By Wisdom Mumera
Study results by the Applied Knowledge Services show that local political parties face an uphill task in increasing the number of youths who will vote in the 2018 elections as trends have revealed a dire trait for most African countries.
With increased unemployment and a political leadership that is too old to resonate with them or includes youth matters in the youth arena, many youths have resorted to shunning electoral participation.
According to the study results most African countries are grappling with a demographic ‘youth bulge, ” the median age of Africans is 19 years, compared with 42 years for Europeans, and the youth currently comprise 70 per cent of Africa’s population”.
“(However) youth political participation in Africa, particularly in urban areas, is broadly similar to that in other regions. In comparison with older people, Africa’s youth vote less and are more likely to demonstrate either no partisanship or an attachment to opposition parties rather than to incumbent parties.”
Despite the propensity to identify themselves with opposition parties, it is their indifference to participation in the electoral process that is set to provide a headache for the opposition parties who have all earmarked the youths as the focal sector from which to gain an upper hand.
The ruling ZANU PF is already holding Youth Interface rallies across the country which are being addressed by President Mugabe.
The grouping of opposition parties has also focused its campaign strategy on rallying the youths to go out and vote.
According to the AKS “despite Africa’s youth bulge, the majority of the region’s presidents are over 60. Some African scholars believe this prevents the concerns of youth being brought into the political arena and advocate lowering the voting age to 16”.
Zimbabwe is facing the same concerns as an aged clique of war veterans from the liberation struggle has maintained a stranglehold over national structures and positions of power and influence all against the common decency and sense to retire and hand over the reins to more inventive and ambitious young leaders.
The leadership stagnation has served to ostracize the youths who have become cynical about the whole political process.
AKS states that ” youth unemployment remains high in Africa, and approximately 72 per cent of Africa’s youth live on less than two dollars a day”, whilst in Zimbabwe, unemployment is a staggering 90%.
Instead of driving the youths to participate in the electoral process the 2018 elections are likely to suffer from youth apathy as many are likely to abstain and concentrate on eking out a living or simply refuse in a show of defiance to the system.
Going forward into the future the outlook is even dire.
“Given that Africa is urbanizing rapidly and the youth bulge will remain prominent in years to come, voter abstention and low partisanship might grow.”
“Given existing levels of unemployment and poverty among Africa’s youth, job creation could remain highly relevant to their political participation”, it says.
Locally ZANU has failed to provide the promised 2 million jobs promised in the 2013 elections with only whimsical justifications to deflate accusations of failing, providing opposition parties with ammunition to use on the campaign trail.
This, however, provides Zimbabwean youth with valid reasons to go out and vote in the 2018 elections.
According to a media article recently ‘over the past two years, a decisive youth vote has effected change in Nigeria, Ghana and the Gambia.’
“In Nigeria, data from the Independent National Electoral Commission shows that, in the 2015 elections, students were the second-largest voting bloc in the country and young people below the age of 30 are the largest percentage of the voting population in the country”.
“Ghana, which held its own polls in December 2016, has 58% of the population under the age of 24, and according to the According to the Commonwealth’s”
Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016, Ghana ranks 31st for youth participation in politics.
In Gambia, where an electoral miracle kicked out a parasitic dictator, youth constitutes at least 60% of the population. Anecdotal evidence from media and observers prove that the election results reflect the energy of their passion.
“It can seem like a cliché when people talk about the power of the youth demographic bulge across Africa. But while that bulge often tacks negative with the economy (Gambia’s youth unemployment stands at 38%; Ghana’s stands at 48%), the one place where its full power comes to bear is in elections; especially free and fair elections.”
According to a media report, in Nigeria,” the overwhelming success of the youth vote energized a population that went to the streets to protest in February this year, an electorate that sought the recall of a Senator in May, and an active civil society that successfully pushed reluctant national legislators to enact a #NotTooYoungToRun Bill that has slashed down the age that young people can contest the governorship, legislative and presidential elections.”
All these examples reveal the power youths possess if they manage to overcome cynicism to stay away from voting.
In a statement on the matter, the Zimbabwe Partnership for Prosperity (ZIPP) has challenged the youths in Zimbabwe to rise up and vote in numbers.
“ZIPP urges government, Zimbabwe Election Commission, NGOs, political parties, churches and learning institutions to create enough awareness among the youth as to why they should vote.”
“It is only in Zimbabwe that we have an organization like Zimbabwe Coalition of Unemployed Graduates formed by jobless but highly qualified youths.”
The coalition has since presented a petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe highlighting their dissatisfaction with the state of the economy.
“We also challenge Zimbabwe Coalition of Unemployed Graduates to mobilize its wide membership to register and vote.”
“Zanu PF government is struggling to deal with a worsening unemployment crisis as companies collapse, hence our call for youths to use the only weapon still in their possession – the vote”, it has said
As the elections draw near the youths are thus well poised to play a far greater and decisive role if they surmount the previous apathy which has seen them staying away from voting.