When President Mutharika addressed the recent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in United States of America he emphasised on his wish to empower youths in Malawi. As most Malawians know, youth empowerment is not a new ideology. It is an old song sung by every government which has been in power since independence in 1964.
Sadly, there is very little to show for this. In fact, for youth empowerment to be meaningful, it must be looked at in a socio/political and economic dimension. Experience has shown that when leaders talk of youth empowerment, they think in economic terms only and this, too, is just basic.
To be fair to MCP government, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda managed to economically empower the country’s youth by establishing Malawi Young Pioneer (MYP) bases, and each district had one. Youths learnt various skills and discipline in these bases. The emphasis was on agriculture, which does not need expensive mechanisation at local level. Youths could easily be self-employed. Up to now, those people who went through MYP training stand out as the best farmers in any area.
If President Mutharika talks about youth empowerment, he should borrow a leaf from MYP. Their bases were properly built and fully equipped to cater for all fields. Their teachers were well qualified. This is unlike what is happening now. There is so much talk about community colleges for youth empowerment.
The idea sounds good but the facilities that some of these colleges are operating from are nothing to write home about. They are simply make-shift structures and are poorly equipped. Needless to say that in such situations practical work is not properly done as required. With due respect, these colleges are at self-help standard at the moment. The other worrisome thing is that students seem to be perpetually on holiday. Really, one wonders what school calendar are the colleges following.
Worse still, there is no guarantee that those who graduate from these community colleges will get loans to start their own businesses. Even those who want to go straight into employment to gain experience, where are the jobs?
Having said the above, one can conclude that economic empowerment is easier said than done.
Meanwhile, it must be noted that youths in Malawi also need socio/political empowerment. Political youth empowerment seems to be a taboo to most political leaders because they do not want to face competitions from the youth.
Hence youths, in a majority of political parties, are reduced to running errands, cheer-leaders and hero-worshippers to the extent of painting party slogans on their bodies. These are youths from poor families, who might be thinking that they might receive a handout after demeaning themselves.
It does not need a genius to know that if youths can be politically empowered, they would be able to get into Parliament and help to make laws which can make youths advance further to the extent of having a youth as a head of State in Malawi. In the social circles, youths should be empowered to lead communities in development and other things. Youths can just be as successful. For example, both Paramount Chiefs M’mbelwa of Mzimba and Gomani of Ntcheu are young, but very successful.
In conclusion, if President Mutharika is really serious about youth empowerment, he should ensure that his government should not do half measures in preparing for the empowerment exercise. In addition, this should not be a campaign gymic, which in the end just falls on the way side. But let it be a national programme, which can be passed on to successive governments. Youths in this country need meaningful empowerment.