‘Born Free’ Campaigners Urged to Reflect
A campaign to encourage participation of young Zambians in politics and to take over the leadership of the country has recently been hatched. The ‘born free’ campaign which is aligned with the country’s jubilee celebrations has already established its presence on social media, posting some ‘catchy’ promotional messages such as ‘don’t vote for candidates who were born after 1964’.
‘Born free’ is a term borrowed from South Africa referring to the generation of people born after apartheid. In the Zambian context, ‘born frees’ are those that were born after independence in 1964. Zambia’s ‘born frees’ therefore include people currently aged 50 years and below.
The ‘born frees’ are concerned that young Zambians were not ascending to national political leadership at a pace necessary to ensure smooth handover from the older generation. Their argument seems to suggest that the older generation of leaders was reluctant to let go. The ‘born frees’ contend that the country has not produced enough young leaders since the beginning of the third republic in 1991.
This is the first time that young Zambians have mounted an organised campaign to enhance their participation in national affairs. If official statistics indicating that two thirds of all Zambians were below the age of 30 are to be believed, the ‘born free’ campaign does have good numbers to mount a successful movement at least on paper.
Obviously, the ‘born free’ campaign needs support from both old and young Zambians because it reminds us about an important, but often neglected, agenda item of grooming national leaders for the future.
But in spite of it being a noble crusade, the ‘born free’ campaign is not robust enough to result in significant impact. It is not difficult to note that the promoters of the campaign have not given much thought to issues that have relegated young Zambians to the back seat of politics and the leadership of the country over the past two decades.
A comparison between the youths of today with their counterparts of the 60s brings out interesting lessons. Modern day Zambian youths are just not as courageous. They also lack initiative and are by far less responsible.
How many of us today would entrust a 25 year old to represent our households even for a day? In comparison, the youths of the 60s were able to represent, not a household, but the country as teenagers and in their early 20s. This, by any standards, was and remains remarkable.
But don’t get it wrong! This does not mean modern day youths are useless. It just means that times have changed. People used to mature much earlier then, compared to now. The ‘born frees’ need to explore social changes such as this and how these enable or hinder their ascendancy on the political ladder.
History tells us that most of the people that fought Zambia’s independence struggle were young and with humble education. These gallant Zambians had no history to refer to. They were pioneers. Information was difficult or nearly impossible to lay hands on.
Today, we are very well educated with university degrees from all over including some of the best in the world. There is a rich history to refer to for guidance. Information is at the click of a computer keyboard. The modern day Zambian youth is highly exposed. A good number have travelled the world where they have gathered numerous lessons which they can put to good use back home. There is no shortage of inspiration – locally or internationally.
But before the ‘born frees’ accuse anyone of anything, they need to understand why modern young Zambians have very little to show in terms of achievement compared to those of the 50s and 60s. Zambia would probably never have been independent if modern day youths were the ones this country was relying on during the struggle.
The young people of Zambia cannot point at any bigger enemy than themselves. Most of them are not interested in national affairs and if they do, their interests end exactly where personal interest ends. They are simply not nationalists. This may perhaps explain why only a few have found their way through political party politics or even government.
Because they are so individualistic in nature, they also tend to be very jealousy of each other’s achievements. They rarely support each other at any level. The few young people that have ventured into politics at a higher level have not received much support from their peers.
In fact, the downfall of most young people from politics or positions of influence can be traced to sabotage by fellow young people. Most young people have grown up trusting the older politicians because of the experience they have accumulated over many years. One wonders how young leaders will build the necessary experience if fellow young people will not allow them to make one mistake. ‘Born frees’ need to show more tolerance towards the few fellow young people that have found their way to the top in order to have any chance of building capacity among themselves.
It will also be important for the ‘born frees’ to consider their lack of objectivity when looking at important national issues. During the constitution making debates in the failed National Constitution Conference (NCC), young Zambians rejected the proposal to place age limit on persons wishing to run for the presidency of the country. Clearly, the arguments advanced against this proposal at the time were not based on anything logical or scientific but to ensure that a particular candidate was elected.
Just three years later, the ‘born frees’ are now advocating a boycott of all candidates that were born before 1964. What has changed significantly over the past three years to necessitate knocking out from the presidential race of people like Edith Nawakwi (who was born in 1958), Nevers Mumba (1960) and Hakainde Hichilema (1963)?
The ‘born frees’ have many deficiencies. If the ‘born free’ campaign is serious, it must attempt to address these and many other deficiencies among our young people which have hindered their progress on the political arena and leadership in general.
If this campaign fails to address these deficiencies and associated issues, it risks being dismissed as one of those aimed at achieving short term political goals for a small group of people.
‘Born frees’ need to understand that leadership will not just be given on a silver plate. Like anywhere else in the world, leadership needs to be taken from those that have it, not by force or any underhand method, but by demonstrating seriousness and sufficient levels of discipline and responsibility.
In a normal situation, the transfer of leadership will actually happen organically.