In a world where all eyes are set on the West, and more recently the East, very few people focus on the advantages present in countries such as Zimbabwe who are positioned between the prevailing economic giants. Countries in Africa. At first glance, it may appear that this landlocked nation has very little to offer economically, but believe it or not, our nation is envied by many compared to the likes of Japan, Sweden and even Canada. And to what do we owe this envy-ridden pleasure? The youth demographic dividend.
It was in November 2017 when the month of February gained its first public holiday, implemented to commemorate the birthday of the nation’s longest serving President, this holiday is known as Robert Gabriel Mugabe National Youth Day. This day has since galvanised efforts to consider and empower the youth with activities ranging from donations, concerts, mentorship opportunities and the like.
This youth day was made a reflective one by the current global pandemic and its lull on celebratory activity and by one of the hashtags that trended on twitter, #BeingYoungInZim. Whereas one may have expected the contributions to this hashtag to share the usual comical experiences and childhood memories that make their rounds on social media, it did just the opposite.
Testaments of the hardships faced daily by youths in Zimbabwe flooded the twitter timelines of anyone who follows even a small group of Zimbabwean youth. The hashtag was popular to the point where an Ethiopian citizen responded by sharing that reading the depressing tweets reminded her of similar lived experiences in her home country.
Why do we keep letting the youth down?
The United Nations Population Fund states that 62% of the population are aged below 25 years thus confirming that Zimbabwe is a significantly young country. This is a trait that some of the world’s most advanced nations would trade for, however, it appears we do not understand the power of the resource we hold. The youth of past generations have been empowered to innovate and contribute to the economic standing of their nations.
And when discriminatory legislation hindered them from doing just that, they used their zest to drive change and alter the trajectory of nations. The revolutions that led to the freedoms we recite year on year were led by young people. And now those very same people are battling to secure essential daily necessities and secure employment.
Zimbabwe has not sufficiently factored in the economic benefits of empowering young people and with the current despondent state of this golden demographic, the nation has clearly disregarded the economic opportunity cost of neglecting its majority population group.
The youth are wasting their most economically productive years at a time when their development should be accelerated to meet the growing demands of advancement in modern civilisation. Besides costly education and equipment, our nation lacks the necessities required to train medical doctors, resources to equip our engineers, materials for our artists and a functioning economy for our budding accountants and economists to maintain.
The youth are leaving with a sour taste in their mouths — it is difficult to ascertain whether they would return after the tortuous process of finding a legitimate opportunity beyond Zimbabwe’s borders. As the brain drain continues and the potential economic benefit of young people remains unfulfilled. The emotional toll of lost hope is rife with mental illness posing a heavy burden on society as the friendship bench highlights that in Zimbabwe, only one psychiatrist is available per one million people.
It has never been too late to save the state of the nation, and in this case the state of the youth of Zimbabwe. The youth are receptive to investment, resources, opportunities, and tangible progress for the good of their future. All are possible with a mixture of the right people and local or international organisations that should not be too onerous to deliver. Should the existing leadership have the will to achieve this, the economic advantages will be significant and many. This includes the following;
Eonomic growth driven by higher employment and innovation; The youth of Zimbabwe were fortunate to see or hear about the fruit of hard work and investment in a functional financial system through the previous generation’s ability to secure mortgages to purchase property and their unfortunate experience of losing savings that would have accumulated into something substantial for personal use. Those that have studied abroad have gained a greater appreciation of gaining formal employment through the difficulties faced in attempting to secure such in a foreign country. Though excluded from a number of international studies due to a lack of data, Zimbabwe is arguably one of the most entrepreneurial countries in Africa with the desire to explore new industries driven by the need to survive. This cultivated ‘hustle’ culture could transcend into an ecosystem that produces the highest quality goods and services for the continent and the world.
A debt-ridden nation with a greater proportion of taxpayers who may contribute to the fiscal income required to repay and revive the economy. With unofficial unemployment statistics well over 90%, the country’s taxpayer pool is heavily strained. Taxation interventions such as the 2% tax on mobile money transactions may be progressive in the manner in which is accounts for a financial service whose prevalence in Zimbabwe has enabled the economy’s sustenance, yet in the context of the socio-economic matters faced by the average Zimbabwean, this remains a strenuous coerced commitment.
Although growing the taxpayer pool is directly correlated with tax income, it signals a greater investment base for local development. Those that understand the nation intimately are its citizens and with the influence of globalisation over the current generation of youth, the exposure and desire to what could be is strong. The youth are aware of the type of development they would like to see in the country and given the chance much investment would go towards building their imagined country. In addition, the nation’s consumption will inevitably increase with the nation’s population growth expected to increase to 21 million over the next decade. Securing greater investment in the local economy will enable the country to desist from being import reliant and relieve the financial system on its overreliance on foreign currency.
In all of this the greatest economic muscle the youth possess is the ability to cause a shift in how the world, the continent and Zimbabweans themselves perceive Zimbabwe. The success of the country is equally dependent on the morale of its people and the goodwill on its allies.
The success of Zimbabwe’s talented academics, sportspeople, artists, entrepreneurs and others, should not hinge on their ability to export their skill to gain a chance at achieving their dreams. All these individuals can demonstrate the nation’s excellence within the country given the adequate resources and removed barriers to success.
This country needs to change its economic strategy and its narrative to give young people a sweeter song to sing. The youth-dominated population is an opportunity to secure a long-term base for economic growth, development and regional influence. It will merely take the right youth-focused leaders, resource mobilisation and great commitment to position the youth for the course stolen from them by the previous generation. It is not too late to change the reality of #BeingYoungInZimbabwe.
Dzinotyiwei is the secretary of the Zimbabwe Economic Society and a start-up enthusiast currently building an online venue hire start-up called YuPlan (www.yuplan.co). She is also founder of the non-profit organisation the Zimbabwe Economic Youth Foundation (ZEYF) which works to empower the youth to become active participants in the economy. These weekly New Perspective articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant and past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society.