🇿🇼 A conspiracy to get young people elected to public offices hatched.

Some of the young people who met in Harare on the 30th day of March 2021

They tend to vote less, care less about politics and display less partisanship than their parents, Zimbabwean youth have been on the margins of the Zimbabwean political life for too long. The National Association of Youth Organisations (NAYO) Zimbabwe and its partners are on a drive to change that.

In a campaign dubbed Youth Eligibility for Public Office the conglomeration of youth organizations in Zimbabwe is targeting social, economic and structural hindrances of youth’s ability to run for public office.

In late March 2021 the organization held a caucus meeting with over a dozen young people in Harare to share ideas and plan for the future. I was lucky to be part of that group which sat to plot for a future shaped by the young.

At the meeting we identified some of the challenges which we have been facing in our efforts to be more participatory in politics. Economic challenges such as lack of resources may have dominated the conversations however an insightful research report by Lovemore Mwale highlighted some of the opaque challenges ranging from engraved fear to more cultural factors such as the traditional view of leadership as an elders domain.

Structurally young people have identified the breakdown being at the core of the Zimbabwean constitutional order. The constitutional limitations such as age limits renders the supreme law inconsistent when looked at from a youth perspective.

The constitution of Zimbabwe section 67 (3) b states that any Zimbabwean citizen who is of or over the age 18 years has the right to stand for public office and if elected to hold such office.

Section 91 (1) b of the constitution limits presidential candidates to forty years of age, section 121 (1) b limits Senate candidates to at least forty years and section 125 (1) b puts a lower cap on parliamentary candidates at 21 years of age. All this is inconsistent with section 56 of the same constitution which is clear on equality and non-discrimination of persons.

NAYO has been fighting these age limitations for some time, in 2018 in the lead up to Elections the organization lodged a petition with the Parliament of Zimbabwe highlighting these constitutional inconsistences which restricts the youth to access public offices.

The petition was never acknowledged however the organization and its network of young people has not given up maybe because in the same election cycle their #LeaveNoYouthBehind campaign to get more young people to vote has yielded significant results seeing 15% more young people voting in 2018 than previous elections.

Justifications for the drive to have more young people in public offices are self-evident, Zimbabwe’s youth population is around 70%, 35 of which are in the voting population, in addition the education and technological knowhow possessed by these youths evidently surpasses that of the older generations. 

The mismatch of the social consciousness of the older generation and the youth has been one of the causes of youth political apathy in the first place. The older generation of leaders continue to propagate laws and policies which are inconsistent with the social realities of the 21st century. Thus a more youthful population inthe corridors of power will take Zimbabwe to the 21stcentury both socially and economically.

The reality of Zimbabwean politics is not pleasing, the previous election produced a parliament with less than 3% youths and average age of parliamentarians well above 50 years. In the previous elections in 2013 the average age of people running for public office was 55 and those few youths who find themselves in public offices it is either through appointment and they often wield little or no decision making power.

At local level young people are not fully consulted, the few elected youths at local level find themselves monitored and supervised by the Ministry of Local Government as threats as we have seen with the power squabbles in most local governments including Harare and Chitungwiza.

Lack of the political will especially by the Zimbabwean government seems to be driven by stereotypical view of youth as problems to be contained, unfocused and incapable beings as evidenced by the government’s notation in its 2021-2026 economic blueprint known as the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1). The NDS1 item number 735 clearly spells the government’s views saying:

“It has been noted that most youth in Zimbabwe have not embraced the culture of hard work and the principle that hard and honest work pays.”

An assessment which young people cannot agree with given the multiplicity of youth led projects and initiatives most of which are destroyed by corruption and mis-governance by those controlling the levers of government.

Faced by a reality where the government sees its youth as a problem, civil society youth organizations find it necessary to fill in the gap and ensure that the youth are afforded opportunities and structural openings for them to access public offices and NAYO Zimbabwe led campaign fits into this matrix.

The campaign

The campaign is part of the global drive which was launched at the first UN Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Geneva, Switzerland in November 2016. 

The Not Too Young To Run campaign was driven by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the UN Development Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the European Youth Forum and YIAGA. 

