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Declining participation of Youth in Zimbabwe Elections

By Rudo A Motsi

The Zimbabwe elections are due in less than two months from now and by-elections conducted from 2018 show an increasing decline in youth participation. This raises questions as to why the youth continue to shy away from electoral matters in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has a population of about 16 million people, with approximately 77.9% of this population being youths aged 34 years old and younger. Given this, there is a presumption that the largest demographic participating in electoral processes ought to be the youth. But this is not the case. The youth as the largest demographic are mostly affected by democratic processes but apathy remains high, with young people failing to turn up to participate in electoral, democracy and governance issues. The lack of participation is a result of a number of issues ranging from, restrictive political parties, a general lack of interest, insufficient information that enables participation and insufficient funds to address the electoral and governmental needs of the youth.

The political terrain in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean politics has remained a dividing factor that has caused the youth to shy away from electoral participation. Due to internal fights in the political parties, the uneven playing field, citizen arrests and allegations of rigging, the youth have shown an increasing disinterest in electoral issues. As political parties campaign, there has been a growing trend of vote rigging against the Electoral Commission in conjunction with the ruling party. This has a direct effect on youth participation causing them to refrain from participating in electoral issues. The youth allege that elections are always rigged, therefore, their vote doesn’t count.


Statistics show that approximately 70% of youth in Zimbabwe are currently unemployed and are living in extreme poverty. As a result of poverty, the youth have been exposed to exploitation in political structures for political gain. The youth vote can be bought for a certain fee and underprivileged youth continuously receive the end of this. This has also resulted in fake promises that never materialise. In Zimbabwe, politicking is often practised by those with the political muscle with youths reduced to being pawns in 'politricks', sidelining political issues and relegating the vote to the highest bidder.

Weaponisation of the law and restricted freedoms

The supreme laws governing Zimbabwe have also become an impediment to youth participation in elections and governance related issues. Zimbabwe has since undergone a major crackdown on dissent. This worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. Zimbabwean youth have been subjected to state security violence and arbitrary arrests, with youths such as Makomborero Haruzivishe, Tapiwa Chiriga and many more being subjected to arrests and lengthy pretrial detentions. Currently, four members of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), Benjamin Watadza, Emmanuel Sitima, Comfort Mpofu and Lionel Madamombe have spent more than 30 days in prison with their bail application being dismissed on the grounds that the students are likely to reoffend as they belong to the Black Monday Movement, which is “capable of causing more trouble for the state”. As we head towards the 2023 Harmonised Elections, increased repression contributes towards voter and electoral apathy and negatively impacts youth participation in electoral issues for fear of persecution.

Administration of ZEC

The administration of elections by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has also caused youth to shy away from participating in elections. The ZEC has been accused of administering elections in a partisan manner causing distrust among the youth. Lack of comprehensive voter education by the Commission has also increased voter apathy among young people.

General disinterest

The youth have also shown lack of interest in the system of governance because they feel they cannot change it. Voter apathy can also be attributed to a number of structural injustices from vote buying, political violence and intimidation and lack of change in governmental policies. This has led the youth and many other Zimbabweans to question the legitimacy and validity of elections in Zimbabwe.

Authorities in Zimbabwe are encouraged to create a safe, equal political and electoral playing field to allow for full participation of youth and all Zimbabweans. There is a need to continue with youth empowerment programs that advance youth growth. Civil society, Faith based organisations and the Electoral Body also need to work hand in hand to ensure continuous voter education throughout the electoral cycle.

R. A. Motsi is an election and democracy enthusiast. She has experience in voter mobilisation, election observation and election advocacy.


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