Four features were evident in countries which experienced the Arab Spring, namely youth dominance within populations in different countries concerned, internet penetration and influence, repressive and unaccountable leadership and social unrest caused by deteriorating socio-economic conditions and associated problems, including youth unemployment.
A fundamental feature of the Arab Spring was its structural cause as opposed to trigger events. Over a long period of time, governments in the Middle East and North Africa had shaped public policy in pursuit of economic development without democracy, and worryingly not sharing the benefits of economic development equitably.
Political and democratic participation in the countries’ affairs was outlawed or limited. Gradually, societies experiencing high levels of economic growth and impressive indicators with massive democratic deficits emerged.
The United Nations human development report of 1996 observed that the link between growth and human development is not automatic. It said in most cases too much emphasis on economic growth has led to lop-sided and often flawed growth patterns, producing:
Jobless growth (without expanding employment opportunities);
Ruthless growth (associated with increasing inequality and poverty);
Voiceless growth (without extending democracy)
Rootless growth (that withers cultural identity) and
Futureless growth (that squanders resources needed by future generations).
Young people who constitute the biggest section of different countries’ population are neither participants in the economy nor beneficiaries of the proceeds of the growth. Instead youth unemployment, poverty and inequality have replaced opportunity, hope and faith in government. In the Middle East and North Africa, an explosion of popular discontent erupted resulting in entrenched dictatorships and the league of autocrats falling by the way side.
The current Zimbabwean economic empowerment drive that is largely targeting young people as a means of correcting the imbalances caused by colonialism amid government refusal to accept its failures over the last 32 years has stirred heated debate.
Economic empowerment is not a new term in the post-Independence discourse in Zimbabwe. A lot of stillborn, premature and partisan initiatives have always been introduced, especially when Zanu PF is faced with internal contradictions or elections. One of those was the ill-fated decision to adopt the International Monetary (IMF) and World Bank-sponsored Economic structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) in 1991. Then in 2000 there was the good but badly-implemented land reform programme, and now, indigenisation.
The bulk of young people born just before and soon after Independence grew up in an environment dominated by one political party whose policies caused so many problems, including marginalisation of the youth and regions like Matabeleland.
Whilst young people are the majority of the marginalised, unemployed and prone to political manipulation, those behind economic empowerment have failed to appreciate the reality that economic growth and indigenisation in isolation would not necessarily translate into progress. Young people should not be taught the “make money and all things shall follow mentality”.
Indigenisation must be linked to economic growth and translated into productive-employment growth, which is a key nexus between growth and poverty reduction. That is the why the idea of grabbing 51% of foreign-owned companies, including Zimplats, and coming up with community trusts without linking that to the mainstream economy will not enhance human development or help to fight youth unemployment.
The approach only exposes government’s policy contradictions and the failure to understand the necessary framework for indigenisation. Take for instance, government’s move on Zimplats and how it handled Ziscosteel. How does government explain the policy contradiction inherent in that approach?
How do the youth fit into such a policy framework? Zanu PF has taken advantage of the situation and registered its youth organisations and fund which has benefitted only groups associated the partisan Zimbabwe Youth Council. Besides saying he is prepared to be Hilter ten-fold, what programme does Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere have to benefit the youth of this country and not those of his party alone?
The reasons why a lot of young people have been alienated and not benefitted from the youth fund which is supposed to be part of the empowerment drive is clear: partisan politics and agendas. The fund is now simply benefitting elitist Zanu PF officials who will only give leftovers to their party’s loyal youths. These are same youths who then run organisations like Chipangano, Upfumi Kuvadiki and some dubious entities that have strong links with Zanu PF.
In the process, the real youth of this country are marginsalised. As things stand, communities being given shares seized from foreign-owned companies do not have solid human capital besides their labour. What the Ministry of Youth should instead be looking at is to ensure investment in human capital.
Focus should be on revisiting the land reform programme after an audit to accommodate the majority of the poor Zimbabweans. The same also goes for the informal sector dominated by young people, especially women.
Now that elections are looming many young people, especially young women, are being roped into partisan projects like the Kurera-Ukondla Youth Fund launched on November 24 last year by Vice President Joice Mujuru.
With Zimbabwe’s youth population being around 65%, Zanu PF has strategically positioned itself to target the vulnerable youth to vote for it. Therefore the nexus that exits in the Zimbabwean context between youths and voting for Zanu PF is well defined and the youth ministry is at the centre of it. Government should not lure and make young people rush for the 30 pieces of silver at Old Mutual or at CABS. Youths should begin to participate in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of public policy to get themselves involved in the mainstream economy through legitimate means.
Looking at the Zimbabwean situation and the Arab nations, a number of key lessons are discernible. Since the inclusive government took office in 2009, economic decline has been arrested. Growth took place for the first time in 10 years. An economy that had cumulatively declined by 50% over a period of 10 years was stabilised and started to realise growth. It is now three years of successive growth even though this is fragile and mainly driven by consumption and the narrow enclave of extractive industries. This results in the widening of the gap between the rich and the majority poor, mainly the youth.
Evidently the economy has neither been broad-based nor pro-youth. The fact that the majority of people have not benefitted from the growth in the economy has either demobilised them or completely depoliticised them as the struggle for daily survival take precedence over civic action, hence their inability to launch Arab Spring-like protests.
Alternatively, youths have become part of the catchment area of the politics of patronage, manipulation and abuse by self-serving politicians who have colonilised the state for partisan purposes. Youths have been turned into vigilantes and militias by some leaders and their parties, an insensitive abuse of the young generation .
Chisi writes in his personal capacity. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.