NATIONAL YOUTH SERVICE: ITS FEASIBILITY AND EFFICIENCY IN THE CURRENT DISPENSATION A POSITION PAPER BY THE NATIONAL YOUTH DEVELOPMENT TRUST

The National Youth Service (NYS) is provided for by the Zimbabwe National Service Act of 1979 which set benchmarks on who could be incorporated into the Zimbabwe National Youth Service and the Military[1]. The National Youth Service Act of 1999 further legalized the creation of the national youth service as an important component in youth development. The National Youth Policy of 2000 went on to underline the importance of the NYS as a developmental platform for youths. The Government of Zimbabwe Started implementing the NYS programme in 2001. On paper the programme was meant to be a gateway to national economic and social development for young people. It was meant to inculcate the values of national identity, patriotism, unity and oneness, discipline and self reliance among young people in Zimbabwe[2]. However, at implementation stage it turned out to be a politically motivated and biased programme that violated the rights of both the recruited youths and society at large. The program was also meant to equip youths with leadership development and life skills training. Reports from the Solidarity Peace Trust revealed that although the service was initially meant to target youths, reports indicate that children as young as 10 years old were also targeted for the whole program[3]. The program was officially halted in 2009 due to financial constraints and alleged abuse of mandate which led the Government of National Unity to suspend its operations.

 

The National Youth Service program is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. Actually, there exists an International Association for National Youth Service (IANYS), which is a global network of professionals working to promote youth service around the world. It is therefore in no doubt a noble concept, but prone to manipulation and abuse if implemented in a non-transparent manner. Nigeria’s version of the NYS, for example, was launched in 1973 and was implemented to promote the ideals of national unity as well as a sense of common destiny among Nigerians. The timing of the Nigerian NYS was more aligned towards the elimination of mental suspicion and mistrust that had been brought forth by the civil war. Another example of the NYS is the Mexican model that amongst other things requires all university students to participate in the University Service Social program in the last third of their academic programs as a part of the tertiary curriculum. This program was established by law in 1944 to involve and use university resources to meet the national goal of eliminating poverty through skills training. All medically trained professionals are required to serve in disadvantaged communities for one year before they can be licensed.  In 1996, for example, recruits were given the option of either serving in the army or in one of three national service programs involving adult literacy, social work and sports promotion. NGOs and government youth organizations also organized youth service projects.

 

Before being stopped, the Zimbabwean version, amongst other things, included marching drills, morning runs and daily chores. The participants were expected to spend at least three months under such training and one month doing community engagement which involved construction of bridges and offering their services in clinics. On paper National Youth Service had positives, however empirical evidence on the implementation suggest otherwise. There were reports of the abuse of young people, the service acting as a pot of breeding child/ youth soldiers as evidenced by the pseudo military style of training that was aligned to the principles of Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

 

Young people’s right to employment was also infringed upon while their dependency and proneness to manipulation was increased when the government made the training “compulsory” as some school leavers were denied access to state tertiary training facilities and civil service posts, including teaching and nursing, without undergoing the youth training. Also, it should be noted that training was gender insensitive in all aspects as both young girls and boys received similar treatment without respecting peculiar needs of each group and sex. As if this was not enough, NYS excluded people living with disabilities as evidenced by the nature of the training.

 

The NYS Curriculum was biased and skewed. A case in point is the fact that it lacked subjects of peace and transformation as a means of promoting nationalism and gender mainstreaming with heavy concentration on patriotism and nationalism. Moreover the historical modules were biased to the extent that they did not reflect the true role played by all political activists and parties in the country’s liberation struggle thereby distorting history and affecting young people’s capacity to relate to the history of Zimbabwe.

The implementation of NYS was a violation of human rights at various levels. At one level, the immediate beneficiaries succumbed to ill-treatment, torture and rape during the training programme. At another level, graduates from the program have since 2002 been found at the centre of human rights violations with accusations ranging from murder, torture, rape, destruction of property and playing an adverse role in electoral processes[4]. If anything these young people have been highly indoctrinated for use as campaign tools and machinery of violence in communities. Above all, these multiple effects had an adverse psychological impact on the graduates and communities.

 

The level of violence perpetrated by these graduates was intense to an extent that people perceived the whole programme in a negative manner thus labeling participants with names like ‘green bombers’, ‘youth militia’ and ‘ZANU PF youths’. So when attempts to reintroduce the training programme from crèche level were tabled, various stakeholders (including NYDT) shot down such a proposal[5] because of the level of negativity still associated with it.

 

Despite these damning weaknesses, the Minister of Youth Development, Empowerment and Indigenisation, Saviour Kasukuwere, recently announced that his Ministry is planning to reintroduce the National Youth Service after ‘pleas’ from young people[6].  The Minister was quoted in the media as pointing out that some “adjustments” have been made to the program and efforts are underway to table the proposal in Parliament[7]. The media reports also reiterate that the parties in the Inclusive Government are strongly in support of the reintroduction of the National Youth Service stating that it gives young people a sense of belonging[8].

