As the year comes to an end, international aid actors and civil society wonder what 2014 will bring for Zimbabwe. More so, what they need to do, or do differently. Based on on-going research carried out by IDS and the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) I would say: work with Zimbabwe’s youth.
Zimbabwe post elections
President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party won the elections with a landslide earlier this year. ZANU-PF became a ‘supermajority’, in the words of professor Masunungure; at a civil society learning event organised by Hivos in Harare. Donors and civil society had worked hard on the elections: civic education, voter registration, monitoring… And they also invested a great deal in awareness-raising about the new Constitution. All this to avoid the wide-spread political violence that occurred in the 2008 elections. This time round there was not much political violence, but there was some intimidation and signs of vote rigging, particularly with the voters’ role. Many had hoped for a victory by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), some anticipated renewal of the fragile coalition, but few had expected such a majority for ZANU-PF. It holds a two-third majority in parliament for the first time in thirteen years.
Mugabe and ZANU-PF stand for a challenge, however. Inside ZANU-PF a power struggle is going on about the succession. The political leadership now has to act upon the promises it made to its followers. The weak economy and high unemployment rates are daunting.
In this context, IDS together with the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) looks at how young men and young women see their country. In particular, how they develop and exercise agency in response to their political environment, and in response to political violence and harassment.
What struck me when had just started was the diversity among youth and how this varied by location. We work in six sites, in urban, peri-urban and rural areas. In each location the presence of strength of certain actors shape the dynamics around elections: MDC and ZANU politicians, police and party-affiliated ‘auxiliary police’, war veterans, party youth or trained youth militias. All are part of a polarised and politicised society. Even some of the churches have not escaped this polarisation. Some actively announce that voting for the opposition means disloyalty; a norm that is ‘unchristian’. After elections these actors continue to influence local politics.
I was amazed by how actors affiliated with the ruling party seemingly are able to identify and use people’s economic vulnerability in each location as a tactic to entrench their power. From what the youth told us, party politics interferes with the institutions that organise land ownership and access to food aid in rural areas, and access to market vending stalls and licenses in urban areas.
What does it mean to grow up here? We found that particularly the age group 17 – 20, which just starts to develop political consciousness, struggles to find their way. For some youth, the situation tells them that for any livelihood opportunities or any community engagement one has to join the ruling party. Others try hard to stay out of politics altogether: they migrate temporarily during elections, stay in the house, or may be shielded by a parent. A small group may resist, though for this group resistance may mean joining MDC, not resisting the process of polarisation. For all youth, the family is a strong factor in how political consciousness and agency develops.
If becoming a citizen is ‘learnt’ through participation in day-to-day social activities, then it turns out there are few safe and non-politicised spaces where youth can develop democratic and active citizenship. Thinking about what next, can we think about where these can be found?
This research is part of the Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA) project at IDS, the case study in Zimbabwe is funded by Hivos. More blog stories about youth in Zimbabwe will follow next year.
Marjoke Oosterom is a Post-doctoral researcher at the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS.
Read previous blogs by Marjoke Oosterom