Malawi’s population is predominantly young, yet youth participation in development remains minimal.
According to the 2018 census, 51 percent of the population are aged 18 and below.
This reaffirms the need to invest in youth to address the challenges faced by the young population and achieve sustainable development.
Realising this, government has made youth participation and empowerment part of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III), National Youth Policy and National Decentralisation Policy.
The policies seek to make service delivery responsive to the needs of all citizens, including the youth. However, indicators show that there is low participation of the youth at local level. No wonder, local development plans and budgets do not effectively reflect the priorities of the youth.
Whilst every Malawian is encouraged to participate meaningfully in development discourse, duty-bearers need to take efforts to ensure women, children and the youth contribute to the national development agenda.
There cannot be any meaningful development outcomes for citizens without taking into account the priorities of the people the programmes target.
To effectively address their needs, the youth, who form over half of the country’s population, need to be involved and consulted in all processes of planning, budgeting and implementation.
Generally, a well-implemented decentralsation entails efficient service delivery and increasing democratic participation. However, local government performs most effectively and efficiently in poverty reduction when citizen, including the youth participate, meaningfully in policy formulation and implementation.
Poverty is not just a lack of income or material resources. According to the International Bill of Rights, poverty includes sustained deprivation of the resources, capabilities and choices.
Through decentralisation, local government—being closest to the people—is better positioned to identify and respond to development needs or choices of the youth.
However, poor local leadership and unresponsive public service delivery can lead to voter apathy during the May 21 Tripartite Elections as most Malawians, including the youth, might not appreciate the benefits of voting.
Even more worrying is a decline in voter turnout in the past decade despite steady increase between June 1993 and June 1999.
Records show that voter turnout rose from 69 percent in June 1993 Referendum to 80 percent in May 1994 General Elections and 93 percent in June 1999, but dramatically slumped to 59 percent in May 2004.
Voter participation rose to 78.2 percent in 2009, but declined to 70.7 percent five years ago.
Voter turnout in 2000 Local Government Elections was a meagre 14 percent.
As Malawi go to May 21 polls to elect president, members of Parliament and ward councillors, the youth have the greatest stake in ensuring that local government is led by capable officials to function optimally and deliver on its mandate.
Young people have a lot to gain or lose from the policies proposed by those competing for councillorship in the upcoming elections.
Young people cannot afford to shun the local government elections.
As George Jean Nathan said, bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
The role of the youth in strengthening local councils by voting for capable councillors needs no emphasis.
Let every eligible young Malawi take the lead in shaping their developmental needs and priorities.
Reluctance to participate in choosing leaders coupled with limited spaces for citizen participation has contributed to widening inequalities and deprivation of basic services for youth at all levels. n