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Potential game changers in Zimbabwe struggle

By Promise Mkwananzi

Recent times present an intriguing dimension to the lead role of the youth in socio-economic transformation in various disciplines across the world. Mark Zuckerberg (founder and owner of facebook) has stole leadership in the technological revolution and the new global economy.

Promise Mkwananzi

Julius Malema seems to be the centre voice of the downtrodden, economically deprived masses of the Republic of South Africa. In the recent spring of revolutions in north Africa, Ivory Coast, Libya and other parts of the world, there is no doubt that the youth have taken forefront leadership, and in the process claimed a greater stake in the decision making processes and attainment of leadership positions.

In Zimbabwe, there is an emerging broad consensus that the youth are the potential game changers in the struggle for the accomplishment of the elusive democratic revolution. These new developments are in part a result of an accelerated economic recession which has destroyed the hope of young people from the US, China, Europe, Asia, Africa you name it.

There are less and less opportunities for young people to prosper, global unemployment has reached fever pitch and so has the anger in young people. Thus the assumption of critical leadership by the youth has both negative and positive implications. The ball is in the court of the authorities to ensure that they channel youth energy towards positive use.

The recent example of the violent demonstrations in the UK reveals this clearly. Governments, the world over are faced with the challenge of meeting the aspirations of young people in the midst of a receding global economy and rising decline of employment opportunities.

It is in this context that the challenges confronting the youth in Zimbabwe must be tackled in a genuine and effective way. The rabblerousing economic empowerment being propagated by the vociferous minister of youth can be dangerous if it is allowed to raise expectations that will not be met.

It is my considered view that there is a need for the authorities to convey an honest message to the youth, rather than water their appetite with political slogans promising empowerment that will not materialize.

It is important that I hasten to state that I am referring to empowerment in the sense of empowering the broad masses of our youth, regardless of their political or tribal orientation in the broadest scale possible.

Hence, the recent revolutions that have rocked Africa and mass uprisings in other countries such as Syria, South Africa and even England show that the youth are imperative in any endeavour aimed at importing change. This is not a novel phenomenon in any way; however, it confirms the vitality for self introspection on the inspiration that Zimbabwean youth can draw from these significant events of our time.

Rapturous calls have been made for the youth of Zimbabwe to stand up and be counted. Frequently these calls fail to trigger exhilarating responses from the youth, even where they do; the response is a far cry to the people`s expectations.

In this article, I hope to elicit discussion on the reasons why our youth have remained indifferent, aversive and in some instances polarized on the issues affecting them, even though there is seeming prudence in attempting to shape a common future based on the assumed universal aspirations of a typical young adult.

The predicament confronting young people today cannot be summed up in a piece of paper; they are enormous, overwhelming, stubborn and intricate. They would require a timeline of three generations to finally eradicate or resolve them.

Hence, the purpose of this paper is not to profess to have solutions but to share and obtain ideas, among a mountain of challenges of some of the pressing issues in order to kick-start a genuine program of action, aimed at tackling what I call “the new youth challenge”.

In doing so, there is need to use lenses that preceded and succeed the political stalemate and the disputed electoral battle of the time. This does not mean that these are not important, instead, it is an attempt to view the youth challenge from a point of view that is not affected by the emotive question of politics.

Riding the wild stallion (political instability)

Zimbabwe`s political instability and unpredictability is alien to a typical young person striving to establish the foundation of their lives. I was not surprised when I read recently that Zimbabwe had ranked the lowest among the countries in which it is friendly to do business, and that the score had continued to decline. Some of the statements that come from the mouths of our politicians boggle the mind.

The President of Zimbabwe spent the entire year insisting that there would be elections before the end of the year. Given the historical character of our elections, naturally his statement had a massive impact on the behaviour of the market and the strategic alignment of business.

His statements were not made any better by the “economic gunpowder” that is being machine-gunned by Saviour Kasukuwere threatening to take over every company on sight that is not indigenous. In addition to this, widespread politically motivated violence, intimidation, reluctance and utter refusal to strengthen the rule of law and numerous other thoughtless utterances from ZANU PF zealots and army generals have magnified the problem.

As if that is not enough, President Mugabe has said that the elections will be held no later than March 2012. This has effectively kept the country in an election alert mode thereby conveying the impression of a person riding on a wild stallion. This is the perspective in which our youth have sought to make a living. The political instability dis-empowers rather than empower the broad base of our youths.

In Mbare for example, hundreds of youth whose livelihoods have been solely dependent on Mbare have been driven out from Mbare for being suspected to be aligned to the MDC, for refusing to pay an illegal tax to Jimu Kunaka a political hobo, a lout siphoning people their hard earned money with the apparent political protection from ZANU PF.  I am told hundreds of vagrants have invaded companies in Bulawayo and are refusing to vacate the premises.

