‘Pa ground sipali bho’

There has been an echoing and resounding sentiment of despair and panic of late.

This melancholia has slithered in with a crippling grip on the hopes and aspirations of many Malawians, and has zeroed in heavily on our youth.

Just reading from the emotional outbursts on social media and other avenues, the signal is clear, our young people are tired and losing patience and the trust they had in Tonse government.

Pa ground sipali bho or thafu bwana may sound like cliche. Others may think it’s just one of those everyday words finding place in our fast changing world of colloquialism.

I personally, however, find these words as telling, emblematic and revealing, meaning that those who wish to dismiss and disregard these concerns may do it at their own peril.

This is not like any other waggish retort by some misguided folks. It is a collective narrative, a barometer that is measuring the flow and feel of things right now.

For many young people the ground is slippery and the situation is very critical, the centre is no longer holding. There is no anchorage, no support systems and the fear is that the vessel is moving without the captain and may likely crash.

Exacerbated by no access to capital, high rates of unemployment, and non-existent economic empowerment interventions, most of our young people are finding themselves disproportionately struggling.

The National Economic Empowerment Fund (NEEF) that government has implemented as a loan facility for youth and women is toxically politicized and mainly functioning as a handout.

Because there are no incubatory functions and entrepreneurial skills training attached to it, there will always be a mismatch between what the labour market demands and the skills available. This will continue to affect our youth employment.

Most of the few beneficiaries of these loans don’t even know where to start looking for opportunities from.

There’s is no directory of what’s available outside the limited space government has reserved for SMEs.

The small and medium enterprises order that the ministry of trade has gazetted is a very welcome idea. Unfortunately this is where the highly connected few have a monopoly.

Therefore without weaving an intentional quota into it to affirmatively level the field for the youth to effectively participate, this might end up not producing the result it was created for.

With this absence of feasible economic intervention by government, we are slowly raising a generation that will eventually be struggling with shocking levels of psychosocial stressors.

If not taken care of quickly, this will inevitably translate into more problems that will be more difficult to handle.

Eventually this will leave a negative impact on our families, communities and the nation at large.

These stemming issues are real and are founded on allegations and serious unsettled grievances that government must try to give answers for.

Let’s all take a moment and try to focus on the broader undertaking of what is being raised.

Social Contract

Has this government provided enough policy frameworks on how to identify the gaps, challenges and opportunities for harnessing the youth’s potential?

Prior to the 2019 tripartite elections a consortium of some youth civil society organisations came up with a national youth manifesto.

This agenda was a combination of a series of guiding principles that the initiative had gathered through consultative efforts.

The objective and aim was that the youths themselves would be able to instruct and advise government on a number of issues affecting them.

The manifesto did not only capture the aspirations and needs of all young people. But it laid out the demands on sound governance and strategic blueprint for youth development.

At the most bear minimum, the consortium had asked all aspiring candidates to give an assent, committing that they will adhere to the youth agenda post election era.

Not surprising, in 2019 our now President and the Vice President both took it upon themselves to sign the (National Youth Manifesto) and by doing so they implied and committed to be champions for youth development.

They both pledged to be responsive to the aspirations of the youth as clearly expressed in the Agenda.

However after resuming office, there has been a lacking in providing the political will and the strategic institutional leadership that our young people deserve.

Our leaders are obsessed with returning and recycling aging folks on key strategic leadership positions.

Our young people have been denied a chance to sit on a decision making table.

Job Creation

It’s not a hidden secret that one of the flagship campaign promises that really stimulated a lot of excitement and zeal in many young people was that of one million jobs creation.

This promise alone activated so much optimism and it was not only the fuel that moved the campaign, but it was a propellant that effectively launched the Tonse alliance into victory.

Regrettably both gentlemen have decided to look the other side without any attempt to reassure the many young people who voted for them.

The youth of Malawi simply need to see the clear roadmaps.

They deserve to know the immediate plans and goals for their wealth creation.

The late Hastings Banda and former president Joyce Banda effectively facilitated a labor export program which was an immediate solution.

Am not sure if that could be another option available.

The biggest challenge for our government is their inability to track progress on job creation as it is currently operating without a labour market information system.

Consequently this also means that government has no way of keeping record of how many jobs have been lost.

Way forward

Since the Vice President is the one tasked with reforms, and knowing that 70% of our General population are young people below the age of 35, I personally would have thought that the one million job creation that he was advocating for could have been easily handled if his ministry of economic planning had opened a desk with a labour element for a youth attaché.

It could only make sense to have him work in tandem with someone who understands the needs and aspirations of youths.

It’s the young people that usually know how to navigate the digital spaces and can inspire and lead a new innovative pursuit of 21st century opportunities.

Young entrepreneurs worldwide are shaping the digital economy in serious ways – they are creating new platforms – that do not require Industrial age infrastructure.

Think of companies like Uber, Door dash, Facebook and many more that only require enabling apparatuses like internet.

This is where most of our young people would thrive. Our government should work had to lower the cost of internet data and should make me serious investments in digital technology.

We have to remember that while we are still dreaming about vision 2063, our regional counterparts are raising their young people’s capacity.

We have seen in Uganda’s Makerere’s University students coming up with their own designs and building full electronic vehicles.

Likewise, If the potential in our young people could be nurtured well, limitless possibilities could be unleashed.

We could easily unlock new avenues for business opportunities in hospitality, arts, tourism and education sectors and many more.

On institutional level, I am not sure if the ministry of youth has provided enough leadership yet.

However if I were the minister of youth, I could have facilitated the drafting of a youth bill with a parliamentary act specifically demanding a quota for fair representation and participation in all government departments just like the gender act dictates.

While I agree to an extent with others who are quick to say that our youth should not be waiting or just expect government to hand them jobs and opportunities like manna from heaven, I personally find it hard to marry those sentiments with the reality on the ground.

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,”

These words by a former American 35th president John F. Kennedy on Friday January 20, 1961 at the East Portico of the US capital in Washington, sometimes can be a dangerous pretext by many leaders and in its overused state can easily betray a lack of original context.

The youth of Malawi are not looking for freebies, they are not lacking ideas. What they lack is an enabling and conducive environment where they can thrive.

We should not be quick to forget that these are the same young people who didn’t wait for anybody to hand them the change they aspired for.

They are the same young people who refused to fold arms during the liberation against the DPP

They marched with SKC, took to the streets to rally behind Comrade Mtambo and his HRDC assemblage.

And finally they provided the political and social capital that Dr Chakwera and the whole Tonse alliance used.

Let’s remember that Human Resources are seen to be the most important economic resource.

Quality of human material is the ultimate determinant of economic success and failure of nations.

Invest in the youth and watch the country transform for the betterment of its citizenry.

In conclusion, it is true that the youth are not only the hope for our future, they are the future itself. Any successful society invests heavily in its youth.

The government needs to let the youth be partners today so that they can be great leaders tomorrow. We are asking the government to keep the promises they made to the nation and the youth in particular during the campaign period.

In the words of Kofi Annan and I quote; “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed herein are those of the author, Mahara Mhango.

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