Youths in Zimbabwe are defined as persons between 15 and 35 years of age. This age range is stipulated in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and is also congruent with the continental definition of youth as defined in the African Youth Charter (15 to 35). Zimbabwe is a youthful country, with approximately 36% (4,702, 046) of the estimated youth in 2012 as cited in the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) commissioned research report, “Decades of Struggle and Hope: A Zimbabwean Youth Compendium”, launched in 2019.
Despite having various pro-youth empowerment policies, young people in Zimbabwe continue to face socio- economic and political exclusion in national development issues. This has resulted in millions of youth being trapped in poverty leading to poor health, high rate of crimes, political violence, brain drain among others societal ills. This has further been worsened by the absence of youth voices in key decision platforms at both national, local government structure. In this regard, ,it is sad to note that there is no youth representation within cabinet and out of 210 MPs, less than 5 are aged 35 and below.
Regarding the economic status of youth, the YETT research report notes that, of the 67.7% of the youth population, an approximation of 7% are employed and 9% of the youth reported being entrepreneurs. In terms of constitutional literacy and policy awareness,17.5% of the youth in Zimbabwe know about the 2013 constitution. The report further stipulates that 46% of the youth in the country are food insecure and 32% have limited access to clean water and 27% have limited access to education. These problems are emanating in the context of various pieces of youth policy frameworks and a National Youth Council Act.
Some of the various institutional and policy frameworks that seek to address youth development include the National Skills Development Policy, National Youth Policy, Vocational Training programme to focus on Training for Enterprise, and the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment programme (IEEP). Additional policy measures and programmes developed by government to promote job creation, especially for the youth, include the development of the Zimbabwe Youth Employment Network (ZIYEN), the formulation of the Zimbabwe National Employment Policy Framework (ZNEPF), the establishment of the Youth Development Fund, the establishment of Youth Economic Zones, the IEEP, and the formulation of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIM-ASSET). In-spite of all these policy frameworks, the implementation of the objectives of these policies remains a nightmare as there is no legal instrument for holding to account various solution holders tasked with implementing these measures.
The attainment of results-based youth empowerment can be achieved through the enactment of the National Youth Act. Should this happen, Zimbabwe will join several African countries who have done the same. In order to prioritize youth empowerment and engagement issues, the Government of South Africa enacted the National Youth Commission Act in 2008. The Government of Namibia also enacted its Youth Act known as the Namibia National Youth Service Act. The major objectives of these legislations are to drive the youth empowerment agenda through providing a binding legal framework for holding to account any duty bearers. The government of Kenya also came up with the National Youth Service Act in 2018 whose main objectives is to drive the Kenyan economy by empowering youths. These Youth Acts are laying a strong foundation for the implementation of various international youth treaties, national youth policies and programmes.
In realizing that youths represent a critical constituency in the demographic structures of the Zimbabwe population, Section 20 of the Zimbabwe Constitution sets the youths agenda by stating that “the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must take reasonable measures, including affirmative action programmes, to ensure that youths have access to appropriate education and training; have opportunities to associate and to be represented and participate in political, social, economic and other spheres of life, are afforded opportunities for employment and other avenues to economic empowerment, have opportunities for recreational activities and access to recreational facilities and (are protected from harmful cultural practices, exploitation and all forms of abuse”. However, the missing link is on how this section 20 of the national constitution will be implemented without necessary legal instruments to back the constitution.
The Youth Act will contain set of standards, principles, and procedures that must be followed in the implementation of various pieces of youth policies. The Act together with its instruments will ensure that the legally binding principles are followed, implemented and adhered to. The Youth Act will ensure that the objectives of the youth policies are implemented. It will also uphold the values, principles and standards set out in the Zimbabwe National Constitution section 20.
The Youth Act will be empowering the ministry of youth to set out different youth boards that are responsible in spearheading youths concerns and issues, and also ensure that youth concerns are addressed
Youths policies are not legally binding as policies are outlines of what a government/ organization is going to do and what it can achieve for the society as a whole. The policies are subject for changes for instance when the budget could not meet the planned objectives, they can be abandoned. The changes in the structure of the organization, has a negative impact on the implementation and continuity of the national youth policies.
Policy also means what a government does not intend to do. It also evolves the principles that are needed for achieving the goal. Policies are only documents and not law. Laws are for the people, and policies are made in the name of the people. Policies can be called a set of rules that guide any government or any organization. Laws are administered through the courts. Laws are enforceable in which the policies comply. A law is more formal as it is a system of rules and guidelines that are derived for the welfare and equity in society. A policy is just informal as it is just a statement or a document of what is intended to be done in the future.
The Youth Act is necessary as it will define the issues raised in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 20 such as the extent to which the Government and all institutions and agencies of government take reasonable measures to enforce the same. The legal instrument will also define terms like reasonable measures in scientific and legal parameters.
Politically, the instrument will define the number of youth seats reserved for youths across different political entities and the number of seats reserved for youth at the local governance level. The Act will define the required age limit for the Minister heading the Ministry of Youth, his / her deputy Minister as well as key appointment such as the Permanent Secretary, Directors among other key positions.
The Youth Act is necessary to clarify the allocation of critical resources such as the land to youths, the number of hectares to be reserved for youths, issues to do with mining and fishing rights among other necessary economic activities. The Act will also reserve other key economic sectors such as brick molding and restaurants for youths. This will go a long way in alleviating poverty among the youth and increasing the country’s GDP.
A close analysis of the Zimbabwe Youth Council which was established by the Act of Parliament, Chapter 23;19 in 1983 reveals that it cannot bring the much-needed youth engagement drive for economic development as its main mandate is to provide for the registration and regulation of clubs and national associations. The Zimbabwe Youth Council has a limited socio-economic mandate which has been overtaken by events and time hence the need for a comprehensive piece of legislation known as the Zimbabwe Youth Act which can act as a driver for sustainable socio-economic growth.
The time for enacting the Youth Act is now. The Act may set the Vision 2030 agenda rolling for Zimbabwe to achieve its set objectives. Youth are a Centre for innovation and spear head sustainable development.
Author: – Happison Chikova is second-year student currently studying towards an MSc Global Food Security and Nutrition under the University of Edinburgh. He holds a BSc Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies with the Midlands State University. Happison is a former climate change University of Dar Es Salaam research fellow. The author can be contacted at H.Chikova@sms.ed.ac.uk