His gaze, abstracted and uncurious, just swept up to portrait above the stage of the Great Hall of Chancellor College in Zomba, a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Unima). After all, the students were long-coming.
Ngwazi Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika
President of the Republic of Malawi .
Read the strategically positioned portrait of a man who keeps looking you straight in the eye irrespective of whichever part of the room you are in.
Maynard Nyirenda, Programmes Officer for ‘Demokalase Yathu Project’- an ambitious initiative conceptualized by the Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI) to help Malawians shape their political system in their own local way- immediately remembers what he is here for; after all, there must be so many better ways to spend a January 10, 2009 Friday than stay idly in a Great Hall also known for harboring angry souls.
“It is that time again on Malawi ’s political calendar when the electorate goes to the polls on May 19, 2009 to choose their leaders. Many things may happen, before and after the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, chief among them being violence. That is the sole reason we are here at Chancellor College ,” says Nyirenda.
Nyirenda said one of the surveys they carried out last year revealed that university students were being used, alongside the general youth population, to propagate political violence in the run up to national elections.
So, this is a mission of peace; that word of great beauty and power which has rung down the long ages, but never with more force than during impending elections. It is the benefit of over three-and-a-half billion years of evolution, and hundreds of thousands of years of cooperative living.
The absence of it has had drastic consequences and eaten through the four-fold increase in human numbers since the 18th Century. During this little time (from the 18th Century), for instance, war-deaths have increased 22 times; there have been over 140 wars since World War II. These, more and more savage than those before them.
Nyirenda feels that democracy, presumably designed to insulate political conflicts at national, regional, district and community levels has, in fact, united the Malawian population in a precarious mutual vulnerability. This is something unforeseen in 1900, when half of the world’s population lived under another form of leadership- colonial rule, one of which features’ being that no country gave all its citizens the right to vote.
Today, over three-quarters of the world population lives under democratic regimes, a development given more impetus by the adoption in1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for the first time in history acknowledging human rights as a global responsibility. Political developments no longer follow parallel paths in both concept and action as the aim remains the same; to govern.
An analysis of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) annual Human Development Reports reveals that democratic regimes have more commitment to honouring the full and equal rights for all citizens, though some democracies like Malawi remain relatively poorer than some autocracies, as indicated in the Human Development Indices.
As more people have come to understand, sometimes dimly, this great experiment of co-operative living, so has it stuck in the minds that peace is indivisible from this living interdependence. That with it (peace) comes the full the realization of ‘structural peace’, which is the positive presence of human well being, justice and freedom.
UNDP realizes these freedoms in the contexts of freedom from discrimination, freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom to develop and realize one’s full potential, freedom from injustice and violations of law, freedom to decent work without any form of exploitation, and freedom from fear.
Are we, in Malawi , enjoying these freedoms? When, the way some things still went these days, life still meant too much for the masters?
“We seem to be doing relatively well in terms of the other freedoms but not on those pertaining to political discourse. In this area, we only seem to be doing well before any major national election as experience has shown that Parliamentary and Presidential Elections, which are mandatory every five years, seem to be affecting all our other freedoms because of the violence that always accompanies these constitutional processes. The bad thing about it is that a crucial component of the population, I am talking about the youth, is thrown into the violence fray instead of being encouraged to take part in participatory, constructive democracy,” chips in Nyirenda.
Then, why not just do away with democracy?
“There is no democracy without elections; but, not every election heralds democracy,” the take of Joseph Chunga, a lecture in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies at Chancellor College in Zomba.
Free and fair elections remain one of the tenets of democracy, along with sovereignty of the people; majority rule and minority rights; guarantee of basic human rights equality; social-economic and political pluralism; constitutional limits on government; and government based upon consent of the governed. To these are added those luxury symbols of a nation-state- a national anthem, a national currency and a national flag.
Chunga says democracy, like ours, makes elections indispensable because it enables people to choose leaders and policies of their choice. It is also a way of rewarding leaders- others get re-elected (positive sanction) and others replaced (negative sanction). May 19, 2009 is thus Sanction Day.
That is democracy; a government by the people, in which the supreme power is vested in the people themselves and exercised directly over them by their elected agents under a free electoral system. When conceptualized as procedural, says Chunga, democracy is an end. Conceptualize it as substantive (one of the key contributing factors in an equation), it becomes a means.
