Youths constitute a larger proportion of the population of Malawi. Although that is the case, they face a lot of challenges such as lack of opportunities to access higher education, unemployment others. BRIGHT KUMWENDA talked to National Youth Council of Malawi director DINGISWAYO JERE to learn much about the mandate of the Council, its vision, achievements and how it is dealing with the challenges facing youths in the country.
Could you please tell me about yourself?
My late parents named me Dingiswayo and I have maintained that name up to now. I come from Traditional Authority Mpherembe in Mzimba District. I went to different primary schools as my father was a civil servant and was assigned different roles in different places by the government. I finished my secondary education at Phwezi Boys in Rumphi where I was selected to Chancellor College. I have done my post graduate studies in International Development and Strategic Management with universities of Oslo and Derby. I am currently studying towards a PhD which I started in 2018. I am also an ordained pastor with Calvary Family Church where I serve in His Vineyard.
What has been your experience working with the ouncil?
Working with the council has been exciting and challenging at the same time. Actually, I would say the challenges faced are what makes the work more exciting. I have been working with youths throughout my career. I just love to associate and work with young people. In any work, you derive greatest satisfaction when you circumvent challenges and move to the next level. Youths have high expectations from me and the council, this keeps me on the edge. It is a motivating factor, but can also put one under pressure to constantly feel like you need to do more to meet the expectations and address the challenges faced by youths in this country.
What is the mandate of the council?
The overall mandate is to coordinate and control all forms of youth activities on behalf of the government. Then there are a number of specific objectives of the Council which include to register and de-register youth organisations and facilitate cooperation within youth organisations.
What have been your achievements thus far?
So far, we have managed to register about 220 youth organisations across the country. We have also embarked on the National Youth Council Act  review as well as the National Youth Policy review [2013-2018]. In addition to this, we have managed to come up with different initiatives to build the capacity of the youth organisations in running their programmes including resource mobilisation and financial literacy. We have improved our communication and engagement with our stakeholders and constituents and developed a vibrant social media platform including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, interactive website and lately, we have also partnered with Zodiak to utilise the normal SMS using the 441 code. We have in the past two years worked with the Egyptian Embassy to handle youth scholarships to Egypt. Many young people have benefited and we expect more to benefit as we continue with our partnership.
What would you say have been the major challenges?
The major challenge has been to match the needs of youths with available resources. Youths have great innovations and ideas that can transform the socio-economic status of this country, but they mostly lack resources to bring out their innovations and ideas.
How is the council dealing with the challenges?
As a council, we decided that there shall be no enough funding from Treasury and we needed to take some steps to get resources. We embarked on other fundraising drives to support our objectives. The youth know what they want and they need funds to implement their activities. Unfortunately, we have been thinking on their behalf and we come up with programmes that do not transform their lives. Consequently, we have come up with the Youth Innovation Fund, which is like a basket fund to support their initiatives. This provides a wide range of resource mobilisation initiatives to feed into this basket fund. We have the youth in Airtel Businesses, SMS with Zodiak, Soccer Bonanza, K1 000 donation among others.
Some people think the Council should be abolished and instead a National Youth Commission be established, what is your comment?
Yes, there have been those talks. From a personal point of view, the change from council to commission will not bring out the desired results if we have not done an analysis of what is not working now and how can we make it work. Across the globe and even here in Africa, our friends are working with youth councils. The spirit is to have a council that will advise or guide the work of youths. They want to put youths in the forefront of doing things and then let the council only come in to advise and guide.
On the other hand, a commission is commissioned with full authority and mandate of doing things and not just to advise or guide. It is my belief that it all depends on a critical analysis of the two entities (council and commission) vis-vis their specific roles and present it to young people and let them decide. However, in my conversations with youths, most of them do not fully understand the functions of the commission and those of the council. When you explain to them, they end up renegading in their stand. So it is a matter of providing information to youths so that they can fully understand what they need; against what they may be asking for. The questions youths have to ask include: Do we want to operate as youths in Malawi? Do we want to be in the lead and get advised or we want to have others be operating on our behalf?
How do you want to steer the Council in the next two to three years?
The greatest focus is to ensure the Council has enough resources to carry out its mandate and objectives. Once we have resources, wow! It will be an exciting journey whereby the youth can no longer be ignored. We want so see the Council growing to become a partner of choice by different stakeholders working in the youth sector. We want to see to it that all the guiding legal instruments have been reviewed and are in place.