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Turning youth bulge into a national dividend

Opinion & Analysis
The government, business, labour unions and civil society must get together and find a durable solution to one of the most urgent challenges of our time.

ZIMBABWE commemorated National Youth Day last week amid the worst conditions, by any measure, that our young people have experienced in decades.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the negativity and yet the enormity of the challenge demands leadership, innovation and strategic thinking.

The government, business, labour unions and civil society must get together and find a durable solution to one of the most urgent challenges of our time.

Even against the prevailing situation, we must focus on turning our youth bulge into a dividend and not a time bomb.

It is a daunting task, but it can be done.

The facts are sobering and unpleasant! Eighty percent of our youth are currently unemployed.

Without purpose and meaning, our youth are turning to crime and self-medicating through drug and substance abuse.

In 2021, 60% of psychiatric admissions at local health institutions were due to drug abuse, according to the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network. 

Mental health cases are up and so are people suffering from depression and anxiety.

Suicides are a matter of grave concern. Our youth are leaving in droves for menial and demeaning jobs elsewhere.

How did we get where we are?

This is part of the late former President Robert Mugabe’s complicated legacy, which falls on us to course correct.

After playing a gallant role in delivering black rule, Mugabe’s decades in power delivered repression, poverty, unfreedom and economic collapse.

Corruption, poor governance and economic mismanagement have all coalesced to create a suffocating environment for the youth.

And sadly, the youth have been politically weaponised.

This damage can be reversed with intentionality and clear-sighted policy actions.

We need courageous leadership that creates an enabling environment for our youth to play a meaningful role in nation building.

We must go back to the basics of nation building.

Political freedom, which was a key driver of our liberation struggle, is central to this enabling environment. 

A vibrant democracy, constitutionality and rule of law provides certainty for local and foreign investors who create real jobs.

Governments do not create jobs.

The private sector creates jobs if the environment is conducive.

Right now, that environment does not exist.

Our youth require decent jobs and opportunities to express their God-given talents.

We must create an environment that allows them to dream big and hope for a better tomorrow. 

So, what is to be done?

Government must declare a defined and time bound national state of emergency to revert this generation to normalcy.

Instead of dangling patronage handouts such as land and livestock, government must go all out to educate, train and retrain school and college leavers currently roaming our streets.

Government must introduce a robust youth economic national service targeting high school and college leavers as well as the unemployed.

The objective of the economic national service is to avail opportunities for the youth to acquire skills that will see them enter the job market or become entrepreneurs. 

Youths must be deployed towards an aggressive infrastructure rebuilding project that is also time bound.

This will kill two birds with one stone, namely boosting the economy and providing badly needed training and jobs for the next generation.

Devolution will ensure communities lead in identifying infrastructure priorities and influencing budgetary allocations.

Give practical skills to those with a foundational education and educate those currently unemployable.

Government must offer a package of incentives for companies to implement a comprehensive apprenticeship programme.

All government departments and parastatals must be part of this robust apprenticeship programme.

We also need more technical colleges focusing on imparting practical skills to the youths.

No to a lost generation, should be the rallying call.

Our desperate circumstances can ill afford writing off the contribution of approximately 60% of the most productive segment of our population.

The future belongs to them only if they have a material stake in it.

  • Trevor Ncube is the Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings and the host of In Conversation With Trevor YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor

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