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Written by Youth Forum and Africa Contact
As the focus on Zimbabwe increasingly shifts towards elections Africa Contact has managed to facilitate a visit to Denmark by one of their partner organisations, the Youth Forum, to apprise a cross section of the Danish community on the prevailing situation in the country. The visit included several public - and stakeholder meetings were Youth Form and Africa Contact addressed key challenges and opportunities in the current development in Zimbabwe. The settings of the engagement were focussed on the role of youth in an inclusive constitution making process, in elections and more broadly in civil society, the national development of Zimbabwe and the issue of EU sanctions towards Zimbabwe. Furthermore all the assessments were linked to broader considerations of the opportunities for further cooperation and support from Denmark and the EU.
Africa Contact is currently working in a close partnership with the Youth Forum to enhance its capacity and legitimacy in their work with the youth in Zimbabwe. Formed in 2004, the Youth Forum strives to ensure that young people in Zimbabwe are at the fore front engineering the much needed policy and political reforms.
Zimbabwe’s next elections are due anytime as the Government of National Unity’s (GNU) term of office expires in March next year. Zimbabwe is a very youthful nation with 67% of the whole population being young people. Voting rights are attained at the age of 18 years and above. Statistics from previous general elections held in 2008 indicate that only a paltry 18 % of the youth aged between 18-30 turned out for the elections. This figure shows by far how apathetic young people are towards elections in the country. This fact has also been buttressed by a negligible youth turn-out at various meetings that were meant to capture people’s views in the new constitution during the course of 2011.
To break the possibility of a repeated electoral impasse in Zimbabwe that is likely to usher in another negotiated government, the Youth Forum strongly believes the youth in Zimbabwe are an untapped vote bank, who needs activation for them to wake up from the current slumber. Most youth in the country are not really concerned with what is going on, although they are the worst affected by poor governance, corruption, violence among all the other ills characterising the Zimbabwe government. The youth have lost the confidence in elections due to violence and perpetual electoral fraud by ZANU-PF. The is need for restoring confidence in the youth for them to realise that Zimbabwe can only move out of mess if they come out in numbers and vote in the coming elections. This calls for strategic shift by most international partners to start evaluating how their efforts could reach youth associations to enable them to tap into the huge idle youth vote bank. This situation is the scope of the work done by Youth Forum, and like vices of the partnership between Youth Forum and Africa Contact.
The international and national community needs also to play carefully the balancing act around the discourse on sanctions as ZANU-PF is continuously using sanctions debate to scuttle major reforms in Zimbabwe leaving the country with a possibility of going to elections with neither reforms nor a new constitution. If no reforms are done before the next elections it means ZANU-PF will get away with electoral fraud as most people in Zimbabwe particularly the youth will not turn out to vote due to high incidences of fear, intimidation and violence. And this is a clear card that ZANU-PF is likely to pull out of the deck as evidenced by the increasing role of the military and police in active politics by each passing day. SADC is being pushed in a total dilemma by ZANU-PF as it continues to demand for the removal of sanctions before acceding to any reforms espoused under the Global Political Agreement (GPA). The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay by calling for the suspension of sanctions until after the conduct of elections, when she recently visited Zimbabwe, clearly indicates the dilemma that faces the international community around the sanctions on Zimbabwe. Removing the sanctions totally will send wrong signals to the people of Zimbabwe who perceive this as a way of rewarding ZANU-PF’s intransigence in the Global Political Agreement (GPA). On the other hand ignoring the sanctions debate means that ZANU-PF is being allowed to get away with murder.
Most Zimbabwean civil society organisations believe that sanctions should only be removed when ZANU-PF show an unmitigated commitment to uphold human rights, the rule of law and bringing to book all those responsible for the gruesome suffering that the people of Zimbabwe are going through among other requests. This reform agenda feeds broadly into the discourse on the on-going constitution making process and ZANU-PF is technically distancing itself from the constitutional draft by each day since they realise they will not win any election conducted under democratic conditions.
Although the constitution making process was off to a bad start with most civic organisations sceptical about politicians leading the process there seems to be a shift towards accepting the draft by most civic groups and willingness to measure it in terms of content. From the engagement at the meetings in Denmark, it became evident that the Danish government offered great support to the constitution making body in Zimbabwe and civic society in Denmark believes that the Danish government need also to re-look seriously at ways of supporting the constitution making process and elections.
Intervention raised by the Danish civic society were to work towards balancing the support between institutions and civic society in Zimbabwe, especially in relation to strike for free and fair elections to take place in Zimbabwe. Interventions such as voter education and mobilisation, since there is increasing voter apathy in the country, were identified as key areas in need of large scale immediate attention. This support on voter mobilisation should be structured in such a way that it reaches out to the youth organisations to enable them to reach out to their peers. It’s an acceptable fact throughout the world that young people have a huge contribution towards transforming their societies into sustainable democracies. Revolutions in other African countries e.g. Egypt clearly show that the youth hold the keys to the future of any nation. President Obama made a massive appeal to the youth vote and it paid off.
The partnership between Youth Forum and Africa Contact commenced in 2011 and we have jointly built and implemented the project ”Creating legitimate and viable platforms for youth participation” to support democratic mobilisation of the youth in Zimbabwe. The project is supported and funded by the Danish Civil Society in Development (CISU).
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