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The National Youth Policy under the microscope
Njabulo Moyo
May 10, 2011

The Ministry of Youth Development Indigenization and Empowerment has been conducting consultative meetings throughout the country in an effort to review the redundant and inconsistent National Youth Policy. The largest meeting was held in Harare on 15 November 2010, and drew participants from Civic Society, churches as well as political parties amongst scores of young women and men from all over the country.

Supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), this particular meeting was meant to be a follow up conference to evaluate the outreach meetings held in other parts of the country. Youth in Bulawayo were given this platform on 7 and 8 October 2010. A Mutare meeting was also held during the SADC Africa Youth Day Festival on the 1st of November 2010. During this festival SADC countries like Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique presented on the youth policy best practices.

Zimbabwe-s review comes after concerns were raised that the current national youth policy was drafted on behalf of the youths, with little or no consultation with them, by the National Youth Commission more than 10 years ago in June of 1996. To date, the policy has never been evaluated and its implementers have failed to gather views from young people in other regions to ensure that it reflects the diversity of Zimbabwe-s youth as well as remains relevant and speaks to the current socio-economic and socio-political dynamics confronting young men and women in the new millennium.

Youth development refers to the engagement of young women and men in development processes and activities, both as participants and beneficiaries in decision-making processes. A country-s National Youth Policy therefore provides a fundamental framework for the implementation of development projects for young people. In Zimbabwe-s case, the youth policy has resulted in the under - development of youths in exchange for political brainwashing. As a way forward the government has to adopt regional and international best practices of transparency, youth participation and accountability especially in the distribution of financial and non financial resources such as the presidential scholarship.

The following are some of the major talking points and recommendations on the National Youth Policy:

