By Kalima Nkonde
- Zambia is a youthful country whereby 80% of the population falls below the age of 35 (Central Statistical Office, 2012)
- Zambian Youths Are DULL by nature. They pay attention & debate issues that are not important. Ask me on how we will work together as youths & improve our livelihood. Discussing Tayali’s marriage will not end UNEMPLOYMENT (Malama Stanley, Economic Equity Party (EEP) Secretary General,October,2019)
- As my government continues creating opportunities for youth empowerment, may I reiterate my recent call to the youth to reflect on their obligations, responsibilities and contributions towards national development ( President Lungu, August 2015)
- It is estimated that each year, approximately 300,000 young people leave the school system to join the labour force (Ministry of Finance and National Planning, 2013). Only a paltry of these school-leavers, however, have been absorbed into the labour market as job opportunities have not grown commensurate to the growth of the labour force. It is estimated that between 2005 and 2014 formal jobs increased at the rate of 56 000 per year (ZIPAR Study, 2017/2018)
This article is borne out of my genuine concern, as a visionary, for the gloomy picture that I see currently and in the future for the Zambian youth. I also sense that there is a lack of genuine concern by my generation for what sort of country we are going to bequeath to the next generation. There is preoccupation by my generation for primitive accumulation of wealth – legally and illegally- by all and sundry, especially politicians and those connected to them. They forget that most of them will soon expire and leave all the “riches”. They may also leave their families in trouble if they do not create a good environment for everybody to be happy.
In my language there is a rich proverb which reads as follows: “Imiti ikula empanga” which literally translates that it is the nursery plants that are the future of the forest so they need to be taken care of. In other words, it is the young that are the future of any nation. It follows that if we continue as a nation on the current trajectory and if our Youth do not wake up from their slumber, Zambia will be unrecognizable within 20 years.
I am quite critical about our youth, but I do it out of patriotism and bearing in mind that my generation will not change the status of the Youth at the rate we are going and the Youth themselves need to do it. I have written the article at the risk of getting insults from our youth because some of our youth’s default reaction when they read something that they do not understand or are ignorant about or is critical of them or criticizes their political party; is to insult the writer, without digesting the contents, and with no regard to the age of a person they are insulting. Defence mechanism is all they think about.
This article is meant for the rational youth who may value the wisdom from the writer, borne out of education, experience and exposure; so that they can be inspired to take action. In terms of definition, for the purpose of this article, youths are all those below the age of 35 but in my books I sometimes extend and stretch it higher to even those born ten years after Zambia’s independence – 1974 – aged 45.
The greatest gift and asset that God has given us, as human beings, is the brain and our youth are not utilizing theirs as they should. Our youths are lazy to think about how they can help themselves and become useful citizens. They are lazy to seek knowledge through extensive reading, consulting experienced elders and thinking outside the box by coming up with innovative ideas to meet their challenges in all areas of human endeavour. They expect things to be done for them or just to happen instead of making them happen. President Lungu showed this same concern in 2015 when launching the National Youth Policy
“As my government continues creating opportunities for youth empowerment, may I reiterate my recent call to the youth to reflect on their obligations, responsibilities and contributions towards national development? I challenge the Zambian youth to have a moment of introspection, as a precursor to all their actions, in which they should establish for themselves, whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution in the various challenges our nation faces. This creates the necessary paradigm shift for the youth to be positive change agents and to reposition themselves in an effort to contribute positively to our ambitious national social and economic development agenda”, President Lungu launching the 2015 youth policy and action plan for youth empowerment and employment.
The writer generation’s generation is currently running the affairs of the country (President, Chief Justice and Speaker) – part of the baby boomers generation as they were born between 1950 and 1964 – and in their youth, they peacefully brought up democracy and private enterprise in 1991 by voting out UNIP’s one Party dictatorship. Their forefathers in their youth, peacefully ended colonialism and brought up independence in 1964. It is up to the current youth to meet the current challenges- listed below- the nation and themselves are facing, and bring about peaceful positive change by being more organized and using the power of the vote. The Zambian way of change is peaceful change and violence has no place.
…..The key to solving youth problems of jobs, free education, land, business, public debt, minerals resources, environment and uncertain future is mind-set change!
