Jail only radicalises youths

BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE

A dozen or so young people have of late had run-ins with the law and have ended up in court for acts that are politically motivated. Most have spent long periods in cells awaiting trial while others have had bail refused on the grounds they are likely to recommit the same crimes they are incarcerated for.
The reasons why these young people are prepared to sacrifice their freedoms for the cells are many and very much varied. Some are simply playing to the gallery in an attempt to achieve some kind of bizarre political activist heroism. Others have genuine grievances which their political leaders are failing to articulate or address. Yet others, whose actions are totally irrational, act out of drug-induced bravado laced by spurious political frustration.
The political veil around all these cases has a devastating effect on the country’s standing in the world. The message that watchers of political developments in the country always get is the lack of political reforms in Zimbabwe and they use this to continue to punish the country with sanctions citing these arrests.
But the important thing is that a dozen young people in our jails are a dozen too many. And, we should bear in mind that thousands others are already serving sentences that have to do with openly criminal activities such as armed robbery and drug peddling. All this points to a sick society; and the buck must stop somewhere.
The buck must stop at a governmental system that has excluded the majority of our youths from the mainstream economy. This exclusion is a culmination of lots of developments emanating from such fundamental failings as educational deprivation, broken family fabrics and economic marginalisation. Add to these mental health problems that may be poverty or drug driven, then we have a recipe for disaster. To make things worse, these youths engage in online social media where they are exposed to radicalised networks and associates.
In all countries around the world where youths have become radicalised, studies have shown that without a sound education, with broken families, with poverty and discrimination youths are ready to take risks in an effort to either improve their lot or simply to destroy that which is beyond their reach. Close to home this is what has happened in Cabo Delgado. Further afield we can point to Chad where President Idriss Deby was killed on the front fighting rebels who are radicalised youths with little to show for three decades of his rule.
The nascent radicalisation we are seeing in our youths has to be nipped in the bud. The more these young people are brutalised by the police and arrested, the more inured to repression they become. And world opinion tends to incline itself towards the weak; indeed the youths revel in the attention they get when some embassies stand by them each time they stand up to authority. Arrests, therefore, only trigger more radicalisation.
Financial inclusion is what our youths need. In the past two decades they have sunk to the bottom of the pyramid where they don’t deserve to be.
There should be a concerted effort by the government to pull them out of this situation by empowering them economically. But as we know this is better said than done but opportunities abound in the natural resources that our country boasts, whether it’s the land itself or the minerals in contains.
Many of our young people have found their break in farming, sport, the arts and in small business. Not all will find success in these but the onus is on the government to approach the youth problem holistically by exploring all avenues of empowerment.