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Youth quota systems not the panacea to youth political participation

By Karen Mkwasi

Given the current state of politics in Zimbabwe, young people have no choice but to ensure their inclusion in the formal political institutions of the country.

The currently proposed panacea is the introduction of the youth quota system.

In this new system, youths will be allocated 10 seats in Parliament.

The youth quota is at the moment, an important entry point but however it is still far from ideal in addressing the barriers to meaningful youth political participation. The marginalisation of the youths has largely been as a result of the counter progressive policies that have kept the youths at the fringes of economic and political participation.

Quota systems alone are not effective

There is a need for policies that will rightly result in the genuine emancipation of young people. Youths have been touted as innovative leaders who will lead change in Zimbabwe and the question is can 10 young people handpicked by political parties for their loyalty bring about this desired change?

Genuine youth political participating means harnessing their talent and knowledge for the development of the country. This can only be achieved through creating open spaces where ideas can thrive and where thinkers are not treated as a threat.

Currently, young thinkers and innovators remain largely unrecognised and unfunded. Imagine a government where young people can come in and lead revolutions in energy provision, health, education, agriculture and any other sector that is suffering due to the lack of meaningful ideas. As much as these young people can have a voice in Parliament, this quota will not open up space for them to change the lived realities of young people in Zimbabwe.

Young people have made very clear demands- they need employment and education that guarantees meaning inclusion in public life.

The youth quota system does little to address their demands. It’s simply a political tool that pays little regard to the youths’ demands and their political freedoms. There is a real danger that the quota system will be used to attempt to sanitize a regime where policy-making remains the privilege of old aged politicians who, when the time comes will manipulate the constitution to prolong their stay in power and thus further limiting opportunities for young people to lead.

The only way to ensure the political participation of young people is to address their structural exclusion. The real barriers to the participation of young people have never been about legislation and lack of quota systems. The legislation will not address the current gatekeeping in Zimbabwean politics. It will not address the culture of rent-seeking politicians who are reluctant to create space for youths.

This exclusion of young people from politics is a construct of the political patronage and gatekeeping system by a generation that feels entitled to power by their liberation credentials.

The exclusion of young people in the politics of the country has been compounded by limited access to critical information and those affected by the digital divide have no choice but to consume the propaganda from state-controlled outlets.

The youths themselves have also not been actively and fully represented in the debate on the youth quota system. Some are not even aware that the quota system exists and therefore are not even in a place where they can decide whether it will benefit them or not. To ensure the inclusion of young people there is a need to expose them to alternative information sources that will give them the power to make decisions.

The questions of how we will even get these young people to register to vote remains. We are living in a world where we need to lure young voters to vote. They need to be offered incentives to register to vote. This in itself is very telling of a political culture of exclusion, where a certain age group will queue to register to vote and another requires a series of concerts and other labours of love before they can present at the polling booth.

Young people continue to show a complete lack of faith in electoral processes. These could have been shaped by claims of election fraud and as long as the electoral system is seen to be flawed, voter apathy will remain. Convincing young people that a quota system can ensure that their voices will be represented at a time when we cannot even convince them that their vote counts are a huge task and chances of success remain slim.

Structural exclusion can only be addressed by structural reforms. The proposed quota system as it stands does not address the root cause of youths exclusion. The current policies in place also leave no real room for the economic emancipation of young people. Trapped in a sea of austerity measures and statutory instruments that safeguard the position of old and established capital, they have no choice but to be a generation of hustlers, a position that leaves them with no opportunities to grow as leaders and with very little time to pay attention to national processes.

Some of the youths who have joined the existing political establishments have been reduced by a toxic political culture to party thugs who are deployed to cause mayhem and chaos. The same youths will need to be rewarded for their roles in securing the future of their handlers.

A quota system in the absence of meaningful political reforms that enable participation will not ensure the meaningful participation of young people in politics. There is a need to acknowledge that these youths we speak of are not a homogeneous group. They are separated by socio-economic status, education, political grooming and cultural influences.

We also need to interrogate the impacts of the quota system on young women. The risk that young women will face further exclusion if there are no gender considerations is real. Youth wings will argue that gender considerations are provided for in the women’s quota and at the same time women’s wings will push these young women to be included in the youth quota instead. But history has shown that political parties have shown very little political will to ensure genuine gender parity.

The quota system does not guarantee meaningful political participation by the youths. The real political will to include young people can only be shown by creating an enabling environment for young people. There is a need to address the political cult.


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