Youth: Africa’s political X factor


Leslie Chimbama

Harare – A year after the Malawians elected a new president, Zambia became the second SADC member state to support the opposition against the incumbent president and in both cases the deciding factor was the same: the youth vote.

The President of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera, and the President-elect of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema, have achieved astonishing victories thanks to the support of millions of young people and first-time voters.

The statistics speak for themselves.

According to the Malawi Election Commission (MEC), as of December 9, 2018, a total of 6,859,570 eligible voters had been registered, representing 81% of its projection. The MEC said that of the total registered voters, 3.7 million were young people.

These are the people who voted in the May 2019 general election in that country, which President Chakwera won with 58.57% of the total votes cast.

Numerous testimonies from this country after the elections indicated that young Malawians turned out in large numbers to vote for Mr. Chakwera.

In Zambia, President-elect Hichilema won 2,810,777 votes against the incumbent, compared to 1,814,201 for President Edgar Chagwa Lungu (statistics are correct with all 156 constituencies counted except one).

There were more than seven million registered voters in Zambia and 54 percent of those were aged 35 or under, according to the Election Commission of Zambia (ECZ). Statistics show that youth unemployment stood at 22.63 percent in 2020.

Mr. Joseph Kalimbwe, a young representative of the United Party for National Development (UPND) of Mr. Hichilema said CNN after the elections: “The young people gave us the vote. Four million young people between the ages of 18 and 24 have registered to vote. It was a huge turnout and it was very personal for them. They want to make sure their parents’ mistakes have been corrected. They voted for our leader on the basis that he has better policies and ideas and can strengthen our state institutions. “

And in Malawi as in Zambia, young people voted for more or less the same reasons: they want jobs / better sources of income.

As it became increasingly clear over the weekend that President Lungu was about to leave, large groups of young people were filmed in different parts of Zambia chanting: ‘We want jobs, young people want jobs.”

In both countries, the issue of corruption featured prominently in the reasons given for dismissing the incumbent president and giving the opposition a chance.

An Afrobarometer Sustainable Development Goals Dashboard for Zambia, released on July 16, said that “the country is experiencing worsening poverty, hunger, and economic and ethnic inequalities from five years ago. years “.

“Afrobarometer’s SDG dashboard, which provides citizen feedback on Zambia’s progress on important aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, reveals that paying bribes for public services and the challenges of accessing medical care, clean water and electricity have also worsened. .

“Unemployment has remained stagnant, while the gender gap in unemployment has widened. The country has made no progress in raising awareness of climate change and reducing perceived corruption among state institutions, ”one part of the report reads.

A 2017 World Bank report titled “Unemployed Youth in Africa Cast a Shadow on Economic Growth” shows that youth on the continent made up 60% of all unemployed people in Africa.

“In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 25%, but it is even higher in Botswana, Republic of Congo, Senegal and South Africa, among others. With 200 million people aged 15 to 24, Africa has the largest youth population in the world, ”the report says.

When we further consider that almost 60 percent of Africa’s population is under 25, it means that there are hundreds of millions of unemployed young people on the continent, which should worry politicians and officials alike. decision makers.

Mr. Felix Kariba, expert in urban development, underlined that “on average, 11 million young people join the African labor market each year, while the continent generates only 3.7 million jobs per year. For many young people, the informal sector is the default rather than the exception. In sub-Saharan Africa, informal employment as a percentage of total employment is 89% and, as a result, many young people do not have access to social safety nets or any form of workers’ rights…

“The situation is also complex for young girls who may face a multitude of challenges, including a lack of access to reproductive health services, education and employment opportunities. The UNDP estimates that $ 95 billion in income is lost each year due to gender inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Time and again, the interrelated issues of unemployment, poverty and corruption have featured prominently in the discourse on youth perceptions of politics and governance in Africa.

And while before such speech remained on the level of debate, in Malawi and Zambia it has now migrated into the arena of the polling station.

According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Ibrahim Forum report, “about 60 percent of Africans, and especially young people, believe their governments are doing a very bad or a fairly bad job of meeting the needs of young people.”

He continues: “This highlights the need for reflection on the status and relationship between youth and politics. In addition, in 2017, the Foundation noted that Africa was on the verge of losing its youth, due to political apathy, but also to migratory or extremist groups, and these words are still relevant today.

“The foundation has issued the following call to action to ensure that the situation is reversed for the benefit of the continent and its people:” If the energies and ambitions of African youth continue to be wasted, they could become serious forces of destabilization, threatening not only future progress, but by rolling back the gains of recent years ”.

President Chakwera and President-elect Hichilema have gigantic tasks to address these concerns, as do all other leaders in Southern Africa and the continent as a whole.

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