Public debt implications on Zim youth

Some of the most noted effects of debt are in the access to health care services, education, employment and increasing poverty. Public debt has generally caused socio-economic hardships and these were undoubtably exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

THE youth in Zimbabwe are excessively affected by unsustainable public debt, whose contraction dates back to as far as the 1980s.  The conditions of these debts affect their current day-to-day lives and reduces their prospects for leading happy fulfilling lives in the future.

Some of the most noted effects of debt are in the access to health care services, education, employment and increasing poverty. Public debt has generally caused socio-economic hardships and these were undoubtably exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is out of this concern, for the youth and by the youth, that the principle of generational equity should mandate that they be extensively engaged during the contracting of public debt, given that the public debt trap has consequences for them in the future.

Section 298 (c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) stipulates and enshrines that: “the burdens and benefits of the use of resources must be shared equitably between the present and future generations”.

In addition, Section 298 (f) gives that “public borrowing and all transactions involving the national debt must be carried out transparently and in the best interests of Zimbabwe”.

Youth engagement on public debt should, therefore, be deliberate and extensive to fully comply with the provisions of the country’s supreme law.

Under the guiding national policy National Development Strategy 1, devolution is a major aspect adopted to encourage development that starts at local level and enhances the capacity of the Government of Zimbabwe to fulfil their internationally recognised and domestically mandated human rights obligations and socio-economic rights.

It is, therefore, obligatory for the local authority to raise youth awareness and involve the youth in processes that govern the availability and moral and just allocation of these resources sufficiently.

According to the research by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd), in their study on the social and economic implications of public debt on the youth, youth are often disengaged, disenfranchised and abdicated of their role in the fundamental process of leveraging debt for development, and this is true as they are still fighting tooth and nail to access leadership positions.

By definition of the African Union, youths are individuals aged between 16-35 years, in the context herein, “the youths’’ go up to an excess of 45 years, depriving the real beneficiaries.

 Given this, it is important to ensure that there is an understanding of public debt, keeping in mind that unsustainable debt acquisition ravages current livelihoods of the people and compromises the future. Zimbabwe is in a fragile debt state, (US$17,6 billion as at Sep 2022), and having been declared by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as being in debt distress, new forms of loan acquisition techniques (resource backed loans) do not work for the current and future generations as demanded by the supreme law, which is the constitution.

Generational equity should be a fundamental consideration when it comes to issues of public debt and public finance management systems and, therefore, the topic of debt should be one for discussion at all levels of governance and should be done on the most inclusive terms.

The youth in Zimbabwe are facing many challenges as a result of accumulation of debt that has become unsustainable for the country, and there is need to inform the public, policymakers and all stakeholders on the moral imperative to explicitly engage the youth, as per the provision of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No.20.

 The health sector has deteriorated to alarming depths. With the continued outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the sector has evidently shown that it is under severe strain to the extent where the right to health for the citizens has been compromised.

While it is evident that Covid-19 is a problematic phenomenon, the poor state of affairs in this sector was in pre-existence.  As an effect of the weak economy, as Zimbabwe is in debt distress, the budget allocation remains below the 15% that was agreed at the Abuja declaration of 2001. The 2022 budget as well as the projected 2023 local and national budgets do not provide for this 15% and this is a prime concern.

Rate of employment in the country has been falling over the years, and this has resulted in the build-up of a largely informal economy. According to the 2012 population census in Zimbabwe, youths constituted 84% of the unemployed population and those aged 15-24 years constituted 55% of the unemployment statistics.

Evidently, Zimbabwe can neither promise nor guarantee employment for its citizens, and this has seen a lot of the people migrate to neighbouring countries in search for jobs.

Zimbabwean youth are existing in a challenging status quo, where making a decent living is frustrated by endless social, economic and political factors.

The increasing public debt levels that have resulted in national debt distress are manifesting in high levels of unemployment, meaning the government is unable to provide jobs and decent salaries for its workers.

 As a result of the deteriorating economy owing to debt rise and other factors, many companies either had to downsize or to close (eg. Zisco Steel, Zimasco, Sable Chemicals). There has been persistence of the poverty as revival of the industries has been quite cumbersome and many find themselves without employment or savings, and basically living from hand to mouth.

There is need for authorities to take initiatives in addressing the aspect of employability, internship options and entrepreneurship together with deliberate investment into providing funding options and vocational technical skills training to tailor suit the needs of the youth.

According to Unesco (2019), the overall literacy rate among young Zimbabweans in 2015 was estimated at 91,73% but these figures have significantly dropped, with a record rise of the rate of school dropouts.

Numerous socio-economic impacts of debt distress have seen a lot of boys drop out to join the artisan mining sector while others have resorted to going across the borders to pursue other less formal trades.

In the case of girls, the unavailability of financial resources to subsidise education has seen many drop-outs. In this context, education of the girl child has been viewed as a lessor priority as compared to the perceived socio-economic benefits of marriage and household labor in the society. 

According to a study by YETT (2019), in Zimbabwe 75% of the youths are reported to be food insecure and living under the poverty datum line. Around 71% do not have access to clean, potable and safe drinking water while 70% do not have access to medication.

The lack of social security nets that cater for the youth group is a cause for concern seeing that the state of the economy does not allow for the prioritisation of social welfare initiatives.

Even in the event of this sector being adequately funded, this age group (16-35) is often left exposed.

Some of those covered in this age-range are parents and heads of households and their families often fall within the major statistics of the food insecure and the most poverty stricken. 

The effects of unsustainable debt levels are being felt by the youth, and there is need to raise awareness on this especially among them as they have the mandate to repay the debts that are contracted on their behalf.

In line with the provisions of the constitution wherein all generations should have the equal access to the benefits and the burdens of available resources, they need to be deliberately involved in decision-making processes through consultations and constant dialogue.

  • Millin is a social and economic justice ambassador. These weekly New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.


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