By Joseph Kayira
At a recent meeting conducted by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) in Lilongwe, participants banged heads on a number of issues and one of them was political violence. And it was apparent that most political parties engage the youth to perpetrate violence against rival parties. But is this all the youth can do? Another question is: at what point of the electoral process do we involve the youth as we strive for fair, free and credible elections that are violence-free?
The youth constitute over half of the population of Malawi. They are a resource that every nation cannot forget. The youth are everywhere – in institutions of higher learning, in churches and in political parties too. In political parties is where the youth tend to be largely used for wrong reasons. Yet political parties are an important component of democracy and the electoral process. This is where if youths were nurtured properly on leadership they would positively contribute to politics. They would grow to become responsible future leaders.
But the situation in Malawi is pathetic. Today, because most of the youths do not know what they need in life, will jump at anything that comes their way – violence inclusive. Since political parties promise the youth jobs once they get into power, these helpless and vulnerable young men and women are ready to do any dirty work.
Political parties are challenged now to start utilizing this important resource only for good reasons that are beneficial to the country. In the 1950s up to the time the country got independence from the British colonial masters, the youth played pivotal role in shaping our politics. They wanted to know the future of their country. For instance they kept asking questions such as: for how long would they remain under the British? As youths what would be their contributions towards the fight against colonialism? In a free and independent Malawi, what would be their role?
The youth of today are somehow not interested in knowing or shaping their own future and destiny. Most do not have political ambitions. They think politics is a dirty game yet it is the very people who are in the dirty game (politicians) that have held everyone at ransom because no one is interested to question their conduct. The people with qualifications and good conduct tend to shun politics. It is a mistake that the youth of today should correct by showing interest in the electoral process.
It begins with the youth themselves
The youth must begin to ask questions. They must show interest in issues affecting them including elections. Now elections are not just about voting. The voting exercise is just part of a long electoral process. The youth must have interest in the activities of MEC. They must be aware of exercises like demarcation of constituencies and wards; they must be aware of registration of voters; they must know the different candidates – independent or those representing parties. There are so many stages in the electoral process and the youth must ensure that they are party to each and every stage in the process.
The youth must question certain decisions along the electoral process for clarification. The problem has been that the youth have been on the receiving end for far too long. They have not been proactive.
Fifteen months to the General Elections political parties have already shifted the campaign gear. While MEC is yet to announce the official dates for the 2019 General Elections campaign, politicians are already defecting to parties they feel would be beneficial to them. Youths should be alert and follow these events with keen interest.
The youth should be interested in voters roll verification exercise. They should take part in all the activities lined up by MEC between now and the day of voting and the actual counting of votes. In short, the youth can no longer sit back and watch while things are going wrong at different levels of the electoral process.
Writing in the journal of African Democracy and Development, Donas Ojok and Tony Akol warns that even today, there is increasing evidence that young people’s contribution towards the dismantling of exploitative power structures in Africa is on the rise.
“From the recent uprising that led to the burning down of the Gabonese parliament, the coup that brought down Blaise Compoare’s government in Burkina Faso, to the famous Arab Spring in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, there is a clear signal that young people have undoubtedly been actively involved in Africa’s governance landscape,” they warn.
Ojok and Akol add that many youth in Africa are exploited by the older political elites who use them as a climbing ladder to attain their own political ambitions. On the other hand, young people see electoral violence as a last resort to create their own spaces within the political arena.
“Young women and men are using their creativity and agency to create their own spaces for action, or ‘youthscapes’, in which they try to subvert authority, bypass the encumbrances created by the state, and fashion new ways of functioning and maneuvering on their own. Whatever the answer it is, one fact is clear: leaving African youth out of political engagement is perilous to all sustainable development efforts,” they contend.
Today, more than any other time in our history, we have a huge number of youths who are able to articulate issues. Youths from universities should take a leading role in sensitizing fellow youths on the importance of taking part in politics.
The youth must say no to violence. They should strive to embrace clean politics. Political parties too must refrain from using youths to perpetrate violence. As parties campaign youths are lured into disrupting political rallies. It is possible to end political violence once the youth understand their role in the electoral process.
Once the youth realize their rightful and responsible roles in politics they will shun any politician who preaches political violence. So, time is now for the youth to begin appreciating the electoral calendar and be part of it till we elect good leaders – leaders who have the welfare of the youth at heart.
The youth must therefore not rest in as far as elections are concerned. In the words of one political commentator: “They must be part and parcel of the whole electoral process”.