There is no doubt that the current situation in Zambia does not augur well for the future of our Youth, their children and their children’s children. If one was to summarise the current situation and the foreseeable future, it is very depressing. It reads as follows: there are no job opportunities available currently nor in the future.
There is an estimated 350,000 youths every year going into the labour market and only about 60,000 job opportunities available; the mineral wealth is the hands of foreigners with no joint venture partnerships with the locals, the majority of medium and large businesses are in the hands of foreigners; there are very few business opportunities for formal micro and small businesses, land is being acquired by foreigners at brake necking speed; education is unaffordable and thus leaving out some genius children from poor families and resulting in millions of illiterate children and population; the country has accumulated a mountain of debt which future generations will either pay or get enslaved by lenders like the Chinese, corruption and nepotism is slowly permeating all levels of society including the so called religious leaders and it is slowly becoming the new normal.
In a nutshell, the future of the Zambian youth, is doomed and the onus is on them to act and mitigate against these enormous risks. The Youth need to take the bull by the horns by ensuring that they shape and determine their own destiny by taking advantage of their numbers and get organized by peacefully lobbying for their interests and start influencing public policy and the conduct of public servants – the so called leaders with no national vision but that of their families only, which is very myopic.
The good news is, the youth have two lethal weapons that they are not using which are: they have the numbers as they are in the majority and secondly, they are technology and digitally savvy. The onus is up to them to intelligently make use of this two advantages. The youth need to wake up and start shaping their own destiny through the change of their current mind sets and refuse to be used by our generation especially in politics. Zambian Youths need to become more responsible and organized.
There are four main areas that Zambian Youths need mind set change. These are: employment, politics and governance, economy and social conduct. Broadly, youths should stop waiting for government to solve problems for them but rather become proactive, get organized as a block and lobby with a unified voice using their numbers and technology to influence government policy and the country’s direction.
Employment and Entrepreneurship
In terms of employment, Zambian youths need to change their mind sets and start thinking that on completion of their education, there are two options available to employment: the formal salaried employment and formal self-employment. The Zambian economy will never create enough formal salaried employment jobs until the Youth themselves become job creators. The big companies and multinationals that were a source of jobs like mining, manufacturing in the past etc no longer create jobs due to technological advancement such as artificial intelligence. There is no amount of foreign investment inflows that will create the jobs needed to solve youth unemployment. The only source of mass jobs in the future is from the Youth themselves by engaging in self-employment and entrepreneurship by some of them becoming the source of innovation and industry disrupters.
The Youths especially those studying STEM subjects ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics should) should think of solving some of society’s problems by becoming innovators and market disrupters like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Michael Zuckerberg, Jack ma, Elon Musk, Garret Camp, Travis Kalanick and others did, thereby by create millions of jobs.
It is gratifying that closer to home, there are a few young people, listed below – all female – who never waited for jobs but created their own and for others after completing their education. These young people should be emulated by others in Zambia.
Maria Zelini Zaloomis, 34, is a successful commercial farmer in Chisamba in spite of her education. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Australian Catholic University, a Master’s of science degree in Cardiology from Wesley hospital in Brisbane. Her farm Tuzini Farms Ltd, is located in chisamba and employs over 60 employees.
The other example is Tamara Kaunda, 29 a trained medical doctor who decided to go into farming. Dr Tamara Kaunda, took a shocking decision of leaving her prestigious career as a young medical doctor to become a full-time farmer. According to her, “If young people want money and employment, let them take up agriculture. We need to change the outdated perception that agriculture is back-breaking, unprofitable work for an old, tired generation. I would encourage more young people not to look for jobs but invest in farming and let’s become the job creators”.
The youngest example of a self-employed Zambian who is creating jobs, is 22 year old Maanda Sianga, a farmer of Kafue Rural. She is a successful young Farmer who only started her farming with a K2, 500 which she worked for, borrowing some piece of land from her family. She farms all year round and does not wait for rains as she uses irrigation .She has employed a number of people from her Community.
