A number of governments on the African continent have their roots in liberation struggles. In countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Uganda, liberation armies turned into political parties after armed struggle against colonial or repressive regimes. They have been in government for decades and the ‘liberation narrative’ continues to figure strongly in their claims to be legitimate and stay in power. Yet, in all of these countries, the current generation of young people was born after the liberation struggle. Feeling aggrieved that they have not seen the fruits of the liberation and experiencing high levels of un/under-employment and economic adversity, it seems that these youth no longer accept the ‘liberation narrative’.
On their part, governments are increasingly aware of the youth demographic and high rates of youth unemployment and are afraid they may become a threat to power. Rather than reforming and opening up through democratic revolution, it looks like the African liberation regimes are only handing over power to younger generations who are ‘already deeply caught up’ in their ‘political culture of authoritarianism, patronage and self-enrichment’.
A rich literature on Africa’s autocratic and repressive regimes has discussed the diverse strategies through which these regimes seek to consolidate and stay in power. Prominent strategies include election rigging, extensive patronage, corruption, the use of decentralised or federal governance systems, limiting political and civic freedoms through restrictive legislation, election violence and forms of surveillance and intimidation to crack down any form of dissent and protest, and promoting a culture of fear and discourses that delegitimise dissenting voices. As part of a research project on youth in authoritarian regimes, this working paper explores the proposition that the ways that regimes deal with this urban youth population is a strategy for holding on to power. While it is known that regimes that have large youth populations are more likely to use repression than other regimes, this paper will discuss various other youth focused strategies, with a focus on Zimbabwe.
This working paper discusses how the relationship between the Government of Zimbabwe, the ruling party and the country’s youth population has developed over time and examines the strategies used by the government and ruling party to include, exclude and repress the youth. It is organised in sections that analyse the distinct mechanisms through which the youth population has been addressed, comprising both political and economic strategies: the use of ideology and the framing of youth; the position of youth in the government and ruling party, youth policies, youth-focused economic programmes and institutions for youth representation.
In addition, in order to explain how youth have engaged, the last two sections discuss forms of youth engagement outside of formal institutions, through youth civil society and student unions and informal civil society. While the main focus of this paper is on urban youth, who are largely regarded by the state as a serious political threat, it will also touch upon ways in which the regime engage rural and peri-urban youth. It is important to note that rural youth are largely framed as, and believed to be, supporters of the ruling ZANUPF regime and thus not perceived as a serious political threat to ZANU-PF. The working paper is one of the four background papers for the NorGlobal-funded research project on the relationship between youth and ‘liberation governments’ in four African countries: Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Uganda. As such, it will inform the qualitative phase of the study in 2020 and 2021.