As Zimbabwe gears up for the July 2023 election, many youth of voting age have described voting as a waste of time and resources. This voter apathy is contrary to what we have seen in recent elections in other African countries, where youths have been deciding elections. For example, recent elections in Zambia and Namibia were largely decided by the youth.
Despite the voter apathy, pro-democracy campaigners and opposition political parties in Zimbabwe have hailed young people as having the power to alter the political and economic future of the country.
Many factors have contributed to voter apathy in Zimbabwe. The toxic political landscape characterized by violence and election rigging has discouraged young people. High levels of unemployment have also been cited as the reason why young people see voting next year as a waste of their time.
Political Climate in Zimbabwe
Since the turn of the new millennium, Zimbabwe’s political space has been fiercely contested. Every election season has been characterized by violence, mainly from the ruling ZANU-PF party against opposition parties. As Zimbabwe gears up for the July 2023 elections, an increase in violence against opposition parties has been recorded.
People in rural areas have been intimidated and forced to vote for ZANU-PF, and many young people across the country have lost hope of seeing change. The idea that ZANU-PF uses violence and rigs elections has led many young people to say that voting is a waste of time and nothing will change in 2023.
There have been cases of rigging in every election since 2000 and many have accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the main electoral body, of favoring ZANU-PF. Some have described the organization as captured.
Youths and Unemployment in Zimbabwe
The ZANU-PF-led government has repeatedly asserted that unemployment is under control, but the most recent numbers from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) paint a grim picture of the nation's unemployment rate.
When examined using the government's own data, a Zimbabwean fact-checking website in 2018 found that "Zanu-PF's claim that the economy had added 4.5 million jobs since the previous election (2013) was false. According to the data, between 2014 and 2017, there was a loss of roughly one million jobs, as broadly defined by Zimstat and the International Labour Organization.
According to official statistics from the education ministry, 300,000 young people drop out of secondary school each year on average, and since the start of COVID-19 two years ago, an estimated 20% of students have stopped attending, adding to the already staggering numbers of unemployed people.
Unemployment has a negative impact on voter participation. Young people are caught in a survival mode. Voting for them becomes a waste of time since they are preoccupied with economic activities that provide instant material rewards.
Many analysts believe that there is a lack of awareness of how unemployment will affect voting. The 2.3 million unemployed youth represent just under half of the electorate. It is difficult to expect young people to comprehend current events and persuade them to vote. The perception that needs to be altered is that being youthful equates to being in favor of change.
The Citizens Coalition for Change, the country's major opposition, claims it is targeting the youth vote in preparation for the 2023 election. Analysts, however, assert that more effort will be required if this unemployed voting bloc is to be persuaded to cast a ballot, whether through civic education campaigns or political party lobbying.
There are several factors at work, but one that jumps out is that many of these young people reside in rural areas, where it is unreasonable to expect them to use social media like Twitter, Facebook, or WhatsApp since their locations have data shadows that widen the information gap.