Malawi: Chihana's flight of youthful fancy

Minister Responsible for Youth Development and Sport, Enoch Chihana, if he fine-tunes his idea, could be a positive contributor to Malawi’s now-imperative Agenda for Change and Renewal.

In a recent announcement, he said his ministry is looking for K1.6bn to rehabilitate former Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) training bases now lying idle and in utter disrepair. He wants them brought back to useful life offering vocational training to Malawi’s teeming but seemingly idle and therefore restless youths (see: The minister is on to something interesting and positive with this idea of his.

 Ministry of Youth Development and Sport a Misnomer

Let’s first disconnect the idea of youth from the idea of sport. It is not helpful to associate sport with youthfulness as there are many sports: golf and darts, for instance, that do not require youth in the players. Who is a youth, anyway? I am suggesting anyone under the age of thirty, but surely the minster must have a benchmark.

Perhaps a Ministry of Sports and Recreation might be created in its own right without invoking the idea of youth. This might sound like a trifling, but the reality is that the job of youth development is a big one, in and of itself, requiring a ministry in its own right. If it is absolutely necessary to connect it to any other ministry, it might make sense to ally it to the Ministry of Education for reasons which will probably become more obvious in later parts of this piece. But I digress.

Malawi Youth, Sports and Culture Minister Enock Chihana

 The Fear Factor

Considering Malawi’s recent history, we cannot talk about government-sponsored youth development schemes without evoking fears of what such programs may easily lead to. All governing parties in Malawi since independence, with the commendable exception of the new People’s Party (PP) administration of Mrs. Joyce Banda so far, have had no compunction about using youth groups as private armies in violent assignments to assault or intimidate political opponents.

The history of the MYP, in particular, is such that any any talk of reviving the movement needs to be accompanied by clear explanations of how the reassembled entity will differ from its petrifying progenitor and its more recent copycats.

In light of this, any initiative to advantage youth programs must be accompanied by cast-iron, legislated guarantees to insulate the public from youth terrorism implemented at the behest of political party leaders.

Mr. Chihana must not only say so; he must also draft legislation for Parliament which, if passed, will ensure that youths from the revived MYP training bases will not be seen roaming the streets, sporting political party colours and brandishing panga knives as they did during the recent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, chanting, ‘Onyoza Bingu lero, sagona timpweteka!‘  Youths whose training is paid for by taxpayers of all political colours should not have to pledge loyalty to any political party, let alone pledge violent servitude to political parties or personalities, as a precondition for their training. One hopes that era is dead and buried with the demise of Bingu wa Mutharika.

A new agenda for change and renewal in Malawi would steer youths towards peaceful, gainful employment; not towards violent political deployment. We can have ‘youth morale’ militants in our parties without also turning such militants into private political party militaries!

 National Aprenticeship Qualifying Prerequisites

In a new Malawi, our young men and women’s institutional and on-the-job apprenticeship training should be supervised by a National Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board, perhaps affillated with the National Examining and Testing Board – which is where the Ministry of Education comes in. A combination of institutional courses, on-the-job practicals under the supervision of qualified artisans in the same trade, and a national apprentice qualifying exam should be prerequisites for licensed practice as a journeyman in the identified trades that Malawi needs and wants. Minister Chihana might wish to think through all these stages before drafting his legislation and bringing i to Parliament.

An agenda for change and renewal in Malawi recognizes that our country needs certified cabinet makers and welders, for example, apart from steam fitters, pipe fitters and gas fitters for the new economy. Unlike Bingu wa Mutharika’s pipedream in technicolour of building five new universities in two years for pen-pushers, agents of a new agenda for positive change in our country, people like Enoch Chihana, apparently understand that a new Malawi also needs to train qualified cooks for our hospitality and tourism industries.

Malawi also needs to train sheet metal workers and autobody technicians, quite apart from heavy equipment handlers. Youths in a new Malawi need to learn to become qualified electricians, refrigeration and air conditioning tradesmen and communications technicians for industry in the service of Malawi’s economic growth.

Malawi’s future will be brighter than we can imagine if it leaves behind the same old politics of using youths as weapons in campaigns of hate, violence and the personal destruction of political opponents. A new agenda for positive change and renewal will, instead, create qualified landscape gardeners and agricultural equipment technicians from our large pool of youths to give them positive things to do for themselves and for society at large. We must forge ahead and create a corps of youthful millrights, elevator constructors and crane/hoisting equipment operators for our infrastructure development, too.

Young people can learn pretty much anything. It is encumbent upon national policy makers, therefore, to decide what to make available to them for learning. Will they learn how to transfer beds from one hospital in the middle of the night to another in an aea where there also happens to be a political by-election underway; or will they learn to become politically uninvolved hospital olderlies and nurse’s aides in the professional service of suffering patients? Will they learn the art of political flattery and opportunism to be able, in future, to survive in cabinet though three consecutive administrations that are diametrically opposed to one another; or will they, instead, learn the honour and appreciate the dignity of relying on a trade or profession for a living?

If they can’t make it to the university or other colleges, our young people should be able to go to vocational colleges to become rig technicians, carpenters and even hairstylists to enable them make a decent, honest living rather than become political prostitutes. They should train to become power linesmen, insulation artisans and machinists, too, and thus help to develop the country. They will be properly trained to become minibus and omnibus drivers and thus help reduce the carnage on our roads caused by the dangerous operation of these deadly contraptions by uncertified hands.

 Of banks and start-up loans  

A future, new-agenda-and-renewal government will guarantee student bank loans for youths to train as artisans and for small business start-ups for those who do not get formal employment upon completion of their training. Someone trained as a mine worker, a bricklayer or cement mixer, for example, should not have too much trouble repaying such a loan due to the abundance of work in those fields in the economy. The trick is to make sure that such loans are divorced from any attempts by political parties to buy loyalty through such loans as has happened all too often in the past.

Honourable Enoch Chihana, as well as President Joyce Banda, can usefully challenge themselves to be part of this new way of aproaching development programs; especially these sorts of programs designed to emopower and promote the legitimate aspirations of our youths. Now that would represent a truly new orientation; a bona fide agenda for change and renewal. When that hapens, we can all hum a sprightly tune of celebration for our country and its prospects for true development. The young are the key to Malawi’s future and minister Chihana seems to know this. What we do for young people today has a great impact on what the Malawi of tomorrow will look like. As the Soldier for poor people, Lucius Banda, once sang:


*Ambuje Che Tom Likambale is from Balaka Township, Southern Malawi

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