Although the above examples relate to the Agriculture sector only, it is for illustrative purposes. There are massive business opportunities for the youth in other sectors of the economy like Travel and tourism, small scale mining, ICT, manufacturing, construction etc if they apply their minds. The Youth need to use the power of the internet and search engines productively, in order to gain knowledge about the business opportunities available in Zambia. The question is: why are foreigners especially Chinese, most of them young, succeeding and becoming dollar millionaires here in Zambia while indigenous Zambians are not? The simple answer is the use of the brain, hard work and application. Most of our young people are lazy and want life the easy way.
Politics and Governance
In terms of politics and governance, the Youth are making a mistake of boycotting participating in politics at all levels. There is so much voter apathy among the youth and this is to their detriment, currently and for the future. They need to change their mind sets regarding participation in politics or else they should stop complaining when they suffer the consequences of elections. My advice to the youth is that, the vote is the most potent weapon you have to influence change and to have your voices held. If they register to vote in numbers and turn out to vote and even sponsor some youth candidates in Councils, Parliament and even the Presidency, especially using a party with credible record of having a large number of Youths in influential positions. The Youth can even register their own party in order to effect change very quickly.
Although, there are a few parties led by relatively young people, in my books, they lack political strategy and innovation of the 21st century. These parties do not have a compelling message to appeal to fellow youth. In addition, their leaders are just obsessed with the Presidency and not the bigger picture. There are also some Youth led parties whose leaders are mere jokers and exist for purpose of cheap publicity or to get crumbs from any ruling party at particular time. They have no agenda to seriously influence public policy or to get political power. I personally believe that a serious Youth political party with some mentorship from knowledgeable seniors can get into power if they used the blue ocean strategy that low cost carriers in aviation used to disrupt, transform and penetrate the competitive airline industry. In the modern world, you do not need too much money to win an election but strategy. And knowing your demographics and using the internet cleverly can make the whole difference.
In order to demonstrate that that age should not be a limiting factor for the youth to participating in politics, I will use several examples. At Independence, our first President, Kenneth Kaunda was 40, Vernon Mwaanga was ambassador at 21. The current Prime minister, Jacinda Adern in New Zealand was 37 when she was voted in 2017.The youngest Member of Parliament in New Zealand is a young lady of 25 by the name Chlöe Swarbrick. President Emmanuel Macro in France was 39 when he became President.
In the latin America country of El Salvador, earlier this year, a young Presidential candidate aged 37 years broke an almost 30 year two party dominance of politics by winning the general elections. Nayib Bukele, 37, became the youngest president in the history of El Salvador by beating two traditional Party President by mobilising his fellow youth’s vote.
The message to the Zambian Youth is: stop being used for political violence and killing each other in order put our generation in power, but participate and stand for positions yourselves. There is no time to wait for your voices to be heard and to partake in the governance of the country.
Economic mind-set change
There is an apparent lack of interest by youth in economic issues of the country and yet they are the worst affected. In a society with an enlightened youth population, the 2020 budget allocations would have caused an uproar as Defence and Security was allocated 10% of national budget and yet the country is not at war and yet matters relating to the youth like education, empowerment funds, recreation and scholarship were allocated paltry percentages. Youths in colleges and universities, some even studying accounting, business and economics did not comment on the skewed priorities of the 2020 budget.
One of the Youth Political leaders did show concern about the poor attitudes of Zambian Youth towards what is happening in the economy. Stanley Malama, the Economic Equity Party (EEP) General Secretary appealed to his fellow youth to focus on issues that are important and value adding to them.
“Zambian Youths Are DULL By Nature They Pay Attention & Debate Issues Stop asking me to advice President Tayali, just Switch your brains to discussing matters of National interest. No one employed you to pay attention to this couple. Zambian youths why have you failed to DEBATE & pay attention to the following: Fire tenders $42M,Overpriced roads, 48 houses no owner, Vespers murder 1yr ago on this day, Closing of CBU for no reason, High Zesco tariff, load shedding, Bill 10 bulldozing, High taxation, Unemployment. Ask me on how we will work together as youths & improve our livelihood. Discussing Tayali’s marriage will not end UNEMPLOYMENT,” Malama challenged his fellow Youths.
