Decline in Youth Participation Bad for Local Democracy
Youth participation in electoral processes is low yet they are the largest demographic most affected by democratic processes. Image by Unsplash
Any country’s social and political terrain is defined and determined by the youths, more so in the case of Zimbabwe where youths constitute the majority of the voting population.
BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Youths in Zimbabwe face challenges such as unemployment, unaffordable education, and lack of access to health care due to excessive poverty, forced migration due to limited opportunities, child marriages and sexual abuse of young women, among others.
Independent researchers have revealed that the general unemployment rate stands at more than 80% with many youth graduates resorting to vending and cross border trade activities to support livelihoods outside of the mainstream economy.
A survey conducted by Zimbabwe Youth Task Force and coordinated by National Association of Youth Organizations (NAYO) in 2017, in partnership with the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) for the AU-EU Heads of States Meeting in Abidjan noted the following key challenges faced by youths; high unemployment, exorbitant education of less quality, limited civic space for effective participation in economic and political spaces including parliament among others.
Despite the basket of challenges facing the youth, there is a disturbing emerging trend of massive voter apathy where people, in particular the youth who constitute the majority of eligible voters, are shying away from participating in electoral processes.
The recent by-elections held on March 26 is a case in point.
According to statistics released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the number of registered voters has been fluctuating over the years. According to ZEC, as at January 8, 2022, only 5 632 575 were registered to vote, down by 63 131 voters from 5 695 706 who voted in the 2018.
Statistics show that there were 6 441 157 registered voters in the 2013 general elections.
This raises questions on whether young people are ready to get involved in electoral processes.
Given the fact that the youth constitute the majority of the eligible voting population, there is a presumption that the largest demographic participating in electoral processes ought to be the youth.
But this is not the case yet the youth are the largest demographic most affected by democratic processes.
In the 2018 elections, only 6 young people under the age of 35 made it into Parliament out of a possible 210 seats. This means that in 2018 Zimbabwe had a 2.85% representation of youths in Parliament. This is unacceptable.
Independent election watchdogs, Civil Society Organisations, Churches and other stakeholders need to support programs for youth participation and this can begin with training in leadership, governance, and civic engagement.
Two of our stories in this Issue highlight two glaring issues: Youths shy away from electoral processes by not participating in voting for example, while women on the other hand face barriers in participating in elections as candidates. This situation paints a gloomy picture for our local democracy and must be nipped in the bud especially ahead of the country’s 2023 national elections.
Youth-led organizations, among other stakeholders, should step to the forefront; mobilize and organize young people to actively participate in electoral processes through registering to vote, and voting on the polling days.
A special focus on the empowerment of girls and women to meaningfully express themselves and actively participate in leadership and decision-making processes is also necessary if we are to see their increased participation.
Policy makers at the local level must create awareness and advocate for a more realistic budgeting process that meets the needs of the youth, special interest groups such as women and ensures adequate financing of inclusive public services to ensure inclusive participation.
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