANU PF should actually be looking to host live social media sessions where their candidate President Mugabe can interact with youths from across the country.

With access to affordable mobile devices coupled with affordable and reliable Internet connection, social media will become the new battle frontier for authenticity for political parties. This is not least through its potential to go viral and reach youths across the political divide. However, smarting from the Baba Jukwa exposes leading up to the crunch 2013 elections, ZANU PF has nevertheless remained suspicious of social media. In spite of this can the ZANU PF youths and indeed those from across the political divide step up and claim their political and economic destiny? Only time will tell.

Fungai Alexander Mapondera is a digital transformation strategist. He is also a director at a Zimbabwe based youth information hub, Contemporary Indigenous Youth Development Africa (CIYDA) as well as Project Lead for Africa at The Entrepreneurs’ Ship, a Switzerland based, non-profit entity. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @SavileImage

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