I have always followed Malawian politics but lately I have done so with great fervency. What has singularly provoked my interest is the concept of “younganisation of malawi’s politics”. According to proponents of this school of thought, the objective is to create an environment that encourages the youth to take a leading role in public affairs.
Notwithstanding the recent increase in the youth’s representation in public affairs realm, the majority of participants have always been the age group above 50. Without any prevarications, I support this thinking. For a long time the youth have been banished to play peripheral roles in public policy matters. Yet the youth are one of the most productive resources that we have. The youth have the propensity to think outside the box and also challenge old assumptions and preconceptions.
I strongly believe the youth will bring in new thinking and untapped, virgin energy into the public arena. We need a renewed sense of urgency. I am convinced that Malawi’s potential to propel to robust social, political and economic development can be unleashed if we abrogate some of the old ways we have been doing our things. I have always thought that the youth are the antidote to rescue Malawi from the old, obsolete mindset which has compromised our progress.
I need not over-emphasize the colossal importance of exercising prudence and wisdom regarding the implementation of this idea or else it will face vitriolic opposition. The opposition can develop if the objectives of younganisation are misconstrued or misunderstood as intending to subjugate particular demographics. My impression is that younganisation does not intend to marginalize any particular group. It only recognizes the fact that the youth have for a long time been under-utilized and that must change now. It is very encouraging to note the surge in the number of young members of parliament. This has not happened by accident. There is so much fervor amongst the youth to step in and help steer Malawi in the right direction.
I have noted with a great measure of disappointment the animosity towards Atupele Muluzi from the older folks of the executive committee of the UDF. Atupele has been thrust to the fore of Malawi’s politics as he has emerged to epitomize the younganisation movement. He has been continuously articulating a paradigm shift in the way we conduct our politics. His temerity and tenacity in speaking out in favor of change has precipitated virulent tidal wave of attacks which include threats of expulsion from UDF. The UDF national executive has rendered the party inactive and is clearly unable to fathom the intensity of the zeal for change simmering within the party. It is vexatious that the same older folks in the executive who are responsible for the desolate and tattered state of the party would like to cling to the reigns of leadership as if they will offer anything meaningful. My advice to them is to open up and embrace change or step down. This applies to all political parties.
I have heard some people argue that some of these politicians are too young to contest for such positions as the office of the presidency. The last time I checked 35 was the minimum age requirement as stipulated in our constitution. The framers of our constitution noted that 35 years is old and mature enough to contest for the presidency. There are numerous examples of individuals who became either presidents or prime ministers early in their lives and became or are still important political leaders in their own right: Ahmed Sekou toure of Guinea-conakry led his country to independence and became president at 35. Patrice Lumumba became prime minister of Zaire (now Democratic republic of congo) at 36. Foure Essozimna Gnassingbe(Eyadema) became president of Togo at 39. Joseph Kabila became president of Democratic republic of congo at 30. Moussa Traore of Mali became head of state at 36. This is proof that young people can rise to the occasion and assume demanding responsibilities.
I find it reprehensible when “young age” becomes a basis for negative reviews and publicity when vetting aspirants for the office of the presidency or any other public office. At the same time I do empathize with those who harbor genuine apprehension regarding the young running for high offices. Young people are associated with immaturity. This is why my next point is very important. We need to establish comprehensive vetting systems. By comprehensive I mean open, competitive, rigorous, meticulous and democratic process. This is the responsibility of each political party. If we are to end up with quality candidates, political parties need to establish better standards in this process.
The process should be able to evaluate all facets of human life and society including issues of probity and intellectual prowess. Any interference with the process in order to influence results in favor of a particular candidate must be avoided. We should avoid having pre-ordained candidates as has been the practice in the past and still is. This practice is clearly an affront to the principle of free and fair elections and is tantamount to disenfranchisement.
I also have to mention that one should not be a target of disqualification and denigration because one is related to a powerful politician. In a democracy like ours, everyone has the right to contest for any public office as long as they satisfy all the constitutionally established prerequisites.
My advice to all political parties is to refrain from standing in the way of the aspirations and choices of its members by imposing candidates. Candidates should not be identified through the top- down process but through bottom- up process. In a democracy, people need to have a sense of ownership and participation in the electoral process.