The IPU secretary-general, Martin Chungong summed it as follows then:

“If young people are not too young to get married, to serve in the military or to choose the parliamentarians who will represent them, they are not too young to run.”

Ever since the launch of the campaign young people around the world have since adopted the hashtag #NotTooYoungToRun to raise awareness of the campaign on social media and other platforms. Gains have already been registered in other countries such as Nigeria.

The Nigerian government in 2018 amended the constitution to reduced the age limit for state legislators and those in the federal House of Representatives from 30 years to 25 years, for senators and governors from 35 to 30 and for the president from 40 to 35. All this may not be enough but it is a good start for an ambitious plan such as putting the youth where they belong.

Inspired by the possibilities and gains which have been acquired in other countries NAYO Zimbabwe’s campaign is working to ensure:

  • The removal of discriminatory age caps within the 2013 constitution to respect and uphold provisions of section 63 (3) on eligibility for public office at all tier of government and for candidacy to Parliament, Senate and Presidium.
  • Adoption of affirmative action measures such as introduction of a quota system as temporal measures to address historical injustice and exclusion of youth in all tiers of government with full consultation of youth.
  • The government of Zimbabwe to commission a national study on youth access to public office at all tiers of government and for contested public office positions as per Constitutions.
  • Adoption of intraparty institutional reforms at the political party level which levels the playing field for aspiring youth politicians to gain access to public office.
  • Creation of a parliamentary youth caucus.
  • Reformation of the Electoral Act of Zimbabwe to level the playing field for youth aspiring to access public office in line with section 56 (6) and gain access to financing set aside for political parties.
  • Creation of inclusive and non-partisan mechanisms to protect youth from exploitation and all forms of abuse in political and electoral cycle related processes.

Its expected outcomes among others is to see a 25% increment in number of youth occupying public offices and a general increase in youth participation in development processes be it at local or national level.

What can you do to support the campaign?

Bernard Mornah who joined the caucus meeting from Uganda suggested that people have to support theiryoung people through financial and social contributions. Understanding that financial resourcesare a challenge, financial support for youth candidates is vital. 

For corporations and business people it is imperative to have young people who understand the modern economy better in leadership positions. The maintenance of people who have the economic understanding of the 1960s does not help in this new competitive globalized world. It is not a bad bet to support young candidates with resources they need to win.

For individuals that’s our daily friends and family, itdoes not have to be large sums of money, it can be as little as five dollars but for a youth candidate that makes a difference. Bernard talking from his experience the totality of his campaign was made of small contributions from schoolmates, friends and family. 

Another young candidate from east Africa told us at a summit for East African youths in November 2019 that:

“People fund their own struggle”

Boniface Mwangi

For young people planning to run for office especially on the impending by-elections the advice is simple, plan, talk to your networks and mobilize resources, seek guidance from trusted elders and go for it. 

Brian Keter who also joined our caucus meeting virtually from Kenya emphasized the need to ensure youth accountability when they get in office. We can see that the few young people who managed to get into public offices are often coopted into acting and behaving like the older generation of leaders. It is key for young people to put up key mechanism to make sure that the youth who made it are accountable to their constituency not their political parties.

Ostalos Siziba one of the youth who attended the caucus meeting highlighted that the older generation of leaders in both main political parties in Zimbabwe display tendencies of entitlement. They shun out young people on the basis of their history with the struggle.

Understanding that only young people can do it but they cannot do it alone, our elders have to readjust their thinking and offer a helping hand. A helping hand can be as simple as condemning the entitlement mentality of their peers and stand for the generation of the future. This is not only to support young people but also to save the country as a whole.

For most elders their struggle is now to make sure that young people fight theirs without hindrances, hence just not being a hindrance is a positive contribution for the future of the country.

With all that being said the heavy lifting however remains with young people, wherever they are including the diaspora. The task is simple it is time totranscend boundaries of fear, lack, culture and institutional structures and claim the future through strategic efforts to get to all public offices starting with number 1!

2030 Tinenge Tavapo!

Abel Sibanda

[Development Postgraduate Student at Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University • Development Practitioner • Research interests ranging from political participation, civil societies, social movements to general queer politics]

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