Unlike in many countries, the well-being of young people has featured prominently in Malawi’s legislative history.
Despite some institutional flaws, the country set aside a standalone department devoted to youth affairs, the National Youth Council and a youth parliament.
Young people constitute the majority of the country’s population, but they lack basic opportunities to develop to their full potential and become the engine for national development.
This year marks almost three decades since the adoption of the first National Youth Policy in 1996.
The policy was revised in 2013, with a requirement to be reviewed every five years.
As such, saying it is outdated and non-operational is stating the obvious as it has not been updated for the past nine years.
Why is this problematic for youth development?Helen Suzman Foundation reminds us that “while national youth policies and institutional structures are only one part of an integrated youth development strategy, they ultimately provide a framework for a country to make available resources, support and services that will allow young people to fulfil their potential and contribute to the social, cultural, political and economic growth of the country.
According to the non-partisan think-tank that promotes liberal democratic values and human rights, the failure to implement and review these policies has both short and long-term consequences for any country.
Having an updated policy provides a foundation and mechanisms for youth participation in socio-economic development while acknowledging that youthful Malawians are protagonists of their own development, not passive recipients of State support.
Youthfulness is a process ‘of becoming’, a transition period. As such, time matters and taking stock of progress in the youth development is critical.
Malawi, like most African countries, can massively benefit from the demographic dividend which is time-bound.
As a result, the country must act quickly to benefit from investing in its youthful majority to become movers and shakers of the nation.
But there is an urgent need to set clear frameworks for youth development nationwide.
The country’s current demographic profile is a time-limited opportunity for human capital development.
The extent to which the country and the continent can take advantage of the demographic dividend depends on the policies they prioritise to improve the capabilities and chances of their youthful population.
Malawi signed the 2013 Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development in Africa Beyond 2014, themed ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend: The Future We Want for Africa’.
Therefore, it is expected to invest in unleashing the full potential of the youth to boost national development.
Although youth development is a key priority in Malawi 2063, the country has failed to review the youth policy for over three years.
This clearly indicates that current policies and programmes to address important quality-of-life issues for the youth remain a substantial barrier to their full development and national development.
Policies in Malawi signal priority areas for State intervention and national development. Like most government policy platforms, they largely serve as a political symbol of what is worth achieving than concrete, funded planning mandates for how to get there.
The failure of government’s departments and youth institutions to deliver their mandates on youth policy is a lost opportunity and represents a failure to fully comprehend the role that youth play in society.
The delayed review and evaluation of policy is a major obstacle that does not only hinder the correction or reformulation of youth interventions, but also perpetuates current errors in addressing youth issues.
A review would help restore young people’s trust in public policy and youth institutions.
Malawi has an opportunity to re-imagine youth development policies to harness the demographic dividend.
A more participative, integrated approach and well-resourced policy will contribute to national development.
A national youth policy is a practical demonstration that youth are a priority in the country and that their development imperatives should not be stifled.