Zimbabwe will hold fresh elections at the end of July this year, a sign that, following decades of rule under autocratic leader Robert Mugabe, the southern African nation is on the path towards democracy.
But are the country’s young people ready to get involved in politics?
The signs elsewhere on the continent aren’t hopeful. Given Africa’s youth bulge, in which 39.5% of the continent’s population is aged between 18 and 45, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the majority of voters would be young people. But this is not the case.
For the most part, young people are apathetic when it comes to elections. While they’re the most affected by democratic processes, they appear to be the least interested in them. For example in Nigeria’s 2011 polls, only 52.6% of young people voted while in South Africa’s 2014 national elections, apathy was the reason for a registration level of just 33% for 18 and 19 year olds.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to Africa. Across the world young voters are failing to turn up at the polls. Levels of youth participation are very low in the UK and Ireland and most of the southern European states like Italy, Greece and Portugal.
In my recent study, I set out to explore the level of youth participation (as candidates, voters and activists) in Zimbabwe’s elections and governance processes, what restricts their participation and what can be done to support them. I defined youth as people aged between 15 and 35.
My evidence showed that their participation is low, hampered by restrictive political parties and a lack of three things – interest, information and funds.
To change this, there needs to be an effort to create political, structural and physical spaces that allow for their meaningful participation. This could, for example, include allocating quotas to young people and prioritising youth empowerment. South Africa’s two main opposition parties have done this well – young people lead the Democratic Alliance as well as the Economic Freedom Fighters.
A third of the young people I interviewed said that they hadn’t taken part in activities such as rallies, council meetings and meetings within communities. A quarter of them said they didn’t participate often while only a fifth said they did so extremely often.
Political parties were cited as the main reason (67%) that prevented meaningful youth participation. For example, only 17% believed that political parties were creating spaces and making an effort to level the playing field so that they could participate in elections.
This exclusion is driven by what the scholar and expert on young people, Barry Checkoway, calls ‘adultism’ – when adults take a position that 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.
On top of this, poverty makes young people particularly vulnerable to being excluded. About 70% of young people in Zimbabwe are unemployed. And those that work experience extreme poverty, earning less than US$2 per capita per day. This renders them susceptible to exploitation and control – young people who are poor are ready to sell their rights, for food hand-outs and promises of jobs that never materialise.
But it’s not just about the adults. Young people are also to blame for low participation.
In the interviews they showed a lack of interest in a system they felt they couldn’t change. They share this apathy with many other Zimbabweans. The legitimacy of the country’s elections since independence has always been a thorny issue. The opposition has regularly raised accusations of vote-buying, electoral fraud, vote rigging, as well as the intimidation of voters by the ruling party - Zanu-PF. This has led many to question the legitimacy of the electoral process.
Other barriers to young people include a lack of financial resources, lack of capacity, lack of information and the absence of a culture of positive engagement. Most believed that young people were prepared to run for office in the 2018 elections. But nearly half indicated that young people needed more support, such as leadership training, in preparation for running for office.
When asked what the top five solutions to improving the participation of young people were the answers included:
freedom to participate in politics and development without restrictions (71%),
provision of leadership training (54%),
youth awareness campaigns (42%),
pro-youth policies (40%), and
effective engagement in productive activities (38%).
Young people should be viewed as a vital source of information which justifies the need for adults to give them space and opportunities to engage meaningfully. This could be done through local campaigns, like the United Nations’ ‘Not Too Young to Run’ campaign. This promotes the right for young people to run for office, creates awareness and mobilises them.
Young people also need to be equipped to participate in politics. This includes getting support through leadership training and training in elections and governance processes. Finally, resources and support must be given to youth-led initiatives that are reaching out to young people.
Retired army chief Constantino Chiwenga, who led a de facto coup last month that ended Robert Mugabe's 37-year rule, was installed as Zimbabwe's vice president in Harare on Thursday.
Chiwenga, who led the military in a de facto coup that brought Mnangagwa to power, is the latest in a string of military leaders to be elevated to government positions. President Mnangagwa, who did not give a speech at the swearing-in ceremony, ,told journalists that his deputies will have to drive the performance of the new ministers.
"They have to drive the ministers. The performance of ministers will be reflected by the supervision they give," said Mnangagwa.
Chiwenga also told journalists that: “What I can tell you is that there will be teamwork . We are going to work as a team and we will deliver.”
Mnangagwa, who is under pressure from opposition parties and the public to implement political and economic reforms, has ordered his new ministers to come up with 100-day ‘quick-win’ plans.
Hefty pension for Mugabe
On the Thursday, Mnangagwa granted Mugabe full diplomatic status and a staff of 23 as part of his pension.
In a government gazette, Mnangagwa said former presidents who have served at least one full term will have six security personnel, two each of drivers, aides, private secretaries and office attendants as well as a fully furnished office.
Mugabe has been living at his private home in the plush Borrowdale suburb even while he was president and his new pension entitles him to "payment of a lump sum which is equal or equivalent to the value of the private residence,” according to the gazette.
The former leader has a reputation for extensive international trips, but his pension allows him four trips outside the country travelling first class at public expense. He will also be provided with a diplomatic passport. He visited a hospital in Singapore for his first trip outside Zimbabwe since he was ousted from office, apparently for medical checks, two weeks ago.
- The Source
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revealed how he walked for more 30km to cross the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique in an apparent escape from his assassination by former President Robert Mugabe's "hunting dogs", reports said.
Mnangagwa said this in Pretoria where he addressed Zimbabwean nationals, who fled economic decline and political turmoil in the southern African country.
