ISS: Zimbabwe’s infamous youth service revived ahead of election season

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With the rise of anti-government activism, ZANU-PF aims to win the critical youth vote in 2023.

Zimbabwe’s infamous National Youth Service (NYS), dubbed the Border Gezi Youth Militia or Green Bombers, is expected to be resuscitated ahead of the country’s 2023 national election campaign. This is a worrying development given that the program is said to have unleashed terror on civilians not aligned with the ruling party, especially during the last two decades of Robert Mugabe’s rule.

The youth service was created in 2001 and closed after six years due to chronic funding shortages. A decade later, Youth Minister and Robert Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, resurrected the program. Within months, however, Zhuwao fled into exile after the military takeover that ended his uncle’s presidency in November 2017.

Fast forward to April 2021, when the cabinet approved a proposal to introduce a national youth training program. Led by former Olympic swimmer and Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation Kirsty Coventry, the initiative is a two-way partnership between the Ministries of Youth and Defense and Veterans Affairs.

At an April 13 press conference in Harare, Information and Publicity Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the program was “vital and urgent in instilling a culture of honesty, patriotism, hard work. hard work, discipline and volunteerism ”among the young men and women of the country. The government aims to assign interns to health and education departments to gain practical work experience.

Like its predecessors, the program is expected to serve the security sector and the ruling party.

In the past, however, members of the NYS had mandatory military training. They were reportedly used for political purposes, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas, and linked to election-related violence, including sexual abuse and torture.

As early as 2003, analysts claimed that NYS interns were exposed to murder, torture and rape as victims and perpetrators. Like its predecessor, the relaunched program is expected to primarily provide boots on the ground for the security sector and the ruling party.

The Information Minister defended the move, saying it would enable Zimbabwe to meet its obligations to young people under the revised SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, the African Youth Charter and the Strategy. Nations Youth 2030. However, given its notorious history, the new NYS has little in common with these regional and international strategies.

A national youth program should develop the socio-economic skills of young people to prepare them to enter the labor market. The militaristic nature of Zimbabwe’s past efforts has steered young people into work in the military, police and prison services. It was a missed opportunity to strengthen the country’s workforce.

The new NYS could undermine youth development if youth are used again for political purposes.

In contrast, the youth programs of Zimbabwe’s neighbors such as South Africa and Namibia avoid close links with defense departments because of the risk of “militarizing” youth on a large scale.

The revived NYS in Zimbabwe could undermine youth development if recruits are again used for narrow political purposes under the veil of non-partisan training. Acts of intimidation by youth groups in the town of Bindura in Mashonaland Central have already been reported. According to the Zimbabwe Peace Project, residents have been warned to “join ZANU-PF before it is too late”. An NYS center could also be established at a former military base in the city.

A youth empowerment organization in Harare said The ISS today that young people feared that a NYS certificate would become a requirement for job seekers, especially in the public sector. The country is already facing chronic job shortages due to the weak economy and the devastating impact of COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, youth activism has been on the rise in Zimbabwe. Dozens of protesters have been arrested and prosecuted for public demonstrations of discontent fueled by the government’s attempts to amend the constitution. Influential youth-led activist groups, such as the Zimbabwe National Students Union, are increasingly vocal on civic issues, calling on authorities to adhere to democratic principles.

Youth activism is sure to confuse authorities as the national electoral cycle approaches.

Such activities are sure to destabilize the government as the national electoral cycle approaches. Watchdogs like the Zimbabwe Peace Project are already worried that human rights abuses will escalate as the campaign begins.

According to the 2012 census, young people made up nearly 54% of eligible voters in the country. This means that the youth vote is vital for the ruling party ZANU-PF to win the elections in 2023. In previous polls the registration of young people on the electoral roll was low, as were the actual votes cast. .

Opposition and civil society in Zimbabwe expected political space to narrow ahead of the poll. What they had not anticipated was the government’s return to the dangerous game of indoctrination of young people in the form of the NYS.

Thousands of young Zimbabweans struggle to survive amidst unemployment and poverty. It seems they must now also prepare to resist their use in what could turn out to be a violent and controversial ballot.

Written by Muneinazvo Kujeke, Research Officer, ISS Pretoria. Republished with permission from ISS Africa. The original article can be found here.



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