This has no doubt disturbed young people who have been working in these companies. Even where, for argument `s sake one assumes that the youths or ZANU PF itself have a genuine reason to take over the companies, the question that remains is whether invasion is the appropriate way to do it. The result of this manmade political instability is that it decelerates potential investors, decline local confidence in our own markets.

Youth cannot confidently embark on business ventures, creativity and innovation is stalled by a government that inculcates the impression that young people can easily get rich on the basis of ill-gotten wealth. It is for this reason that you have the emergence of speculative groups such as the feral upfumi kuvadiki.

We have edified a spirit of entitlement, bastardized respect for private property to the extent that when upfumi kuvadiki sees an enterprising young woman running her shop, they don’t think of out-competing her but of taking over her enterprise. Thus our youth no longer believe in innovation, that is why it will take the demise of ZANU PF to produce another Strive Masiyiwa.

We must address the problem of political instability as a foundation for fostering a new society whose prosperity is based on merit and hard work. I cannot rightfully argue that Thabani Mpofu must give me shares in his law firm. I must attempt to start my own and such a spirit can only grow in a society that is rooted in the respect for private property and the rule of law.

It is not by accident that contemporary empirical data shows that there is a positive correlation between a democratic society and economic prosperity. The freer a society is, the higher the likelihood for positive economic development. How on earth can our youth make it when they are pitted against each other by the very government that purports to have fought for their independence so that they could learn, work and produce freely?

Hardworking in the stone mine (an unrewarding society)

The above political instability challenges are intrinsically linked to a society that because of its belief in entitlement no longer sees prudence in rewarding talent and hard work. Multitudes of our brilliant young men and women are wallowing in poverty or in faraway lands while in possession of first class degrees in economics, business, law, medicine etc.

Those that are employed are just like a miner hard working in the stone mine. A typical illegal miner is one that you imagine in a dark deep pit armed only with a chisel, a hammer, and a dilapidated cell phone torch. In this pit, the miner works hard in the stone mine. One can pounce the chisel a thousand times per night and still come out with nothing.

You don’t know when and which pounce, if any will ever hit the right stone that will transform your life. The tradition of meritocracy is rotting in the dustbins of history. One has to produce a ZANU PF card not a degree to be employed. One has to produce a ZANU PF card to access loans from the Ministry of Youth.

One has to show to be ZANU PF to be permitted to form upfumi kuvadiki and even to register an organization or a company. As a result, millions of our workforce turn their backs and toil in the rough and tumble of other societies where they feel that they stand a better chance to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work.

The ministry of youth is awash with ghost workers, most of them Border Gezi graduates, relatives and cousins of those at the top of the political echelons “working” as youth development officer. We have long condemned this exercise and called upon the immediate release of the audit outcome of the civil service workforce.

This inclination has left our youth with a predisposition that is skeptical of education and the patience and hard work that is required for one to attain wealth. There is a need to redirect our society towards the paradigm of taking pride in earned wealth and hard work. This can only start with an initiative to ensure that people`s skills are recognized and rewarded on the basis of their merit rather than the political party that they support.

Fata Morgana in the desert: Economic Emancipation that never was…

The vociferous velocity with which the ZANU PF economic empowerment program started would have led one to believe that there would be no single poor youth by today. On the contrary, more youths have become poorer because of the unpredictability that ZANU PF has caused. Assuming that ZANU PF were to take ALL the companies and give them to the youths, would this change the poverty index of our youth? Certainly not, and ZANU PF knows this.

The point I am trying to make is that if we define empowerment as seizing a company and giving it to our cousin, there is no way statistically that we can be able to give a quarter of our youths companies. This naturally draws from a logical mathematical point to say the country just does not have enough companies to give to every youth.

It therefore follows that an empowerment strategy that is genuine and sustainable should follow a different route. To further simplify this analogy, if you see that you have ten loaves and fifty people, and you are legitimately seeking to ensure that people are fed, it is not a good idea to give ten loaves to your ten friends. Rather, you have to give a certain (preferably equal) number of slices to your delegates.

Zimbabwe`s empowerment story reminds me of my first lessons in illusion that my form one teacher gave me. It is like a mirage in the desert or the water that you see in a tarred road in front of you that you never reach. It is the biblical two fish and five loaves that fed thousands. A true Fata Morgana in the desert!

The gloss promise of independence has continued to elude us as a country, and yet we have continued to apply the same principles and expect different results. Clearly, this is the definition of insanity. The youth are not yearning to drive the latest BMW in the streets of Harare. The youths seek an empowerment programme that is broad based, impartial and effective.

At the very elementary level, they seek a government that will strive to meet their basic necessities of life including healthcare, education and freedom. They want to ensure that they will be able to attain shelter, send their children to school and provide them with healthcare when they are sick. This does not need anybody to illegally take over a company that you will not be able to run.

