Malawi presidents—right from the first post-one-party administration of Bakili Muluzi to the current leader Peter Mutharika—have recited and preached one gospel on empowering the youth.

“My government is committed to building the capacity of the youth and empowering them to enable them to effectively contribute towards the economic development of the country,” the leaders say.

DPP Youth Cadets entertaining their party leader at a rally
DPP Youth Cadets entertaining their party leader at a rally

It’s a verse contained in almost every political party’s manifesto.

Umodzi Party (UP) leader Professor John Chisi is best remembered for youth empowerment messages during the campaign period prior to the May 20 2016 Tripartite Elections.

Chisi’s campaign message is that young people present the requisite human resource capital, mainstay and springboard of any meaningful sustained economic growth endeavor.

When speaking to delegates at the 25th African Union (AU) Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Peter Mutharika also repeated his mantra of empowering the youth.

He said his government had already started supporting young people through the introduction of community technical colleges, which were expected to cover all districts in the country.

But on the ground, there is little to show for when it comes to youth empowerment. The majority of the youth remains unemployed, and languish in poverty.

A Lilongwe resident, Maupo Chisambi, 32, says what politicians say about empowerment is rhetoric aimed at wooing youth to support political parties during elections.

Chisambi says evidence on the ground proves that there is an insatiable appetite among local politicians to abuse young people to prop up their chances of getting into their desired positions.

“Historically marginalised from active participation in socioeconomic activities, their force for change has failed to be recognised. Young people still lack basic opportunities to develop their potential, and our politicians do not seem to be prepared to empower them anytime soon,” he states.

Malawi created a National Youth Policy, which is designed to empower and develop the youth of Malawi to reach their potential.

However, as Chisambi emphasises, although implementation mechanisms have been developed accordingly, there is no political will to create an enabling environment necessary to allow meaningful youth participation in the socioeconomic activities of their societies.

“But, our political leaders have created silent policies all aimed at sidelining young people. In political parties, young people are given or assigned positions such as drum-beaters and morale boosters.

“Do you think this is youth empowerment?” he asks.

Speaking in Lilongwe recently during the National Dialogue Session on Malawi Growth and Development Strategy Successor Plan, Youth Act Alliance National Advocacy Platform chairperson, Chimwemwe Kaonga, said there is need for a paradigm shift and a complete overhaul in the way Malawian politicians involve the youth in politics.

Kaonga also emphasised the need to implement youth-led accountability framework and inclusion of youths in decision-making positions to enhance their participation in the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

He said: “The youth play an important part in advancing development, democracy and peace, and they also have a crucial role in promoting values of transparency and accountability.

“Young people have unique insights and perspectives that can drive more effective policy and programming, and ensure that government commitments are fulfilled. By collecting data, monitoring progress, and taking part in follow-up and review mechanisms, young people can be further engaged in the new global development agenda.”

Kaonga, while commending government and the development partners for engaging and coming up with various polices and strategies targeting the youth, bemoaned various developmental challenges that continue to negatively affect this section of the populace.

“It is worrying to note that most young people continue to suffer various developmental challenges affecting our societies. Today, rapid population growth, lack of access to high quality education, unemployment and underemployment, early child and forced marriages, high school dropout rates, early pregnancies, HIV and Aids top the list of developmental and reproductive health challenges rocking the youth sector,” he emphasised.

He challenged government to move beyond designing policies, strategies and action plans to allocating resources for implementation, arguing strategies will take the country nowhere unless resources are allocated to allow for youth empowerment.

Youth Act Alliance national coordinator, Edward Phiri, hinted that the youth-led accountability framework is an opportunity to capitalise on youth’s innate interests, abilities and capacity to innovate and lead.

Phiri observed that young people have for a long time not taken interest to monitor how resources are allocated and used in the development of our country.

“We need empowerment in the area of budget tracking as one way of ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of resources,” said Phiri.

The meeting which was funded by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) drew about 50 youth delegates.

It was aimed at initiating dialogue between the youth and policy makers on the best options for incorporation of youth issues into MGDS III, lobby for inclusion of the youth in the government key decision-making structures such as the National Development Commission (NDC) and dissemination of Youth Consultation Report and Malawi Status Report.

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