Describing the role of Malawian youths in all this process (of democracy) is analogous to defining them. Some dictionaries say youth hood is time in a person’s life between childhood and adulthood. To the United Nations General Assembly, people between 19 and 30 years, while the World Bank opts for the age ranges between 15 to 25 years. The youth are thus best contextualized as people, of course living, between 15 and 34 years.
For Nyirenda, it is this uncertainty that compels age-old politicians to take advantage of Malawian youths that their eyes look most powerfully down into those of the youth, and those of the youth look helplessly into theirs.
But Chunga enthuses that it is not; it is the fact that- while youths bear the effects of many policies, that their future will be shaped by present policies, and stand to shoulder the costs of present policies such as financing present budget deficits and being bound by International Agreements made by present leaders- they barely appreciate their crucial role in democracy and development. That is the real problem.
And the worst scenario is that this bare appreciation for youths’ roles has spilled over to university students. It is like what one Goldschmidt said that there is (a) stronger source of political activity there than within any system of higher learning. Or what Johnson, founder of the Roosevelt Institution, said, to the effect that “As students, we do the work of a think tank everyday, we do not have access to the process”.
What sort of access? Is it the opportunity to take part of constructive, participatory democracy, or the mere act of voting at the ballot? Whatever the case, Chunga sees more strength in the country’s youths than the processes that currently guide their participation. As such, things can still be different.
“(Our) youth have more advantages. They have more exposure to channels of communication aiding informed decisions; have ideas and energy and innovation power; 60 per cent of Malawi’s voting population is between 18 years and 34 years; and the fact that last year’s vote in the United States of America, which saw the election of the first African-American President in Barack Obama, was decided by youths as a bloc,” he said.
Then, factor in the element that political change in almost all African countries was conceived in by university students within and without the continent- remember the first generation of African leaders: Kwamme Nkrumah, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Jomo Kenyatta, and the impact of the University Students’ African Revolution from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania (the likes of Kileo, Msoma), Ethiopia (the Gaul Garants), Uganda (Yoweli Museveni) Mozambique (Frelimo) and Malawi (the likes of Kapota Mwakasungula).
It all boils down to one thing, the enviable responsibility of the youth over national development which, unfortunately, they often forget to remember.
May we now excuse Mr. Joseph Chunga to go back to the Political and Administrative Department (of Chancellor College )? Some students are waiting for him! (We don't want student riots here)
Enters Noel Mbowela, a lecture and political analyst from Mzuzu University (Mzuni), another constituent college of the University of Malawi . Tell us, what is the Role of the Youth in a Multiparty Democracy: the Case of Parliamentary and Presidential Elections?
Mbowela begins with definitions and analyses of key words:
Youth- Young people by age, character, association, principals and beliefs
Politics- The art and science o government; our judicious, expedient,
scheming, and crafty dealing of behaviour
Multiparty- (analysis) Not synonymous with democracy
Elections- (analysis) Not synonymous with democracy
That is the full dose of the Mzuni political analyst; he starts with ground rules because these often compliment youths’ theoretical and philosophical sophistication which feeds into the experimental energy (the try and see) that often turn into political violence.
Mbowela categorizes political roles played by Malawian youths into three phases: from 1957 to 1964; 1964 to 1994; and 1994 to 2004.
“Between 1957 and 1964, the youth were very constructive and less destructive during the pre-independence period, while they were almost equally constructive and destructive from 1964 to 1994 during Dr. Banda’s regime. During the (Bakili) Muluzi era (1994 to 2004), the youth were highly destructive and less constructive,” he chops the periods into pieces, and defines the pieces.
These practical experiences, says Mbowela, have proved that consequences of youth violence could be enormous. He warns that nothing could be more important politically than to guard against the danger that young, overzealous hands get to the panga knife first. The process of bringing youths to the knowledge of their rightful roles should go beyond common sense, the way construction of new devices goes.
The process has stages: from research, to development, to construction, to use, with important deliberations and decisions at each stage, and the problems summarized. The role of youths and the issue of violence have been researched. This role dates back to the late 1950s, during the Nationalist period, and this group of society has registered both positive and negative.
Mbowela says, on the negative, they masterminded Dr. Banda’s dictatorship, championed former president Muluzi’s Open and Third term bids, and criticized and brutalized both Banda’s and Muluzi’s critics.
