Young Zambians actively participated in their nation’s 2021 presidential elections. Many are poised to stay engaged.
Mwila Bwanga, a youth activist, ran for a seat in Zambia’s parliament as an independent and finished third. He plans to run for higher office again. In the meantime, he encourages young people to be politically active through BeRelevant Africa, an organization he founded in 2018 with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Bwanga said political parties and civic organizations need to involve young citizens. “Though young people are constantly encouraged to turn out and vote, we should also ensure that we consider them as key partners when preparing them for key leadership positions if we want to have a great succession plan in our various political parties,” he told ShareAmerica.
Embracing the ballot
BeRelevant’s planned 2022 Emerging Youth Leadership Project hopes to build on the election’s momentum. The initiative will train 500 young leaders on democracy, governance and civic participation. Bwanga said he wants young people to hold leaders accountable and to be “the solution to our nation’s conflicting realities.”
Bwanga also participated in the December 9–10 virtual Summit for Democracy, hosted by President Biden. Bwanga recommended that heads of state appoint special youth advisers at the Cabinet level.
In September 2021, President Biden told the United Nations that the democratic world “lives in the young people of Zambia who harnessed the power of their vote.” He said youth turned out in record numbers “to denounce corruption and chart a new path for their country.”
Operation Young Vote encourages young Zambians to register to vote and stay engaged after the election.
“Operation Young Vote always goes a step further to ensure that the youth go beyond the ballot to appreciate their rights and demand accountability of their … elected officials,” Guess Nyirenda, the group’s executive director, told ShareAmerica.
Among its activities, the group:
- Launched a “follow your vote” campaign whereby young voters meet with elected officials at all levels of government to discuss issues and ask officials about their campaign promises.
- Supports legislation to strengthen the nation’s bill of rights.
- Plans to open boys and girls clubs in several communities. These are modeled after youth clubs the group saw during an international leadership exchange program in the United States.
Youth in action
Nyirenda said the number of youth who get involved in voting is growing.
“The awareness about the need and right of youth to participate in the political system and generally in governance has been raised, and there is a desire among young people to participate,” he said.
Mukwavi Changala Sichula used experience from a program called Youth Lead to launch a campaign for public office. Like Bwanga, he ran for a seat in parliament during the August 2021 elections and like Bwanga he finished in third place.
Youth Lead, a recently concluded USAID program, emphasizes civic engagement, public management and entrepreneurship for Zambians through employment or internships.
Through Youth Lead, Tapela Lungu interned for six months with the Zambian Governance Foundation, a nongovernmental organization. Today, Lungu is a communications officer for the Open Doors Project, a population study initiative supported by USAID and PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He researches disease prevention and treatment, writes a blog about people living with HIV/AIDS and won an award for his work.
“The knowledge, the experience, the exposure and connections I got helped me to get to where I am today,” Lungu said.