By Ashton Bumhira
Across the world, the power of youth votes is increasingly being noticed. In the recent United States election, the Bernie Sanders campaign started drawing media attention for its appeal with the youth voters.
But the recent British election provides the biggest lessons for Zimbabwean political parties – especially the MDC-T and other smaller local opposition political parties. After a concerted campaign in the UK, more than one million young people registered in the two months after the general election was announced.
Astonishingly, almost a quarter of a million registered on the deadline day, resulting in the Labour party making tremendous gains.
According to Zimstat figures for 2013, Zimbabwe has a young age structure, with 76.5% of the country’s citizens less than 34 years and 35% of the population falling between ages of 15-34. The demographics of our nation show that the age group 18-35 years surpasses other age groups.
Based on recent research by Research and Advocacy Unit, the youth make up about 41% of the eligible voters, but only constitute 14% of the registered voters in Zimbabwe. The country’s youth are electorally less active and this has negative ramifications concerning their welfare.
Significant youth vote can swing the outcome to determine the eventual election winner. However, the absence of youth-specific issues, possession of multiple identities, as well as high unemployment and poverty levels, hinder many young people from voting.
As such, young people’s demographic significance and their high numbers on the voters’ roll may actually count for less than often speculated. Indeed, whether young people will turn up in large numbers to vote in the 2018 general elections remains a matter of guesswork.
It may be suffice to conclude that the Zimbabwean youth represent a demographic dilemma, instead of a demographic dividend. The bulge is a serious issue with negative socio-economic consequences.
The biggest challenge is that in Zimbabwe, the youth continue to live under constant fear, emanating from the effects of a highly-polarised environment compounded by Zanu PF’s repressive regime that shows no remorse or concern for the country’s suffering citizens.
Youth voices have been silenced by the curtailment of democratic space by the intolerant ruling party, leaving most young people disenfranchised.
Zimbabwean youths remain trapped in a cycle of poverty, while political bigwigs constantly abuse them to perpetuate inter-party and intra-party political violence in their local communities. The sad reality is that they get used as mere pawns in a game of chess, with have no control over their destiny.
The Zimbabwean youth need to awaken from their deep slumber and change the current social, economic and political quagmire. Social movements such as #Tajamuka, #ThisFlag, #Zimbabwe Yadzoka and youth organisations such as the Youth Forum now need to reach out to the heart and soul of the young people to motivate them to vote during the watershed 2018 general elections.
The youth need to say no to anarchy, no to poor national leadership and rampant corruption. This can only happen if young people vote for progressive and transformative change during next year’s general elections. There is no doubt the youth are a potential tool for sustainable change.
The youth need to realise that their voice is vital since progressive democracy doesn’t work without citizen participation. Their vote matters. The youth boasts of the demographic dividend to bring about the most needed change, but lack enthusiasm. History is going to judge us harshly if we continue to turn a blind eye to this very precarious situation.
The 2018 general elections is the opportune time for the youth to stand tall and deliver the much needed change. This might seem an insurmountable task but as young people let’s take responsibility.
The enormous task likewise falls within the ambit of the local and international civil society organisations especially youth organisations such as Youth Forum Zimbabwe which is one of the largest youth group by membership.
There is need to step up their work through collaborations with other likeminded organisations to have a multiplier effect on their programming.
Let’s go out to register to vote. More importantly after the vote let’s go out in our numbers and defend our vote.
Ashton Bumhira is the Youth Forum Zimbabwe Programs Manager and you can get in touch with him on his email address: [email protected]