Zimbabwe — Politicize the Youths
There is an ever-widening chasm between the youths and politics. Unfocused Youths, as Hopewell calls them, are largely not engaged in politics. Why?
They say charity begins at home but does not end there. The depoliticization of the youths in Zimbabwe happened over four calamitous decades of Mugabe’s rule. The de-politicization began in homes and did not end there. The message from Zimbabwean parents was always the same across households, “musaite zvematongerwo enyika, munofira mahara” literally translating to “do not delve into politics, you will die for nothing”.
Of course, this message might have been sent with all the good intentions, at the parent-to-child level, but it wreaked havoc at the nation-state level. Our youths are totally depoliticized. They lack political appetite. They are simply not interested. They are extremely individualistic. They see no value in anything collective.
Even though every country is faced with the same problem, the disease in Zimbabwe is deep and a little bit peculiar. The abhorrence of politics by the youth was born out of fear of an oppressive regime, seemingly non-progressive politics on the democratic front, and a secular era of individualism. The task ahead is that of reversing this fear, making visible progress on the democratic front, and countering the secular trend of extreme individualism.
The youths that participated in the liberation struggle of the 70s and 80s in Zimbabwe were extremely politicized. The youths of the civil rights era in America were extremely politicized. In China, Tiananmen Square youths were radically politicized. Across the world, youths were very political.
Now the trends have reversed. The youths lack focus. They shun politics. They see no permanent solutions arising out of politics that can materially change the individual’s living conditions. They have lost hope in the ability of politics to fundamentally influence their lives. Yet it is politics that fundamentally shapes lives. The problem is universal but in Zimbabwe, it is acute, pronounced, and devastating.
Forget the 2023 elections. There is simply not enough time to politicize the youths.
Yes, the Youths are unfocused, and Hopewell rightfully calls them Unfocused Youths. Complaining about the situation is not going to help. Understanding the reality and strategizing around it helps. If a child refuses to eat vegetables, it’s bad for the child, the child does not obtain the necessary vitamins. But it is also a reflection of bad parenting if they let the child get away with this. The weaknesses of the parents are exhibited in the child. A child that is not raised well grows into an irresponsible adult. In essence, he or she does not mature into adulthood at all. The child only grows big physically, but in reality, he is only a bigger child. We have a lot of these taller children in Zimbabwe. They reflect bad parenting. As much as the taller children are now of legal age and responsible for their own lives, the parents have to take their fair share of the blame.
Insights from the Census Data
Zimbabwe’s population is a perfect pyramid. 38% of the population is under 14 years and 20% is between 15 and 24 years. This means 62% of the population is under the age of 25. The 25 to 54 bracket of proper adults holds 32% of the population.
Beyond 2023, we have to come up with programs that invoke the political consciousness of the youths. We have to activate the youths so that they gravitate towards active citizenry. Older citizens beyond 55 years make up 8% of the population. This bracket has voters.
We have 750,000 kids in the 10–14 bracket. These will be eligible to vote in 2028. We need all of those votes. The work of creating voting citizens within that group begins now. The 15–19 group holds another 750,000 people. Some of them are already eligible to vote next year. Most of them have not registered. The work to get them to vote in 2028, or whenever an election happens should start now. These two groups represent close to 1.5m new voters in 2028. They matter, hence the need to politicize them.
ADHD and Short Attention Spans
There is a communication breakdown between us (the older generation) and the youths. We talk but they don't hear us.
The young generation is chronically suffering from generational ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). They cannot focus on one thing. They have trouble maintaining focus. They are not to blame for the situation they are in. We are to blame. We authored the world they are living in. We created the internet and social media. They are constantly chasing the next high. Things that should matter actually matter to them, but they just cannot find the right balance to devote the necessary time and effort for those things.
Politicization doesn't happen on its own. It is not spontaneous. It is not a result of people who have suffered long enough. Sufferation alone does not politicize people. Zimbabwe is the proof. Politicization is an agenda. It's a program. It is driven. It's a process. The mantra that “it will happen when they have suffered long enough” is largely incorrect. It is an assumption that ignores the mental reality prevailing in a society. Sufferation alone is insufficient to bring about change. The suffering has to be politicized to bring about political change. Charcoal has to be lit in order to generate heat. Lumping charcoal in a heap does not generate heat. Adding more charcoal will not make it any better. The charcoal has to be lit first, then when you add more, it creates more heat. Sufferation needs to and must be politicized within the minds of the nation, especially the young.
It's not just the political sphere that has to come up with clever ways of engaging the youths. Other areas of life are experiencing similar issues. The church is struggling to keep the attention of the youths. The educational system is evolving to cater to this generation. Teaching methods are changing fast. Long lectures are quietly being broken down into short videos that quickly explain a key concept in under 3 mins for an audience suffering from time poverty.
In order to politicize the youths, we have to understand the phenomenon of time poverty. We have to understand the Attention Economy. We have to understand the algorithms that make trends ride. We have to create political content in a manner that is digestible by the younger audience, and in a manner that is palatable for “trend” algorithms. The youths are searching for the next high, trend-chasing. They are quick to jump onto the next trend. They exist for fun.
Content that politicizes the youths can be successfully fused into anything that trends if the format of the content is compatible with the trends. That way, politics can never go out of fashion. It is up to the current crop of politicians to make politics fashionable again, as it was in the 70s.
Surely, there should be ways around these issues. There has to be a way of politicizing the younger generation. Of course, the first step is accepting that it is our duty to politicize the youths. From there, we can develop a will, and where there is a will, there is a way.