Sydney Chisi looks to youth to fulfill his country's quest for democracy


    Sydney Chisi, who has himself been arrested and assaulted several times by supporters of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party,sees the future hope for his country’s democracy in his fellow youth.

    Chisi, fellow Zimbabweans Cleopatra Ndlovu and Masimba Mathias Nyamanhindi, and more than 100 other young civil society and private sector leaders from across sub-Saharan Africa will be participating in the President’s Forum with Young African Leaders August 3-5.

    He told that the forum comes "at an opportune time," citing the need to demystify rhetoric that is emanating from Zimbabwean officials, particularly from those affiliated with Mugabe’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and tell Americans and other Africans the truth about what is going on in Zimbabwe.

    The last decade has seen "unprecedented levels of atrocities, oppression and lack of democracy," as well as no respect for either the rule of law
    or human rights, he said. "We need to go out there and make sure that we tell the Zimbabwean story."

    Chisi is the founder and director of the Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ), which runs an academy for 18- to 35-year-olds focused on developing leadership skills and empowering them to take action. According to the U.S. Embassy in Harare, YIDEZ helped to boost youth participation in Zimbabwe’s March 2008 elections from a mere 10 percent to a significant 28 percent.

    In nominating Chisi to participate in the Washington forum, the embassy noted that in Zimbabwe, as well as in many African countries, leaders are remaining in their positions so long that they are keeping their children’s generation from succeeding them, and effectively ensuring that the current generation of youth are likely to take over when they are gone.

    Embassy officials recognized Chisi’s ability to enhance Zimbabwean youth political activism in rural and urban communities, including farms that have been targeted by ZANU-PF autocrats. His experience and influence are also being put to effective use in his position as the spokesman for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a network of 350 grass-roots civil society organizations.

    While in Washington, Chisi says, he wants to talk to fellow Africans about ways to increase the capacity of young people "to build synergies with other critical partners who would help in leadership development."Engagement with others doing similar work not only would boost YIDEZ,but also raise the effectiveness of other "pro-democratic parties or any institutions that believe in people-centered development," he said.

    Chisi was also impressed with how President Obama was able to tap into younger American voters during his 2008 presidential campaign and make
    them a powerful resource in his election victory.

    "I think, for many leaders, you cannot build any nation without involving young people," he said. In Zimbabwe, 65 percent of the population is young, but 90 percent of them are unemployed. Zimbabwe is facing "a time bomb," he said, and its leadership must start including younger people if they hope to develop national policies and values.

    But even as Zimbabwe suffers from economic, health and social problems amid its political turmoil, Chisi says Zimbabwe’s leadership has not been willing thus far to bring young people into the political process.

    "We have witnessed over a period of time that the people in the hegemony of the ruling class in Zimbabwe have made a living out of the crisis,what I would call ‘crisis entrepreneurs,’ he said. Their continued ability to benefit from the situation makes them unwilling "to leave a parcel of power to capacitate and bring in young people into the debate," he said.

    In a February 2009 opinion piece in Zimbabwe’s The Standard, he described Zimbabwe’s march toward democracy as a "long walk" on board a ship that is "swinging and almost sinking." He urged young people to think ahead and empower themselves, rather than depend on current leaders, to realize their long-term democratic goals.

    "For as long as we fail to challenge those already in leadership positions by widening our capacity base so that we are not wide but shallow, we will continue to be crybabies in this dispensation," he wrote. "As it becomes a nation in transition, we should also, as young people, be able to manage our constituency’s own dynamics and transition."

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    This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs,U.S. Department of State.  Web site:
    August 2, 2010