  • Devolution of power and resources - South Africa (SA) has a classical example of how resources can be distributed via provinces. There exists in SA, government sub-departments such as the National Youth development Agency (NYDA) which is mandated to ensure seamless integration, sustainability and responsiveness to the demands and aspirations of SA youths. Young people do not crave access to resources but want the opportunity to exercise their right to equal resource access and to be able to freely belong to and vote for a political party of their choice without negative repercussions. The current situation where resource allocation is based on political party affiliation does little to foster youth participation and hence limits the possibilities of sustainable development. Instead young people are bribed into belonging to certain political parties or into supporting particular ideologies in exchange for money. This has not translated into job creation or self sustainabilty. Instead it has encouraged a mentality of dependency and a syndrome of violent retaliation where youths think they have not gotten their way. It was recommended that devolution must not just be in power circles, but in resource administration as well. Provinces should be able to administer the distribution of the National Youth Fund because currently, little can be evidence of what the fund has done for youths outside of Harare especially in remote parts of the country like Binga, Gokwe, Beitbridge, Mutoko, the list continues.
  • The policy should be an Act of Parliament - In order for the policy to be fully enforceable it should exist as an Act of parliament, protected and administered according to the laws of the land. Currently, the policy is just but another written document which can be discarded and violated at will. This explains why youth development programs implemented and funded under the Youth Ministry have tended to be partisan and for the benefit of individuals not the youths. Worse still, the current national policy review process gives no guarantees that it will be enforced. There exist no checks and balances to ensure that this whole exercise has not been just a cover for the siphoning of donor funds while things remain as desperate for young people in Zimbabwe as they have always been, if not worse off.
  • The National Youth Fund should be accessible and realistic - As things stand now, the national youth fund is inaccessible and unrealistic for the needs and dynamics of youths in different parts of the country with varying economic needs and social backgrounds. Firstly a flat loan of about $1000 dollars does not only limit the potential of youths seeking to start sustainable financial projects. Secondly the bureaucracy involved in accessing the funds is very frustrating. Its distribution from only large cities is a great travesty of justice because it misses the majority of young people who need it the most and are the most economically disadvantaged. Thirdly, the issue of collateral is a strong hindrances to many youths especially young women who do not have any resources to attach to a bank as security. This leaves room for many at risk of opportunists who will abuse them with the pretext that they wish to assist them access these funds. This is already happening in political circles as the fund forms are only accessible at the Governor-s office, a political appointee. Furthermore, in other cities, the distributing banks have been vague on the procedures of accessing the funds. Some youth have been turned away or simply ignored until they gave up on any kind of positive response. Poor publicity of the fund has also led to the assumption that it is meant for access to a chosen few and not to the rest of the marginalised youth.
  • Regular Review of Policy - The policy should be reviewed periodically to match the changes in the local and international economic and political landscape. It should also be relevant enough to adequately address the technological, educational and entrepreneurial needs of its generation
  • Gender mainstreaming - The policy must not only mainstream gender theoretically but, practically. There is a need for equal participation between the female and male youths in decision making processes that affect their social, economic and financial well being. Resource allocation must also consider the extraordinary circumstances young women at times have to contend with to be able to get an education or run a successful business. It must be considered that fewer young women will get collateral for the youth fund loan or will be able to pay back the youth fund loan at the same pace as their male counterparts. Provisions to participation and resource access must not place young women at risk or at pains to go an extra (usually dangerous) mile to meet the target. It is the work of this policy to ensure that young women and men gain equal opportunities even if it means temporary "positive discrimination" in favour of young women.
  • Youth mainstreaming - As young people make up more than 60% of the population according to the current cut of age of youths in Zimbabwe, they must have majority access to positions of leadership and decision making processes. Also considering that youth are the most intellectually vibrant group, with the best ideas to take the country to the global arena in terms of international economics and politics, they must be given a larger chunk of decision making positions in the most critical industries. As such, all ministries must be youth mainstreamed in order for young people to be able to play a more significant role in the national development agenda.
  • National Leadership Renewal - The youth policy should seek to bridge the leadership gap that exists between the old generation and the youths. It must address the current stagnation in leadership posts that have seen members of 2 generations ago controlling the country-s resources with little or no hope of passing on the "button stick" of leadership. The policy must empower the youths to demand their stake in leadership when their time has come and when the older ideas are no longer relevant to its needs. The policy must protect young people from abuse by political parties by placing a cut off age for political activism in as much there is a voter registration cut off age. It makes little sense to have one eligible to vote at 18 and yet they are expected to mobilize and work for the party from as young as 13. The policy must consider it a political crime of child abuse and child labour to have youths below 18 carry out campaign duties or engaging in political violence on behalf of a political party. National youth platforms like the Junior Parliament must be transparent and clear to all in terms of selection criteria of members as well as the selection of the child president. These have up to now remained secretive and quite partisan making it difficult for most youths to identify with the child president.
  • Education - Equal opportunities must be afforded to all young people when it comes to scholarships as well as the upgrading of academic institutions. As such the presidential scholarship and other such programmes must be decentralized to cater for all deserving but under-privileged youths, not the politically connected and already well financed youths as is currently the case. Cadetships should also be given directly to students and not the administering institutions who tend to apply bias to the selection process. The National Youth Services training curriculum should be revised to offer non military education and must be rid of all politically crafted ideology and replaced with the true and balanced history of our country, reflective of its diversity and the roles played by different groups in its liberation. The national youth service is not unique to Zimbabwe. It is a noble and brilliant idea if it is implemented with the best interests of young people in mind. The militarization of such an endeavor is tantamount to human rights violation. Youths living with disabilities should get full support it terms of learning equipment, easy access to buildings and new information and communication technologies. For example, the deaf and blind together with those living with Albinism should have examination papers specially designed for them.

This policy shall remain a vision for the Minister of Youth Development Empowerment and Indiginisation, Hon S. Kasukuwere to democratically map a youth driven policy as long as the consultative meetings do not consider and are not taken to the marginalised youths in the urban and rural areas of Zimbabwe.

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