A FEW years back, Danielle Resnick and Daniela Casale piloted one of the few Africa-wide contemporary studies on youth political representation and participation, centred on the 2008 Afro-barometer data covering 19 countries.
By Shingirai Nyahwa
In the research findings (Resnick and Casale 2011), they bring up age as one of the most significant demographic influences on voter turnout trends, and conclude that in comparison with their older counterparts, African youth tend to vote less and express a much lower level of partisanship.
These low levels of participation are embedded on the background of the young people between 18 and 35 constituting around 60% of the voting population particularly in Zimbabwe, the numbers just do not tally. Being in the majority means one wields a certain level of influence and power, thus failure to use it cannot be regarded to as exclusion or low participation.
The proper description from a Political Science perspective on the link between the young people and political processes in Zimbabwe can be regarded as the young people in Zimbabwe are in a state of political retreatism, they have the say in all political processes, owing to their numbers, but they choose not to utilise their strength thus succumbing themselves to gerontocracy which is the rule by the old.
This article is going to unpack and diagnose low participation and exclusion of young people in politics vis-à-vis the 2018 Zimbabwe elections.
In Zimbabwe, young people are commonly considered as being one of the most non-politicised groups of voters. Still, they persist indubitably as one of the most significant political constituencies for electoral organisation. Political parties that overlook this population do so at their own risk.
Given the country’s growing population of young people who have abundant unmet social, economic and political needs and aspirations, youth related standpoints have leaned towards negative stances on Zimbabwe’s political future.
Harnessing the demographic dividend has been the main chorus amongst the civil society organisations in Zimbabwe as we draw towards the 2018 elections, were emphasis has been put on youth participation in voting and elections through various colourful initiatives run by civil society.
To this end they are doing a splendid job and must be applauded, however, when we talk of the demographic dividend it also includes young people who are in the rural areas including Gokwe and Binga, these remote places are the ones with the majority of our young people who do not have birth certificates and national identification cards.
For a long time I have emulated how Zanu PF is organised, I can regard it as one of the most universal organisations in Zimbabwe which you can find in any village, district and household in our country and this has guaranteed them over 200 000 votes through their elected officials from cell to politburo level, even before they cast the ballot, just because of proper organisation.
The point here being all campaigns for youth participation must cover every part of the country genuinely for them to have a national outlook and impact. This brings us to our subject matter, low participation by young people as leaders and citizens is a reality throughout the world and worse still for Zimbabwe since we are heading for watershed elections in 2018, as pointed out campaigns have been done before to bridge the gap of youth participation and improvements have been evident particularly for Zimbabwe.
However, they are very minute in comparison with potential improvements through different interventions, one notable improvement spearheaded by civil society is the increase in number of the under 35 years people who have registered in the biometric voter registration process.
The model of youth political retreatism originates from the works of Robert K Merton, an American sociologist, on modes of adaptation to which people may be forced to resort as social and political coping strategies. Retreatism is an intermediate mode of adaptation along a continuum in which conformity is one extreme and rebellion is the other.
Retreatism entails both rejection of the mainstream political goals and means and withdrawal into political isolationism. The political culture of retreatism has not been a phenomenon peculiar to the youth alone, as almost all of Zimbabwe’s mass-membership based civil society entities from the pre-independence political dispensation have suffered the fate of gradually dwindling popular support and political legitimacy.
Given this background, one may wonder why the pioneering role of youth activism and militancy that characterised the struggle for independence and political democratisation in Zimbabwe could not be sustained after the attainment of independence in 1980, President Emmerson Mnangagwa was 38 after more than a decade-and-a -half in active politics, the late General Josiah Magama Tongogara was also in his 30s when he was the commander of Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army in the liberation struggle to mention just but a few.
Lack of participation by young people in Zimbabwe is not only a political problem, but rather a universal one which pristinely requires the social constructs of society to address this problem as a social problem rather than a political one. Exclusion starts from the home, the church, the school, the work place and finally political exclusion will be just a microcosm of the macrocosm, which is social exclusion of young people in critical facets of life which lay the foundation to our communities.
A holistic approach is imperative as we move towards youth political activation in Zimbabwe which ought to epitomise thoughtful social interventions by the church, civil society, families, business, individuals and political institutions to curtail youth political retreatism and nonparticipation inside this constituency, through demanding the expansion of the opportunities of youth involvement in politics.
Thus, social empowerment is a holistic mechanism meant for enabling Zimbabwe’s youth to eloquently converse their demands through drawing attention to their causes within the existing conduits of political expression.
If we are to enjoy the revolutionary benefits connected to active participation of young people in politics and political processes it is imperative that there be a complete shift of mindset through realising that political retreatism and non-participation by young people in Zimbabwe is not a political problem but rather a social problem which needs holistic interventions as we march towards the 2018 elections.
Shingirai Nyahwa is a writter and a youth empowerment advocate follow him on twitter @snyahwa