Harare – A year after Malawians elected a new president, Zambia has become the second SADC member state to back the opposition over the incumbent and in both cases the decisive factor was the same: the youth vote.
Both Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera and Zambia’s President-Elect Hakainde Hichilema romped to stunning victories backed by support from millions of young and first-time voters.
The statistics speak for themselves.
According to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), by December 9, 2018, a total of 6,859,570 eligible voters had been registered, representing 81 percent of its projection. The MEC said of the total registered voters, 3.7 million were youth.
These are the people who voted in the May 2019 general election in that country, which President Chakwera won with 58.57 percent of the total ballots cast.
Many accounts from that country post the election indicated that young Malawians turned out in their numbers to vote for Mr Chakwera.
In Zambia, President-Elect Hichilema got 2,810,777 votes against the incumbent, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s 1,814,201 (statistics accurate with all but one of the 156 constituencies counted).
There were more than seven million registered voters in Zambia and 54 percent of these people were aged 35 years or below, according to the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ). Statistics show that youth unemployment stood at 22,63 percent in 2020.
Mr Joseph Kalimbwe, a youth representative of Mr Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) party told CNN after the elections: “Young people gave us the vote. Four million young people between the ages of 18 to 24 registered to vote. It was a huge turnout and it was very personal to them. They want to ensure the mistakes of their parents were corrected. They have voted for our leader on basis he has better policies and ideas and can strengthen our state institutions.”
And in both Malawi and Zambia, the youths voted for more or less the same reasons: they want jobs/better sources of livelihoods.
As it became increasingly clear at the weekend that President Lungu was on his way out, large groups of youths were filmed in different parts of Zambia chanting: “We want jobs, young people want jobs.”
In both countries, the issue of corruption figured highly in reasons given for voting out the incumbent and giving a chance to the opposition.
An Afrobarometer Sustainable Development Goals scorecard for Zambia, released on July 16, said that “the country is experiencing worsening poverty, hunger, and economic and ethnic inequalities compared to five years ago”.
“The Afrobarometer SDG Scorecard, which provides citizens’ assessments of Zambia’s progress on important aspects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, reveals that payment of bribes for public services and challenges related to access to medical care, clean water, and electricity have also worsened.
“Unemployment has remained stagnant, while the gender gap in unemployment has worsened. The country has made no progress on increasing awareness of climate change and reducing perceived corruption among state institutions,” reads part of the report.
A 2017 report by the World Bank titled “Africa’s jobless youth cast a shadow over economic growth” shows that young people on the continent accounted for 60 percent of all of Africa’s unemployed people.
“In North Africa, the youth unemployment rate is 25 percent but is even greater in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, and South Africa, among others. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world,” says the report.
When one further considers that almost 60 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, it means there are hundreds of millions of unemployed young people on the continent, which should be cause for concern for politicians and policy makers.
Mr Felix Kariba, an urban development expert, has pointed out that, “On average, 11 million young people join the African labour market each year, yet the continent generates only 3.7 million jobs annually. For many youths, the informal sector is the default rather than the exception. In Sub-Saharan Africa, informal employment as a percentage of total employment is 89 percent and as a result, many youths lack access to social safety nets or any form of workers’ rights…
“The situation is also complex for young girls who may face a multitude of challenges including a lack of access to reproductive health services, education, and employment opportunities. UNDP estimates that US$95 billion of revenue is lost annually due to gender inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Time and again, the interrelated issues of unemployment, poverty and corruption have featured prominently in discourse on youth perceptions of politics and governance in Africa.
And whereas before such discourse remained on the plane of debate, in Malawi and Zambia it has now migrated to the arena of the polling station.
According to the Ibrahim Forum Report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, “about 60 percent of Africans, and especially youth, think that their governments are doing a very bad or a fairly bad job at addressing the needs of young people”.
It goes on, “This highlights the need for a reflection on the status and relationship between youth and politics. In addition, in 2017 the Foundation noted that Africa was on the verge of losing its youth, to political apathy, but also migration or extremist groups, and these words are still valid today.
“The foundation issued the following call for action to ensure the situation is reversed to the advantage of the continent and its people: ‘If the energies and ambitions of Africa’s youth continue to be wasted, they could become serious destabilising forces, threatening not only just future progress, but rolling back the gains of recent years’.”
President Chakwera and President-Elect Hichilema have mammoth tasks to address these concerns, as do all other leaders in Southern Africa and the continent at large.