Zimbabwean youths in the wilderness

Recently, two young representatives from Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe, went to the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Summit in Australia. Here, they share their observations.

Women in Zambia are taught literacy skills.
Women in Zambia are taught literacy skills.

The gathering provided a platform for the Commonwealth to re-engage Zimbabwe following President Robert Mugabe’s unilateral withdrawal of the country from the Commonwealth in December 2003.

While there is a lot that has been going on in the last eight years, we found ourselves involved as equal partners, regardless of Zimbabwe’s status within the Commonwealth. What also gave us confidence was the presence of new Commonwealth members such as Mozambique and Rwanda, as well as Cameroon.

Critical to the process was the key role that is played by the Commonwealth Youth Programme, a medium that links the Commonwealth Youth Forum with the member states’ governments and other key stakeholders. This programme is something that youths in the civic society miss within the Zimbabwean context, given the fragile non-existence of a resounding youth movement or network.

Crisis of govt

Today, Zimbabwe is faced with a continuing crisis of governance. This comes at a point when those in the country have started seeing indications of both social collapse and economic decline due to policy deficiencies. The rise of youth militia, violent land reform and the adverse effects of Zimbabwe’s participation in the Democratic Republic of Congo war are still fresh and intact. The decision to pull out of the Commonwealth remains unilateral on the part of the government formed by a political party that had embarked on self-destruction.

The formation of the inclusive government was a result of a failed transition through a

free and fair election. However, Zimbabwe finds herself faced with a lot of opportunities to re-engage with the international community. This reengagement requires the practical upholding of the principles of democracy: respect for the rule of law, and the upholding of human rights. These principles, if respected and implemented, are key to attracting those in the Commonwealth.

While Zimbabwe is grappling with issues of indigenization and empowerment, the CYP has its own programme – the Action Plan for Youth Empowerment. It involves three strategic programmes namely Youth Enterprise and Sustainable Livelihoods, Youth Work Education and Training and Governance and Development and Youth Networks. These benefit young people within the 54-nation league.

Zambia’s example

Had Zimbabwe not pulled out of the Commonwealth, the country could have benefited, just like Zambia did, from the Youth Enterprise and Sustainable Livelihoods programme. Young people gained functional literacy and more than 9,000 were exposed to health awareness.

There are also Commonwealth awards given to youth-led developments and ICT training which Zimbabwean youths could have taken advantage of. As Zimbabwe faced the collapse in social service delivery, especially the education sector, the CYP was delivering tertiary-level diplomas in Youth Development work through a network of 28 partner universities in 46 countries. A strong link between the Zimbabwe Youth

Council, which is keen to focus on youth empowerment, and CYP could have assisted the Zimbabwe Youth Council to come up with a framework for empowerment through the Youth Development Fund.

Youths, those below the age of 30, make up 60% of the commonwealth’s two billion people. It was therefore critical that the CYF 2011 come up with recommendations that would allow young people to be treated as equals. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard MP, noted that recommendations presented to CHOGM by youths would provide the youths with unique opportunities to create change at the Commonwealth global level.

These recommendations were derived from five key themes, namely: Youth impact in decision making; Peace building and conflict management; Environmental Sustainability; Health and Youth enterprise and ICT. These areas are important to Zimbabwe, now and beyond the transition. They are equally pivotal in the current reform exercise of the youth policy which desperately needs to be inclusive without favouring youths from the former ruling party.

This should be the advocacy that pro-democracy political parties, civic society and the donor community should also begin to look at as Zimbabwe moves from dictatorship into a real democracy.


As Zimbabwean youths, this event was an eye opener in terms of seeing what other nations are doing through effective and functional links with other nations and regions. It also showed how such spaces can give opportunities to young people. Moving forward it remains our hope that Zimbabwe will once again be readmitted into the Commonwealth, mend relations and do the simple things of upholding human rights, respecting of the rule of law and building a youth-centred democracy.

The task for the young leaders is to publicise the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Zimbabwe and to make known the opportunities that exist and how CYP functions. It was encouraging to note the solidarity that young people from different regions gave to Zimbabweans and the way the Commonwealth embraced Zimbabwe.

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