However, the current political dispensation needs to be interrogated at length for one to ascertain the viability and feasibility of the reintroduction of a National Youth Service programme in Zimbabwe. Fears of the program being high-jacked by politicians are eminent. The timing of the initiative raises eyebrows among citizens. From a general perspective the program could be a means of sustaining ZANU PF militarization of politics and to guarantee the generational continuity of the so called ‘third Chimurenga’ generation of pseudo war-veterans by recruiting and indoctrinating youths through the NYS[9].   The program if not properly checked can be used to settle political scores thus reducing attempts to democratize the country.

The recent hype of elections also presents another problematic area for the immediate reintroduction of NYS. The coincidence of calls for its reintroduction with that of elections by ZANU PF is also not only suspicious but arguably a calculated move to beef up the machinery of violence during elections to ensure ZANU PF victory. The graduates face a high risk of being exploited for political machinations. The previous incidents of the “youth militia” causing harm and havoc in various areas were eminent during election periods[10], as noted in elections of 2002, 2005 and 2008.

Also, NYS has economic implications which need to be considered. The NYS program gobbled US 6 (six) million dollars annually at a time when the country was experiencing hyper inflation and serious economic challenges[11].

Recommendations

It is imperative that the program fosters a sense of nationalism, leadership development, human rights awareness and life skills for youths. To achieve this, it should be rolled out in a non-partisan and highly professional manner which would be in line with regional and international best practices.

If NYS is to be reestablished, government must ensure that it is rebranded so as to have a positive and fruitful impact to the youths in Zimbabwe. This would ensure that young people will fully embrace the program due to its inclusive nature thus enhancing ownership and sustainability.

Critical stakeholders (civic society, churches, CBO’s, Government bodies) who interface with young people should collectively develop a curriculum for use in the training exercise. The curriculum should include constructive life skills, human rights and leadership training. This must be multi-sectoral in approach and would be rolled out in consultation with young people and youth organizations.

In its implementation the training should be gender sensitive and incorporate young people living with disabilities. This would further contribute towards total participation and inclusion youths.

 

Positive lessons can be drawn from other countries that have implemented similar programs with successful outputs. One of the methods involves incorporating the NYS at tertiary institutions were students embark on community services with bias towards their field of study or choice.  For example grandaunts in medical field will contribute to the health sector. This will ensure that the program has meaningful contribution towards life skills and national human resource needs. Participants can also be attached to their communities to ensure that local skills work to develop local areas. This will grow young people’s sense of responsibility and belonging to their immediate communities.

 

There must be a clear monitoring and evaluation mechanism that will rate the effectiveness of the programme. This will enable stakeholders to gradually alter the programme to suit the current needs of young people as it is rolled out. There is need for transparency in the selection of recruits and trainers and a clear policy on administration, implementation and monitoring and evaluation exercise of the program.

Conclusion

The National Youth Service remains a noble and viable idea towards inculcating national values and ethos. However, its implementation from 2001 to 2009 was marred with loopholes and proneness to politicization which caused more harm than good and will take years if not decades to correct. Given these lessons, it would be very premature for the nation to embark on the program without the necessary research, consultation, funding and re-branding. The nation needs to draw lessons from other countries such as Mexico, China and Nigeria that have implemented National Youth Service with differing successes. The leadership and all responsible Zimbabweans should guard against the reestablishment of the program for political expediency and ensure that the program safeguards the national ethos through inculcation of such values in the Zimbabwean youth.

NYDT is a civic sector organisation committed to influencing and developing sustainable leadership qualities in young people for their effective contribution to the nation’s political, economic, social, cultural, education, health and agricultural fields. We are found at Office number 501, 5th Floor Lapf House Between Jason Moyo and Fife Street, along 8th Avenue. We can be contacted at nydtzim@gmail.com/ youthziminfo@gmail.com/ or leave a comment on our blog site at bulawayoyouthcouncil.wordbress.com

 

 

 

 


[1][1] Shumba R: National Identities in the National Youth Service of Zimbabwe, University of Johannesburg, (unpublished Dissertation), 2006.

[2] See the Ministry of Youth and Development: http://www.mdgec.gov.zw/nys.htm

[4] These youths have been at the forefront in thwarting opposition activities, disturbing meetings during elections as well influencing the recent collation stage constitution making process by attempting to suppress the views of people who are not pro- ZANU PF.

[5] See NYDT position on Introduction of National Youth Service from crèche, January 2011.

[6] Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation: National Youth Service noble: MDC-T, 24 June 2011.

[7] See Sunday News 26 June 2011.

[8] Ibid

[9] See NYDT’s position paper on the introduction of the National Youth Service from crèche, January 2011.

[10] The term has been popularly used to imply the youths that underwent this training because of the military activities noted in their conduct and also for associating with ZANU PF.

[11] Dr. S Chingarande, A review of the National Youth Service Program In Zimbabwe, Draft Paper, 2011.


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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Angelbert Wamambo on November 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    I would like to take part in any youth gatherings you conduct, esp charity and hiv/aids awareness

    Reply

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