Zambian Youth need to change their mind-set towards the country’s economy and start getting formally or informally involved in the debate on economic issues as they are the worst affected now and in the future. Keeping aloof will be to their great detriment.
There is also the escalation of anti-social behaviour like tribalism, drunkenness, prostitution, crime. The conversion of some youth to religious fundamentalism is also a worry. I for one do not support the Christian nation nonsense. It is the highest exhibition of hypocrisy. We had better morals in our country before Zambia was declared a Christian nation in 1991 but a hypocritical President Chiluba. Although Kenneth Kaunda, a son of a missionary and a practising Christian, he never declared Zambia as a Christian nation in his 27 year rule. All these charlatans with names like Apostles, Prophets, Bishops, Shepherds, Men or Women of God never existed in my generation and most of them mere imposters and materially motivated and simply misleading the gullible Zambian Youth. Christian fundamentalism has led to laziness with the hope that God will put food on the table, create employment, strengthen the kwacha, bring one a wife or husband, make one rich, make a women fertile and solve all sorts of problems and all one needs to is pray and do nothing. There is even the naive and archaic belief that political leaders come from God! What nonsense. Religion is not contributing positively to the economic well-being of Zambia as it has been totally been misinterpreted and abused. One can agree with Karl Marx’s view that religion is the opium of the people.
The other anti-social behaviour which is being tolerated by Zambian society is violence especially political violence. This is one area that is the most worrying to some of us, the rational and concerned senior citizens. The country has changed a winning game – as we used to call it in tennis. The current status in Zambia, is such that our youth have become violent to the extent that it has resulted in serious injuries and even deaths of fellow youths. Zambia is a peaceful country and we have always been nonviolent and so the youth should reject being used for violence by politicians from both sides of the aisle. The current situation obtaining is not who we are.
What is the way forward for Zambian Youth?
Zambian Youth have to take action at personal level and as a collective. At Individual level, Zambian Youth need to use their brains so as to make use the main opportunities – economic and political – that are available in the country in order to improve their lot. They should not wait and continue with the current attitude of “Boma iyanganepo” (The government should look into their plight) as it will not happen to cover all of them in millions. In terms of employment, for example, there is need for mind-set change from being job seekers to job creators.
As a collective, the Youth need to get ORGANIZED and start influencing pro youth government policy and politics through aggressive lobbying similar to what the Jewish lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) does in America. There is no American President that can win elections without the Jewish lobby support. The Youth in Colleges and Universities with leadership talent should step up to the plate. Students should stop the immature and violent behaviour of stoning cars and disturbing the citizens’ peace when they have grievances and end up being expelled. There are digital tools that are more effective to protest like electronic signatures or participating in bye or general elections. Zambia is yearning for credible young leaders who are incorruptible and look at bigger picture of a better future for them and their children .and not the current culture of focusing on the short term and the primitive accumulation of wealth through dubious means without hard work.
To conclude, my worry as a Patriot with foresight, is that our youth are so naïve that they think excessive public debt, corruption, ,deforestation taking place such as Mukula tree exploitation,, degazetting of forest 26 and 27, foreign ownership of natural resources including land, Lower Zambezi threat, the unmitigated influx of Chinese nationals including those coming to sell maize cobs, keeping chickens and other activities that can be done by Zambians, will not affect them. The aforementioned will reach an irreversible stage if not stemmed and managed. The consequences are too ghastly to contemplate. Do not say you were not warned.
My appeal to my generation is that for once, let us think about our legacy and help our young people by prioritising policies that benefit the youth and allocate larger budgets to them instead of Defence. I hope my views are not misinterpreted. I have no political ambitions whatsoever and i do not belong to any political Party. I am an independent. I mean well and all my articles have purely been motivated by patriotism through sharing knowledge to help the ruling party and the opposition so we leave a better legacy. My advice is that if at 55 or 60 years plus as I am, you have not made it materially in a legal manner, then its better you contribute to the country in an intangible manner through making Zambia a better place by passing on your wisdom through your experience rather than focusing on wealth accumulation. There are very few Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, who only made it as business man – millionaire- when he turned 62.
The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession, a Private Sector Development expert and an Entrepreneur. He is an independent, non- partisan finance and economic commentator/analyst and a Patriot.