On the other side (positive), they have participated in school and rural development projects like Income Generating Public Works Programmes and Malawi Social Action Fund Initiatives, contribute towards the bigger percentage of subsistence farmers, supported and fuelled micro-economic growth, and championed demonstrations against political injustices, culminating into various students’ demonstrations.
This would almost sound like the start of a perpetual boom, but Mbowela says not yet; we still have a problem. According to Mbowela, the problem statement is that most Malawian youths are not interested in (leadership) politics, they are used to being ruled over; if they are interested, then they are not vying for challenging positions in politics, and are fond of engaging in violent acts in politics during elections.
They have also failed, over the years, to lobby for designated figures of representation with political parties; refrain from violent, confrontational tasks and approaches; refrain from partisan, regional and ethnic voting; lobby for specific concerns with political leaders and parties to be reflected in manifestos; and design and employ terms of contract with aspiring members of parliament and presidents.
He says, consequently, the youth have not taken the calculated risks required in dynamic politicking. Instead, Mbowela says they have concentrated on other aspects of politics like violence that they have been tickled to getting it off their backs, one of the reasons they occupy “wrong” positions in society and politics, continue perform miserably in giving ‘elderly politicians forced retirement” and can not actualize the political concept of change.
This is typical of an empire that crumbles before it is built. Only that politics is an established ‘empire’. Top career guidance institutions in the United States of America and United Kingdom indicate that the world has four top occupational engagements. These are business, farming, employment and politics, though the youth are yet to utilize opportunities that exist in politics.
Instead, youths often fall over and engage with prostitution, drugs alcohol abuse, showbiz/entertainment and crime (Fall out Bankers for the Youth) Yet Mbowela beliefs that youths are well suited to politics, owing to their physical stamina, flexibility and adaptation to change, enthusiasm about trying new things, ideas and systems, and constitute the most delicate, explosive group of the electorate.
What’s more: The youth are looked upon as opinion leaders, have better understanding of democracy and multiparty politics by virtue of being educated, remain the most powerful electoral bloc as they major most populations and are hardest hit by social, politicl and economic problems.
Mbowela challenges people to peep through the conventional key roles and positions in Malawian political parties. These are local, top leadership positions (National Executive Committee/Council), Management of Events and Rallies, Intelligence and Research. They will get what they get what they deserve, disappointment, at the meager number of youths and the increased patronage of elderly politicians in these roles.
Instead, according to the Mzuni political analyst, youths are crammed in such roles as maintenance of order and discipline at public rallies (synonymous with violence and hooliganism), general policing roles, providing moral support, and actors or entertainers at political rallies. All made worse by perceptions that they lack experience to take up challenging roles, are childish and playful, that they are merely like stand-by generators made to be used in times of emergencies only.
The biggest draw back of them all, he says, is that youths are categorized as leaders of tomorrow. “Hence, oppressive regimes of elderly politicians are perpetrated and constructive change is delayed. Cultural of voter apathy is propagated among a crucial segment of the electorate, thereby defeating the whole purpose of democratic elections. Above all, key votes are wasted”.
Thank you very much, Mr. Mbowela. Now, quick, quick Hon. Henry Chimunthu Banda (Democratic Progressive Party –DPP), Secretary General; Kennedy Makwangwala, Secretary General, United Democratic Front- UDF; and Chris Daza, Secretary General, Malawi Congress Party.
How will you use youths during the May 19, 2009 elections? Violence?
‘The DPP is a party of peace and equal opportunities. We have many youths who have been put in leading roles, both in the party and government and they have performed above par. The role of our youth has not been to propagate violence, but act as catalysts for development. That is what we have in store for them, and most of them taking part in the May 19, 2009 elections. Ours is a party that represents the aspirations of Malawian youths, in that they are being engaged in constructive roles,” said Chimunthu Banda.
Kennedy Makwangwala: “The UDF has always stood for constructive youths. Remember Angela Zachepa, the youngest ever Malawian MP? It is the UDF that made it possible for them, and now we have the likes of Hon. Clement Stambuli, and other youthful politicians in policy-making positions of the party. The good thing is that all violent youths have gone to the DPP.”
“We are the first party in this country to recognize the important role of the youth in national development. That is why the MCP put in place good youth graduation processes through, and our youth were very constructive. Most of the development in the country took place during the MCP reign because the youth knew their role in development. That is what we plan for them in our government, which will go into power on May 19, 2009. Already, our party has many youths in decision making positions,” said Daza.