While the President Mnangagwa has stated his commitment to a violent free election, the 2018 political climate may not be free and fair. Zimbabwe’s high youth unemployment has created a readily available and cheap marketplace for young people who can be paid to harm others. Substance abuse that can be traced back to poverty and trauma caused by political instability is on the rise especially among recent graduates.
Between November and December 2017, the Counseling Services Unit, an NGO tasked with documenting incidents of political violence and providing care for the affected, reported 89 attacks on members of the opposition. The police continue to respond to public protests with excessive and needless violence.
Intra and inter party violence is also a growing concern in Zimbabwe’s “new dispensation.” Particularly troubling is violence targeting women. It is important to emphasize that the culture of violence is a result of years of authoritarianism and has been made worse by growing unemployment, citizen fatigue and a very harsh kind of poverty.
The challenge for ZANU PF and the opposition is that the perpetrators of violence-many of them youth- at the local level are unlikely to change their behavior and attitude toward political opponents unless there is direct commitment from all political actors to educate against political violence. Years of unstable governance have completely changed the political climate and social structures in Zimbabwe. In a country with a significant youth population serious efforts have to be made to manage political violence.
Zimbabwe has experienced a significant youth bulge. According to the 2013 census, the majority, 76%, of the population were under the age of 34. This presents both opportunities and challenges for Zimbabwe.
On one hand, Zimbabwe’s youth are also highly educated and on the other hand most of the youth are unemployed or underemployed. Every year at least 2 000 young people graduate with a diverse range of degrees in Engineering, Business, Law, Math and Science. As Zimbabwe transitions, if the government partnerships with big trade partners like the United States yield significant economic gains, then the youth bulge will prove advantageous for Zimbabwe.
As the economy grows, Zimbabwe’s dependency ratio – the proportion of non-working population to working population- will decline. The United States government has already implemented numerous community-based programs that have had a positive impact on the youth.
For example, the work readiness program “Zimbabwe: works” has generated over $31 million in revenue and created 6 000 jobs. The Youth African Leaders Initiative (YALI) participants are some of the most active youth and leaders in job creation. Six of the youth “hub” or job centers were founded by Yali alumni; together they have created over 100 jobs in less than two years.
However, these efforts are not enough. At least 90% of Zimbabwe’s youth are unemployed and this is a big challenge for democracy and peace. Youth are used by political parties to mobilize voters and to also terrorize voters. In my interviews, voters have expressed fear of party-affiliated youth who are easily lured by promises of small payments and access to drugs.
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