Statistics coming from the Independent Electoral Commission show that Batswana have registered in record numbers to vote.
The total number of people who have registered to vote stands at 723,000. A third of this number, 243,000, are young people under the age of 29 years. This is a staggering statement of intent by young persons who hitherto were associated with unbridled apathy in the country’s politics.
The socio-economic circumstances of the youth and the political developments of the past 18 months have certainly ignited considerable interest and curiosity among the youth about what the future holds for them.
The level of unemployment is very high among young people, conservatively estimated at around 35percent for some sections of the youth.
The frustration of job hunting with the trademark brown envelope and a nomadic lifestyle of moving from one potential employer to the other; from one town to the other and from one household to the other in search of a job, has reached epidemic proportions.
Job opportunities are simply scarce. The government has done very little to broaden Botswana’s industrial base and create jobs. Young people remained hopeful for some time when government announced an array of petty job creation programmes. That hope for a better life under the current regime has now dissipated giving way to a search for alternatives. Young people are further frustrated that alongside these high levels of unemployment and poverty, there exist pockets of obscenely rich people who seem to horde all available opportunities.
The current education crisis whose effect is to curtail access to higher education has also revealed that the current government is not concerned about their welfare. The arbitrary reduction, and in some cases stoppage of allowances for students in tertiary institutions, clearly indicates that government has declared war on young people.
Many were left wondering why their allowances, and not those of politicians, were targeted for reduction. Government has failed young people and without any shadow of doubt young people are ready to use the platform of elections to speak out.
The socio-economic circumstances of youth aside, current political developments are out of sync with the orientation and culture of our young people. President Ian Khama’s leadership style, the passage of draconian pieces of legislation, the constriction of civil liberties and most importantly, the suffocation of opportunities for leisure and fun, are but some of the issues that have propelled young people to the voter registration points.
Khama’s leadership, with its emphasis on discipline of a military nature, is a serious turnoff to many young people. Many of our young people are curious and inquisitive. The question is ever present on their mind.
They are assertive and derive satisfaction from challenging authority at home, school, church and the community. It is the orientation of the “made in Botswana” generation. It is a generation that is fast entrenching a ‘rights’ culture. They believe in dialogue and discussion. They detest absolutism and orders. They prize their viewpoint and they take it as a mark of respect to be listened to.
A leadership style that is punctuated with orders, directives and threats, as is currently the case with Khama’s government, puts off many young people. They certainly have been shaken out of their comfort spaces and registering for elections is one way in which many of them seek to defend themselves against an encroachment on their basic freedoms.
Many young people are also not impressed with Khama’s initiatives particularly as regards the entertainment industry. They find Khama too prescriptive on how they should express and celebrate their youth. Many feel that Botswana has suddenly become a boring country where entertainment sessions are rudely interrupted by heavy handed police officers and soldiers.
It is quite evident that the economic and political climate in Botswana is hostile to young people. It is for this reason that for the first time in our history young people have taken an active interest in elections.
The young people I speak to around the country express acute determination and commitment to making a difference with their vote. They speak of the need to search for alternative politics that place their interests first.
They dream of a politics that will appreciate their central location in the economic and political affairs of the nation. Young people are yearning for a government that listens. Yes, listen to them and their concerns. They want a government that will engage them in dialogue. They want a government that will treat them with respect and recognize their inherent worth and dignity as persons. As they queue to cast a vote on that day of the Lord, many young people will have one thing in mind. They will vote for CHANGE.
*Taolo Lucas is the secretary general of the BCP