The misunderstood concept of Youth Empowerment

Sean Mateus writes:

Yesterday, His Excellency Lazarus Chakwera, called out of retirement another retiree and subsequently appointed him as one of the new Principal Secretaries. To the observant eye, this appointment falls in what is now becoming a very familiar pattern: folks past their better days making a comeback to run the affairs of our nation. We have been before. We didn’t like it then and we wont like it now.

In all this royal psychosis, of special concern to me is the apparent disregard to turn these appointments into an occasion of meaningfully empowering the youths, or the relatively younger productive population.

To drive home my point, allow me to rehash what I said a few weeks ago.

I said that we need to revise the concept of youth empowerment in the Malawian context. It is my observation that we have a wrong understanding of this concept. At the root of this misunderstanding is the notion that young people are simpletons who don’t desire much in life, or if they do, they need to wait or grow a little. In Malawi, the word ‘‘youth’’ is synonymous with the word ‘leisure’ or ‘‘entertainment’’ and not ‘potential within’. Very few people associate the word ‘‘youth’’ with capable leadership.

This is why when most people think of Youth empowerment the first thing that pops into their minds is the establishment of football bonanzas and the distribution of football jerseys to ‘‘help’’ young ones fulfil their leisure call. The unique ones establish music studios to ‘’help’’ young people ‘‘develop’’ and ‘‘realize’’ their talent. This concept, as generally understood in Malawi, is a really disempowering concept.

So, what is youth empowerment?

It is the creation of an enabling environment, the provision of the necessary platforms as well as the attendant tools to young people to fully express and consequently grow their (leadership) capabilities. A classic example in this regard is what Kamuzu Banda did with Aleke Banda back in the days: entrusting a capable young man with a weighty leadership assignment. Mentioning ‘‘Youth empowerment’’ in a policy document does not equate to empowering young people. It also goes beyond mere intentions and podium declarations. Actual deeds go a long way to validate a leaders commitment.

In our context, there is a disproportionately lower number of people in leadership positions as compared to the general youth population, as such, the need to groom more young people to take up various leadership positions cannot be overstated. This is why the idea of retiring retirees is not sitting well with me. A vacancy arising due to a subject’s advanced age is testament to the fact that that subject had time to serve their audience in their prime days, hence the arising opportunity has to be given to someone else and not be forced upon the retiree.

We demonized Goodall Gondwe (and co), a Word Bank (or is it IMF) retiree, for being too old to be at the heart of our nation’s affairs. We cant turn around now and start doing the very same things we admonished just because we now have the power to do so. In the case of this recent appointment, I refuse to believe that there is no one in the 35-45 age bracket who is well educated and experienced to be a P.S in the said Ministry.

The thrust of my argument is that we cannot keep recycling the same old folks as if we don’t have capable people in their prime within the confines of the system. Let the nation benefit from the tender folks too. If we cant tap into their abilities now when are we going to do it?

In closing, let me gloss over another related aspect as regards these appointments. It appears that Lilongwe is slowly morphing into the new Thyolo. It would appear that capable people are now found only in Lilongwe. This smacks of a change in the nepotism players and not a purge of the nepotism game. This state of affairs is giving out a very bad vibe. It is very important, if not ‘‘importantest’’, that all Malawians scattered across the various regional lines feel equally treasured by their government. Nepotism was frowned up then, and will still be frowned upon now.

A better and prosperous Malawi for all should not only be proposed in theory, but should in fact be brought about, and the steps followed to bring her into being appreciated by all.


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