Why Youth Participation in Elections and Governance Issues Is Declining

With the next harmonised elections approximately two years away, citizen apathy in participating in electoral processes remains high. This has resulted in questions being raised on whether young people are ready to get involved in electoral processes? Zimbabwe has a population of about 16 million people, with approximately 77.9% of this population being youths aged 34 years old and younger. Given this situation there is a presumption that the largest demographic participating in electoral processes ought to be the youth. But this is not the case. Youth as the largest demographic are the most affected by democratic processes but apathy remains high with youths failing to turn up to participate in elections and governance issues. The lack of participation is a result of a conflation of issues ranging from, restrictive political parties, a general lack of interest, insufficient information that enables participation and insufficient funds to address the electoral and governmental needs of the youth.

Limitations

Exclusion

What scholar John Bell calls adultism, “when adults take a position they are better than young people and prescribe solutions for them. Young people are seen as potentially dangerous elements that should be kept away from key decision making processes.”

Poverty

Approximately 70% of young people in Zimbabwe are unemployed and those that work experience extreme poverty. The economic environment exposes youths to exploitation and control for political gain. Underprivileged youths have been reduced to selling their rights for food, money and promises that never materialize. In a democratic dispensation such as Zimbabwe, politicking is often practiced by those with the political muscle with youths reduced to being pawns in politricks, sidelining political issues and relegating the vote to a commodity ready to pick for those with cash.

Lack of Freedom

The laws governing the country have become an impediment to youth participation in elections and governance related issues. Zimbabwe has since undergone a major crackdown on dissent, which has worsened since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Youths have been subjected to state security violence and arbitrary arrests, with youths such as Namatai Kwekweza, Godfrey Kurauone, Joana Mamombe, Takudzwa Ngadziore and Tapiwa Chiriga being subjected to arrests and lengthy pretrial detentions. Increased repression contributes towards voter and electoral apathy and negatively impacts on youth participation in electoral issues for fear of persecution.

Lack of Transparency

Historically elections in Zimbabwe have been hampered by a lack of transparency in the conduct of elections which has contributed to the lack of faith and motivation to participate. Regardless of structural challenges the 2018 election saw an increase of youth who registered to vote which showed a willingness of youths to participate in elections, however, it is important to understand the demands and dynamics of youth to ensure comprehensive participation. Youth participation in Zimbabwean political parties continues to be difficult to determine because of various reasons including a lack of age-disaggregated data in political party membership registers. In almost all major political parties in Zimbabwe, the volunteers tend to be youth, whilst leadership is dominated by the older generation. It is a sad reality that none of the political parties have developed policies that ensure young people as active participants in leadership and governance positions.

Literacy Gap

The Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2 exposed a serious constitutional literacy gap among youth, making it difficult to mobilize young people to defend one of the most crucial documents for Zimbabwean Citizens. There is a serious Constitutional literacy gap among the youth in Zimbabwe, which is hindering them from fully participating in the constitutional narrative of the country thereby limiting effective leadership participation. Young people need to take the leadership role in amplifying their voices in leading the constitutional discourse in Zimbabwe. The systematic exclusion of youth from all forms of public office has been one of the greatest hindrances to genuine youth participation in leadership, governance, decision-making and public office in Zimbabwe. In the 2018 elections, only 6 young people under the age of 35 made it into Parliament out of a possible 210 seats. This means that in 2018 Zimbabwe had a 2.85% representation of youth in Parliament. In a country where according to UNFPA 62% of the population are youth below the ages of 25 and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission indicates that 67.7% are 35 years old and below, a representation of less than 2.85% in parliament is
unacceptable.

In conclusion, election stakeholders need to support programs for young people specifically to intensify their skills in leadership, governance, understanding electoral processes and the importance of youth participation. There is a need for intensive voter registration to ensure that the youth know their political and electoral rights. The Electoral Commission, civil society and political parties have a duty to ensure that youth participation in Zimbabwean politics is maximized.

Source: This article was written by WELEAD for the ERC. The ERC is a think tank and advocacy organizations on electoral and democracy issues in Zimbabwe and WELEAD is a youth leadership development organization.

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