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Redefining role of youth in Malawi politics

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The United Nations in 2012 conducted a survey in which 13,000 respondents from 186 countries picked limited opportunities as the main challenge for young people’s active and meaningful participation in decision-making processes.

Malawi suffers from the same malaise.

In it is not uncommon to see majority youths in the country brave chilliness, sweltering heat and incessant rains to attend political rallies where they, at times, paint themselves in party colours or raising portraits of their leaders for the entire duration of the event.

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There are times as well when politicians go an extra mile and abuse the youth and their affiliation to the party and engage them in fueling violence; disturbing other political parties’ gatherings or suppressing dissenting views within the party.

As the youth form the majority of Malawi’s population, politicians during campaign period make numerous promises on youth development in an attempt to attract them their support.

Unfortunately, such promises have been just click-baits, leaving youths at the peripheral of the country’s economic activities.

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Mostly, what the party-colour-painted youth get from the political gods is meagre handouts that contribute nothing to their personal development.

Unless perhaps they are heads of youth wings in the party, youths in the country continue being mere spectators and cheerers, entertaining people with their painted bodies and dancing antics at the rallies.

Nelson Magoha, 20, who lives in Manje Township in Blantyre, faults politicians for taking advantage of the youth’s desperation to exploit them politically.

“It is mainly because of poverty that the youth paint themselves and dance at political rallies. They want to be given a little money for their daily survival. Youths who have something to do such as those at The Polytechnic or Chancellor College cannot do that,” Magoha says.

He says what young people need is political and economic empowerment; helped to attain decision-making positions within the party, to gain meaningful employment or to access capital for entrepreneurship to earn a living.

But Ecklen Kudontoni, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Secretary General, sees nothing wrong with the youth decorating themselves in party colours.

He says DPP youths paint themselves in blue and carry their president’s portrait as an expression of their satisfaction with the party’s leadership.

“It is the same with football where fans paint themselves in their club colours to show how much they love their teams. DPP youths paint themselves because they are happy with the party’s leadership,” he says.

Kudontoni, however, says DPP is reforming its youths by giving them entrepreneurial and vocational trainings to enable them to serve the party and the country better.

“We know that they will not be painting themselves for the rest of their lives. We are giving them entrepreneurial and leadership skills so that they positively contribute to the growth of the party and Malawi at large,” he says.

Evangelist, Linly Mbeta, of Chigonjetso Mwa Yesu Ministries and Community Development Centre, is running an initiative to bail out the youth from political abuse.

She is supporting some youths who were once instruments of political violence by equipping them with technical skills to be self-reliant.

“These youths are very hard working. They have a fighting spirit for their country. Unfortunately, they have not been fully supported when politicians fulfill their political goals,” she says.

Mbeta urges politicians in the country to fulfill their campaign promises and empower the youth economically and politically when they are elected into their positions.

“Everyone, be it the president, Members of Parliament, councilors, must support these youths and put them in good positions. They should not be forgotten and be used to entertain people at their rallies when they win,” she says.

Some of the youth at the centre say they regret the time they were dancing for politicians who dumped them after fulfilling their political ambitions.

Bobs Mbeja testifies he has nothing to show for all the performances he made at political rallies.

“The politicians only want us to entertain people at their rallies. It is high time they stopped and empowered us politically and economically,” he says.

Youths in advanced democracies such as the United States of America mobilise resources, run campaigns for their parties and do charity works to enhance the image of their political parties.

Bu the story is different in Malawi.

Marcel Chisi, Executive Director for Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement, says the country has taken several steps backwards in youth participation in politics since attainment of multiparty democracy in 1994.

He says there is no more dynamism that was there among the youth in 1990s because young people no longer see fruits of their dedication to national causes.

“It was the youth who shouted ‘we want change’ and dictated the direction of this country in the early 1990s. Today, they are no longer actively involved in politics with the same dynamism and passion because their efforts are not being adequately appreciated,” he says.

He says democratic participation of youths should rise above being hand-clappers at political parties to the highest levels where they can influence policy direction, citing Aleke Banda who was the publicity secretary of Malawi Congress Party when he was less than 25 years old.

“We don’t want youths to be relegated only to dancing or being the directors of youth. They must be made public relations people of the entire party. The same should apply to youths’ appointments in government. Youths should be made chief executive officers of statutory corporations, board chairs and ambassadors not just undersecretaries in foreign missions,” he says.

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