IN chess parlance, a pawn is the least powerful piece on the chessboard, yet legendary. French chess player François-André Danican Philidor once remarked that: “Pawns are the soul of the game. They alone create attack and defence, the way they are deployed decides the fate of the game.”
They are not worth much in the game, but they are the ideal piece for the protection of the king.
It’s a damning indictment of the state of the world when one takes into consideration that the most populous piece on the board is also the weakest.
Zimbabwean youths, just like pawns in a game of chess, are populous, but their numbers almost account for nothing in as far as stamping their authority on the political arena is concerned.
Oftentimes, they are taken advantage of, used by elites when it suits them, only to be dumped at their convenience.
Like pawns in the game of chess, youths from across the political divide are put on the firing line for the protection of cult-like leaders whose goal is to ensure they accumulate political power by all means necessary.
When intra- and inter-party clashes occur within or between the country’s political parties, youths are more often than not the perpetrators or victims of violence in defence of their factions or parties.
The defence of their “kings” has not always yielded positive results as some have been maimed while others are languishing in the country’s hostile prisons.
While youths are generally viewed as potentially dangerous subjects and policy approaches often regard them as a problem, they should also be considered as victims crying out for help.
“Much of contemporary thinking on youth and conflict tends to be overly negative. It focuses on the dangers posed by disaffected youths as is evident in the negative connotations of the ‘youth bulge’ or at ‘risk youth’ concepts,” peace and conflict researcher and Rotary Fellow Patience Rusare said.
“The young vacillate between two extremes of ‘infantilising’ and ‘demonising’. On the one hand, youths are feared as dangerous, apathetic, and threats to security while on the other they are viewed as vulnerable, powerless, and in need of protection,” she added.
They are prone to abuse.
Zimbabwe is a year away from a watershed harmonised plebiscite which promises to be eventful considering the political situation currently prevailing in the country.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is desperate to get another dance at the helm of the country while Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa is also rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation of a win against his political nemesis.
The political tension ahead of the plebiscite naturally throws young people into the fray, turning them against each other and against their kith and kin all in the name of protecting their “kings”.
Considering that 65% of Africa’s population consists of young people, it is becoming increasingly important that, rather than seeing young people as agents of conflict and destruction, they are seen as agents of peace, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and advocates for social cohesion in their communities.
Unlike previous elections where young people were used to unleash terror on their peers and the elderly, destroying property among other things, the coming election should be punctuated with peace.
However, this is easier said than done and requires the political will of all political stakeholders.
Analyst Gibson Nyikadzino said, generally youths in Africa have endured years of idleness as a result of unemployment.
This has radicalised them along political lines and raised high levels of intolerance toward their peers across the political divide.
“Because of that idleness, they have been exploited by politicians across the continent that have manipulated them and used them to commit acts of their bidding at a high cost as they end up facing consequences alone because they would have held extremist views and beliefs,” Nyikadzino said.
“So political parties ought to establish consciousness hubs that deradicalise the youth by ensuring they have economic as well as ideological empowerment. Therefore, political parties should support inclusion and pro-social behaviours built around community groups that handle young people vulnerable to radicalisation.”
Despite being deeply affected by violence, young people’s voices in Zimbabwe are neither heard nor included in processes of conflict resolution and peace building.
This has to stop.
Zimbabwean youths are capable of playing active roles, more so at grassroots and local levels, as peacemakers, mediators, and peace builders as recognised with the adoption of Resolution 2250 by the United Nations Security Council in 2015.
As one of the pillars of the UN’s Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) agenda, youth participation in conflict prevention and resolution, violence prevention, and the promotion of social cohesion should be at the top of political leaders’ agendas.
Zimbabwean society is highly polarised along political lines.
The vitriol that people spit on social media need to be carefully dealt with as these are trigger effects for serious conflict and violence.
Instead of pushing youths in a typical pawn fashion, fuelling hate and violence, they should be included in peace building processes that facilitate peace in society.
Peace and conflict researcher Lazarus Sauti argues that young people are important actors in peace building and political affairs.
“They assume important roles in the resolution of political and electoral conflicts within their communities. However, in Zimbabwe, just like most African states, young people are ‘othered’ in discussions about politics, peace and security.
“Accordingly, there is a need to build their capacity as peace-building actors if Zimbabwe is to strengthen its democratic governance, as well as solving problems at the local and national levels,” Sauti said.
Zimbabwean youths should not be treated as pawns in the dirty game of politics, but as potential builders capable of fostering in the country.