"I came here to pay homage to my brother President Jacob Zuma. I spent a good 16 days as a 'Diasporan' here in South Africa after walking some 30km crossing the border into Mozambique. After I had been fired around 4 o'clock (on November 6), intelligence had made me aware of the next move intended to eliminate me," NewsDay quoted Mnangagwa as saying.
"Fortunately, I found a [business] card in my wallet which bore the name of a colleague here, (Justice) Maphosa, whom I phoned and he picked me. I came here and I was well-looked after."
Mnangagwa fled to South Africa after Mugabe dismissed him during factional fighting in Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party. The firing prompted a backlash against Mugabe and Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe, where he was sworn in as president.
Mnangagwa's finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said that the president had been stripped of his security "both physically and at his house" immediately after his sacking from government.
"This showed his security was not guaranteed, hence, he had to become a refugee here [South Africa]," said Chinamasa.
Mnangagwa also revealed that he had been in "clandestine" communication with President Jacob Zuma during his stay in South Africa, a New Zimbabwe.com report said."I had good communication with the leadership here, not openly, you understand," Mnangagwa was cited as saying.
Botswana President Ian Khama says Zimbabwe has potential and capacity to recover quickly following the fall of Robert Mugabe, its autocratic ruler for 37 years seen as an impediment to foreign investment.
Khama who has always been a vocal critic of former president Robert Mugabe told the BBC in an interview that the country could turn around in a short space of time if the incoming president Emmerson Mnangagwa demonstrated that the country is stable.
The 93-year old Mugabe quit on Tuesday, after the military took over the country and his party sacked him.
“Zimbabwe has got the potential of being an economic powerhouse and even though it took Mugabe 37 years to bring it down to chaos. It will not take that long to bring it back up again because there is so much potential the people are so innovative and hardworking,” said Khama.
“I am sure investors will be tripping over themselves to come back into that country and I think in a very short space of time if he can demonstrate to investors and to the people of Zimbabwe the confidence that they have achieved in that country there will be a turn around.”
- The Source
November 2017 will go down in the history of Zimbabwe as the beginning of the end of Robert Mugabe’s 37 year tyranny. A tumultuous week finally culminated in his resignation on November 21st. One cannot understate the widespread jubilation at the demise of Mugabe and his desire to create a dynasty for himself through his wife Grace.
But the optimism is misplaced because it doesn’t deal directly with the dearth of democracy in Zimbabwe.
First, contrary to popular sentiment that the coup was meant to usher in a new era of political liberalisation and democracy, the takeover is actually meant to deal with a succession crisis in Zanu-PF. The military made this clear when it said that it was dealing with criminals around Mugabe. And the party’s secretary for legal affairs Patrick Chinamasa indicated that removing Mugabe from the party’s Central Committee was an internal party matter.
Secondly, I would argue that the military resorted to a “smart coup” only after its preferred candidate to succeed Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was fired from the party and government.
The way in which the military has gone about executing its plan upends any conventional understanding of what constitutes a coup d'etat. It’s a “smart coup” in the sense that the military combined the frustrations of a restive population, internal party structures and international sympathy to remove a sitting president. It thereby gained legitimacy for an otherwise partisan and unconstitutional political act – toppling an elected government.
This begs the question: Is the military now intervening for the collective good or for its own interests?
Why the military intervened
It is baffling to imagine how the military has suddenly become the champion of democracy and regime change in Zimbabwe.
It’s clear that what motivated the military commanders was a fear of losing their jobs and influence after their preferred successor was purged. They launched a preemptive strike against Mugabe to safeguard their own selfish interests as a military class and the future of their careers.
Given the symbiotic relationship between the Zimbabwean military and the ruling Zanu-PF party, it was inevitable that the top commanders would be embroiled in the party’s succession crisis. After all, the military has been the key lever behind the power of both Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF since 1980.
In the past they have acted as part of the Zanu-PF machinery, openly campaigning for Mugabe alongside other security agencies.
And they have played a key role in neutralising political opponents. Back in the 1980s the military was responsible for the massacre of thousands of civilians and Zapu supporters in Matebeleland. More than two decades later in 2008 they were responsible for the torture, death and disappearance of 200 opposition activists and the maiming of hundreds more.
In addition, the UN has implicated Mnangagwa and the generals in the illegal plundering of resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They have also been fingered in the disappearance of diamond revenues from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields.
On top of this the military and Zanu-PF share a special relationship that has its roots in the liberation struggle. The Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) was the political wing of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (Zanla) during the liberation war. They therefore have vested interests in the survival of the party.
After independence, the relationship remained intact as the military became the guarantors of the revolution. Some of the same surviving commanders of Zanla are still senior high ranking officials. The commanders are also bona fide members of the ruling party and guarantors of Zanu-PF power.
The same securocrats are also members of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association. This quasi paramilitary group is an auxiliary association of the ruling party and has fiercely opposed Mugabe’s attempt to create a dynasty.
Military must step aside
Zimbabwe goes to the polls next July to choose a new president and parliament. The elections – if conducted in a credible way – will provide the next government with the legitimacy it needs to take the country out of its political and economic crises.
Now that Mugabe has resigned the hope is that the military will allow a genuinely democratic transition to take place. All political players, including opposition parties, would need to be incorporated into a broad-based transitional authority pending credible elections.
But for the elections to be credible, the transitional authority would need urgently to reform the electoral system. This would ensure Zimbabweans can freely and fairly choose their leaders. Without this, peace and prosperity will continue to elude Zimbabwe.
In the long run, the military would do well to get out of politics instead of continuing to view itself as “stockholders” in the country’s political affairs because of its liberation struggle credentials.