On the other hand, I am not in any way delusional to think that our youths are not enterprising enough. That is why I propose a broad based; stratified empowerment strategy that identifies the dexterously intricate classes of the youth and provide answers to their peculiar needs, this one-size-fits all solution fits nobody. It is for this reason that the economic emancipation of the black majority that was promised at independence has not and will not reach us under the current establishment.

The Answer: Difficult game of chase

There is no doubt that the problems articulated above are enormous, multifaceted and entrenched in the political culture of corruptibility that ZANU PF has authored for our society. The realization of sustainable political stability remains the biggest breakthrough that young people must organize themselves towards.

The biggest mistake that Malema and Kasukuwere have made is isolating youth groups that they do not ideologically agree with, in the process, their perspective of the youth challenge, sectoral and partisan as it is, has narrowed down their diagnosis of the problem according to whether you agree with their version of understanding the history and conception of the liberation struggle and its location in the current debate among the progressive youth formations.

It is a misnomer that these two do not understand the basic tenet of democracy which states that you do not have to necessarily agree to co-operate, in fact you co-operate because of your divergent views which enrich the socio-economic and political discourse of the youth.

For intolerant figures like these, whose misconception of leadership makes them to expect everyone to agree with them, it is incomprehensible that they should co-operate with people that disagree with them. It is only under a stable political environment rooted in the rule of law, transparency and accountability that one can begin to foster a culture of tolerating divergent views.

This is indeed a difficult game of chase for sectoral leaders that are accustomed to addressing card holding crowds whose only role is to cheer the leader while asking how high to jump. Sadly, this does not even enhance the leader`s understanding of the problems affecting the people as the bussed squads are not able to articulate their problems frankly for fear of being suspected to be disloyal.

There is a need to relook into the youth empowerment fund with the lenses of the Government of National Unity. This will enable a broader oversight of the fund beyond the fungible hands of ministry of youth officials and their friends.

Thus, the control over and the oversight of the empowerment funds must be placed under the tripartite perspective of the GNU in order to guarantee that youths who do not have ZANU PF cards can also access this national cake. Secondly, as stated above, there is a need for broad consultations on both the empowerment fund and the indigenization strategy.

This will enable the ministry to avoid policies that dissuade investors as well as alienate those youths who are marginalized such as those in the rural areas, from minority tribes, the uneducated and all the down trodden. Thirdly the empowerment and indigenization strategy of the government must take into cognizance the divergent and convoluted interests of the youth and design programs aimed at empowering young people in line with their aspirations.

It should be noted that not all youth that want to go into business, some want to achieve in sport, drama, music, academia and so forth. Fourthly the agenda of empowerment must not be misunderstood to be replacing merit and hard work. There is an implicit impression that youths will be empowered to become automatically rich and never work in their lives.

While this sad reality has occurred to those youths close enough to the corridors of power to benefit from this asset stripping of state resources, this should never be condoned. The empowerment project must do just enough to enable our youth to work and fend for themselves with probity.

The accumulation of ill-gotten wealth leads to the enrichment of the few to the unfair and unjust deprivation of the majority of our youths who do not have connections in the state. It is therefore in the interest of the majority that there should be a good, incorruptible government to avoid asset tunnelling by greedy elites and their henchmen and women.

It is imperative at this stage to highlight the intrinsic benefit of a democratic society to the majority as it is only a democratic government supported by the rule of law that can ensure that national resources benefit the nation and its entire people. ZANU PF has sought to perpetuate anarchy and disorder to avoid accountability and transparency.

It is therefore crucial for youth to strive for the establishment of political stability that will bring order and predictability to allow for investment and rebuilding of the economy, all of which will provide the needed opportunities for youth to make a decent living. This is obviously inseparable from the need for the partners of the GNU to comply with and implement all the provisions of the global political agreement.

This should lead to the conduction of a free and fair election supervised, monitored, observed and underwritten by SADC, the outcome of which must be respected and upheld as the will of the people of Zimbabwe. This should be the starting point towards designing and implementing a non-partisan, non-sectoral, realistic, effective and people-centered youth empowerment and indigenization policy. 

In the final analysis, there is nothing that will convince the youth which does not bear the following ingredients namely a stable political environment rooted in the rule of law, evidence that in whatever it does, the government is committed to protecting the good image of our country.

This entails the development of a sound empowerment and indigenization strategy with an appropriate management infrastructure based on a efficient internal control mechanism and an effective risk management plan.

Last but not least, the government`s plan must show proof of reporting to and maintaining constant relationships with the public and other relevant internal and external stakeholders. Only such an elaborate plan constructed on the strength of a process of participatory democracy will unlock the difficult “new youth challenge” logjam.

 Promise Mkwananzi, MDC-T Youth Assembly, Secretary General. You can reach him on pmkwananzi@yahoo.co.uk