By Bishow Parajuli
Zimbabwe is a nation of young people, and it makes the case for being its most vibrant, most innovative and more exciting. It’s young and resilient professionals and business acumen have smashed stereotypes and put their mark in the world. Its lawyers, human rights advocates, writers and poets are inspiring the world with their beauty of prose and strength of soul.
Its actors, to just mention the elegant, intelligent and smart Danai Jekesai Gurira – Army General of Wakanda in the record breaking Black Panther film, are pushing new boundaries and conquering hearts.
Young women and men in Zimbabwe have proven again and again that they are ready and willing to contribute to the inclusive growth and sustainable development of the country.
The Zimbabwe National Youth Awards held last night were meant to honour and celebrate young people who have made Zimbabwe and the world a little better and different.
Countless young people across the country, many of whom unemployed or underemployed, despite the socio-economic hardships, have not given up, they continue to hope, and continue to strive to make a difference, however small, for their families and their communities.
Over the years, despite challenges, Zimbabwe has produced an educated critical mass of young people since its independence. This is the time to harness the human capital and youth dividend towards making Zimbabwe a formidable economic, social and political powerhouse.
There is no shortcut to prosperity and unfortunately good ideas are not good enough; so much hinges on action and delivering concrete results. As such, economic recovery and inclusive growth will be determined by how active the young people will be in this endeavor. I encourage the government and business leaders to include young people into critical positions, such as the boards of state-owned enterprises, parastatals and private entities.
The United Nations will bring to the table its complementary support at every step to assist the nation in its development trajectory and in creating an ecosystem for entrepreneurship to thrive in Zimbabwe.
The United Nations remains a strong partner to the government and people of Zimbabwe. The mutual respect, confidence, trust and collaboration have seen Zimbabwe and the UN through all weather.
The United Nations’ recent engagement with government, parliament, development partners, civil society, and the private sector including young entrepreneurs, the media, and many others has been to create strong partnership around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals.
In this regard, the United Nations in Zimbabwe through its five-year strategic framework, the 2016-2020 Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks (ZUNDAF), has so far delivered USD 812 million in projects and programmes between 2016-2017 accounting for 62% of Official Development Assistance to the country.
Below I highlight a few key areas of our work that could be of interest for the young Zimbabweans to engage and partner with the United Nations:
First, the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that Zimbabwe like the rest of the world committed to achieve by 2030 requires strong engagement in advocacy and mobilization of the young people which represent 68% of the population. These are ambitious and integrated goals ranging from ending poverty, hunger, inequality, to protecting the environment, achieving gender equality, quality education, health, energy and peace, justice and strong intuitions.
Second, join hands in the fight against social ills of gender based violence, child marriages, corruption, and HIV and AIDS. Efforts to engage young persons’ to create change through promotion of good governance, principled leadership, human rights and business skills cannot be achieved in an environment which does not respect, promote and protect the equality of women and girls in all spheres of life.
Stereotypical roles in which women are seen as subordinate to men constrain a woman’s ability to exercise choices that would enable her to stand up against abuse. This is why the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) calls on States to take measures “To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women”.
In addition, HIV/AIDS is one such challenge that young people in Zimbabwe can engage with to change their world. Youths aged 15-19 have lower levels of knowledge about HIV compared to those in older groups. The same age group also reports the lowest levels of condom use and the highest percentage of people having higher risk sex. HIV/AIDS education should appeal to the youth and the best positioned people to advise what appeals to youth are young people themselves. I invite you to join the UN and government in this fight.
Third, working together to turn around the economy – Zimbabwe’s labour force constitutes 59 percent of the total population of which 35.7 percent of the population falls within the ‘youth’ age group. As such, the majority of the country’s labour force, i.e. 4.6 million is youth. However, youth face the highest unemployment rate among all the age groups in the labour force in Zimbabwe.
Economic growth and job creation need be pursued through increasing agricultural productivity, green energy generation, promoting tourism and trade facilitation by addressing policy issues such as ownership policies, investment climate, cost of transport and connectivity.
For the young people, there needs to be a paradigm shift away from the mindset of government and/or UN dependency. Zimbabwean youth are the most educated and innovative emphasis must be placed on developing entrepreneurial skills, access to finance and incentives so that the youth can become employers and create opportunities for others.
Fourth, climate change and environment are issues occupying United Nations and youths. To ensure a sustainable future, it is essential that young people engage with issues of deforestation, natural resource management and climate variability. Building rural and urban resilience building, the United Nations in collaboration with the Government and the support from EU, UK and Sweden has targeted over 830,000 rural people in 18 vulnerable districts with USD 75 million to assist them to stand on their two feet during external shocks. The UN working with relevant government institutions to expand this programme to reach urban vulnerable and the participation of youth in this regard are welcome.
Fifth, Zimbabweans will go later in the year to the polls to write a new chapter in their country’s history by once again exercising their democratic rights. This will be a unique opportunity to expand democratic space in Zimbabwe for inclusive development through holding “free, fair and credible” election as pronounced consistently by the President.
The United Nations has supported the capacity of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in the areas of voter registration, voter education and technical support. Similarly, the UN does also support other independent commissions such as the human rights, peace and reconciliation, gender and anti-corruption. These are key watchdog institutions that will contribute in maintaining peace, justice and strong institutions.
I am sure for many youths in Zimbabwe, as I firsthand witnessed in Mbare last month when a 19-year-old man registered to vote for the first time, this will be their first time to participate in an election and exercise a key democratic right. It is a first opportunity to be active and be counted. Irrespective of which political party a young person votes for, it is still a step towards active participation.
If the energy, intelligence and resources of youth are fully and properly utilised the country will prosper. The importance of looking for and finding common ground for peace in an election year is critical as the hopes of young people can be fulfilled only in conditions of peace, only in a civilised and cooperative order.
The true transformations of a country are tied to your values, dreams and aspirations to always make it a better place for each and every one. Stand by these principles as you go to cast your vote later this year, and ensure not just a peaceful, just and free election, but a peaceful, just and free Zimbabwe for generations to come. It is in your hands!
*Mr Bishow Parajuli is the United Nations Resident Coordinator