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Monday, 16 March 2009

Control MMD Youths, Please! (Guest Blog - HK)

The recent mass demonstrations by Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) youths in Lusaka and Ndola against continued membership of Ng'andu Magande, Elias Mpondela and Sebastian Kopulande in the ruling party should be viewed as a time bomb that is likely to cause losses of property and life if it is not quickly addressed by the party's National Executive Committee (NEC).

The threats by the youths that "disgruntled members should leave the party before they face the wrath of the youths" and that the youths will be forced to take the law into their own hands and have such members sorted out are a very serious threat to public order. Any delay in controlling such unlawful behavior is likely to be conceived of by the youths as being acceptable because they belong to the ruling political party.

While such demonstrations could be defended as being "internal affairs" of the party, the individuals being threatened with harm are members of the larger society who deserve to be protected by the country's laws. And the youths should be reminded that there is no law in Zambia that will protect them from being charged individually with assault, murder or destruction of property simply because they are "geared to defend the name of the party and its President who is also republican head of state."

To digress somewhat, it is important for the government to make a more serious effort in creating jobs for the youths. The fact that they are readily available to be used by their local leaders to get involved in demonstrations on a regular basis attests to the unprecedented lack of employment for them. As an old maxim tells us, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."

One time-honored way in which jobs can be created is by stimulating the national economy through lower taxes and interest rates. This can make it possible for individuals and businesses to retain more of their hard-earned incomes for investment, consumption and savings. Greater public investments in infrastructure and sustained promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can greatly contribute to this endeavor.

There is also a need for the government to promptly and fully revitalize the Zambia National Service (ZNS) production camps and make it possible for youths who are currently roaming the streets to enroll in government-financed entrepreneurial and other skills-training programs to be offered in the camps on a voluntary basis. The recent call by President Rupiah Banda to provide skills training for unemployed youths in ZNS camps and vacated refugee camps dotted across the country is a good one, especially if there is the political will to make this possible.

In this direction, the Chiwoko ZNS Camp in Katete, the Kitwe ZNS Camp, and the Chishimba ZNS Camp in Kasama, for example, should periodically recruit unemployed youth to pursue skills-training programs — which should include courses in carpentry, automobile mechanics, agriculture, bricklaying, plastering, tailoring and designing, and shoe-making and repairing.

Graduates from skills-training centers should be encouraged to form joint business ventures, and should be provided with start-up kits and financial resources through relevant government ministries, the Youth Empowerment Program, and the Resettlement Department of the Office of the Republican Vice President. And institutions like the King George Center in Kabwe should be expanded to accommodate larger numbers of graduates.

Moreover, the government needs to abolish examination fees for all Zambians, as well as abolish Grade 7 and Grade 9 elimination examinations in order to provide for free formal education through Grade 12 as an initial step in the provision of accessible education for all citizens.

Among other benefits, this arrangement can contribute to the reduction of the rampant juvenile delinquency apparently occasioned by dislodging youngsters from the educational system at a time when they are not yet mature enough to face the social, economic, and other facets and challenges of modern society.

To accommodate primary school leavers in secondary schools, as well as continuing Grade 9 students, the government needs to take the following mea­sures: (a) provide for immediate expansion of facilities at secondary schools which do not currently have extra space for Grade 8 and Grade 10 classes; (b) allow interested secondary school teachers destined for retirement to delay their retirements, as well as hire more of the trained teachers who are currently unemployed; and (c) step up enrolments in training programs for secondary school teachers.

To promote scholarship and academic excellence in education and training, the government should ensure that end-of-term tests and end-of-year examinations continue to be administered to gauge each and every pupil's intellectual development. Moreover, homework should be mandatory and should be given out to each student weekly or fortnightly.

And high-school graduates who would obtain a Division 1 should be automatically awarded scholarships upon being accepted at any Zambian college or university. All other high-school graduates and working Zambian men and women wishing to pursue further studies should be granted with low-interest loans upon being accepted into classroom-based or correspondence-based study programs offered within Zambia.

Loan recipients who would graduate with "Distinction" should be excused of 75% of their debt obligations, while those who would graduate with "Merit" should be absolved of 50% of their debt obligations. And all college and university graduates who would sign contracts to work in the teaching or healthcare professions within Zambia for at least 4 years upon graduation should be absolved of 100% of their debt obligations.

Besides, all citizens who would graduate from Zambian colleges or universities with "Distinction" should be automatically awarded scholarships to pursue higher educational or training programs within Zambia or in foreign countries.

There is also a need to provide for the establishment of computer laboratories at educational and training institutions nationwide, and for eventual connection of computers to the Internet. We need to equip the youth with the computer skills they need in order to compete successfully in the modern socio-economic system.

It is also important to establish a teachers' council and an accreditation board designed to monitor, regulate and boost the standard and quality of education nationwide.

The youth are our beloved country's most valuable treasures — they are the jewels of our Motherland! It is, therefore, surprising that we have continued to pay lip-service to the educational and other basic needs of our country's youth.

All these initiatives are possible if we have leaders who recognize the need to create a smaller government that would perform all existing and planned government functions with fewer Cabinet Ministers, and abolish the positions of Provincial Minister, Provincial Permanent Secretary and District Commissioner, as well as initiate restrictions on leaders' trips to foreign countries and, among many other cost-cutting measures, reduce the number of Zambia's foreign missions by having clusters of countries to be served by single embassies.

The imperatives I have cited in this brief discussion actually represent some of the many demands Zambians have been making on their government over the years. The people have been talking, is anyone in government listening?

Finally, MMD youths need to be reminded that we are all Zambians – and that is the bottom line! And we have the same dreams in spite of the different political parties we belong to, our divergent political views, the 73 different tribes to which we belong, or the different languages we speak.

After all, the problems we face today as a nation affect each and every one of us irrespective of our political affiliations. For example, so many of our Grade 7 and Grade 9 children are spilled onto the streets every year, inadequate healthcare facilities and medicines in hospitals affect all of us, most of us have no access to electricity and clean water, a critical shortage of decent public housing has compelled a lot of citizens to live in shanty townships, we are all affected by widespread crime and unemployment, and we all pay the high taxes and interest rates whether we belong to the ruling political party or opposition parties.

Henry Kyambalesa (Guest Blogger)
Agenda for Change

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