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What does democracy mean to you? - Interview with Sydney Chisi, founder Director of the Youth Initiative for Democracy Trust (YIDEZ)
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa , Kubatana.net
November 10, 2010

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Sydney ChisiYIDEZ is a youth organisation that was founded in 2006 and motivated by the idea that young people are the custodians of good governance and democracy in any society and their full participation will transform their communities into peaceful and free ones.
Source: www.yidez.com

What does democracy mean to you?
It means having a space in which people can participate on an equal footing. It means they can decide what they want for themselves. It is a space in which people and communities have the opportunity to continuously renew ideas through leadership renewal. It-s also the about renewing leaders so that ideas are not personalized and cult centred. Ideas should come form the people and then be implemented. For me democracy is like a bottom up approach rather than things being imposed on the people.

What sort of environment do you feel enables democracy?
An enabling environment is one in which there is a space for critical information dissemination. Look at the first amendment of the American Constitution; it-s on information, which means that an environment that is deprived of free-flow of information and opinion is not a typical environment that people would wish for. It is about the ability to dialogue, it-s about the ability to share information, and disseminate it without any fear. Information that will build up people-s discourse and ability to constructively criticize whatever will be happening in the corridors of governance. So for me it-s an environment that has got an open media, a critical separation of power between the legislation, the judiciary and the executive without any mentality of Presidential centralism. In Zimbabwe this resonates because we find that everything begins and ends with the President. It is also an environment, which is safe for everyone including women. To say that people can rise up, they can talk about the issues that they want without anyone fearing retribution or any oppressive mechanisms that might be there. Listen

What do you feel is the current status of youth in Zimbabwe?
It-s very sad. We have unemployment of 95%, we have a 24% orphan rate. Don-t go smiling being told that our HIV prevalence has fallen to 13.7% because no one is going to get tested. Those are statistics for the World Bank and for people who go out and beg for money based on falsehoods. Believe you me we are still very vulnerable as a nation and the people who are most likely to die are the young people. Within that, you can say if you have got 65% young people of the population in Zimbabwe, then where are as a nation towards the development of young people? Most young people are disenfranchised from talking on national issues national policies. They have not made it to that goal. And that is a sad state because if then there are provisions for making a living for young people the other option is that they will kill to survive, they will rape to survive, they will beat up to survive. And this is the politically motivated violence that we then begin to see. The government has come with the national youth service that is very partisan, and young people flock to it, they are desperate for livelihoods, and they are desperate for jobs. Listen

As YIDEZ how do you work towards creating the sort of enabling environment that you just described?
For us since we work with young people and looking at the demographics, almost 65% of the total population is youthful, that is below the age of 35. There is no way that Zimbabwe can look at itself in the next ten years without taking cognisance of youth participation. But we have to address the matrix between livelihood and democracy. What should come first? How do we ensure that we fight for democracy in Zimbabwe on a full stomach, but how do we make sure that to gain that full stomach it is not based on the capacity of the government to create a dependency environment, the politics of patronage, building up militias or man made droughts so that the population remains dependent on a status quo without looking at issues of human rights, democracy rule of law which are very fundamental to the development of young people. What we are trying to look at is to say how do we work with young people to make sure that they build a vision for themselves but also that they look beyond just the partisan politics of today, but also how to they locate themselves within the broader national question, around issues of social service delivery, education, healthcare, provision of clean water, issues of climate change, global warming within the context of a very combative state that is not willing to consult, and that resorts to violence as a way of communication. Listen

In an article for CNN, Professor Ayittey, like several other intellectuals, argues that Western style multi-party democracy is not suitable for Africa, and that African democracy should build on the consensus model already found in traditional African societies. Where does your opinion lie in this debate?
I respect Professor Ayittey in terms of his opinions around the issues of African politics and the development of African democracy. By and large our cultural values are very patriarchal. There is no space for dialogue there is no space for consultation. Everything is imposed on people. To remove that kind of space is the ability to develop a new culture, and to take every sector of the community as very fundamental in the development of that nation. What is also very critical is that to change that culture we have to ask do we have an informed community, are we giving out information so that people understand who they are and what they stand for and what is the meaning of the things that are happening around them and what kind of alternatives are there? Yes it might take time, but we have seen the beauty of multi-party democracies in South Africa, Ghana and Liberia. And all these are examples of people who are striving to make a difference. For us as Zimbabwe it might take us a little bit of time, but already there are indications in terms of the people-s sentiments, when they say no, they actually mean no. Listen

What kind of Zimbabwe are you working towards?
It-s a Zimbabwe that is a safe space especially for young women. It is a Zimbabwe where everyone is free to express themselves without hurting anyone. It is a space in which the government is responsive to what the people are calling for. It is also a Zimbabwe in which we don-t create cults around individuals. Everyone should understand that the power that they have comes from the people, and when the people say no they are also willing to let go power. Listen

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Audio File

  • Enabling environment
    Summary:
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 19sec
    Date: November 10, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.21MB

  • Status of youth
    Summary:
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 20sec
    Date: November 10, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.23MB


  • How YIDEZ creates an enabling environment
    Summary:
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 37sec
    Date: November 10, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.49MB

  • African democracy
    Summary:
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 25sec
    Date: November 10, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.29MB

  • Zimbabwe I'm working towards
    Summary:
    Language: English
    Duration: 43sec
    Date: November 10, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 685KB

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