Evidence gaps could compromise youth development initiatives in Zimbambwe

By Ronald Munatsi and Daphne Jena 

Zeipnet youth ministry

The Deputy Minister for Youth Development and Economic  Empowerment Honourable Mathias Tongofa giving a key note address during the ’Youth Build Zimbabwe Symposium’

Zimbabwe is investing in its youth: the government is drafting a new Youth Empowerment Strategy, and its Youth Build Zimbabwe programme seeks to provide young people with skills and opportunities to positively and productively engage with their communities. But a recent policy dialogue held by the Ministry of Youth Development and the Zimbabwe Youth Council to discuss the evidence informing the strategy, show that there are a number of glaring gaps in the evidence, which could greatly compromise Zimbabwe’s youth development agenda.

In order for policy-makers to make informed decisions, the use of evidence and accurate data is central. But in discussions about the challenges facing youths, statistics are thrown all over the place as evidence to support different arguments – and in most cases they are accepted without question. Few individuals bother to find out how accurate or up to date the statistics are. With limited background information on current state of youths in Zimbabwe, it will be difficult to implement successful youth empowerment programmes. The draft strategy has some baseline data, mainly the Youth Situational Analysis and Investment Case supported by UNICEF. It also draws from national and regional blue prints like Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset), Agenda 2063 and the African Youth Charter. But continuous research, updating available data, is needed to guide future plans that are meant to create a better future for the Zimbabwean youths.

Here are five areas related to youth that the policy dialogues identified as needing further evidence and accurate or up to date data:

Youth unemployment numbers

Youth unemployment figures in Zimbabwe are highly contentious – and not yet resulted in a conclusion. The government relies on Zimstat data, which pegs unemployment at less than 15%. Whereas independent economists and international organisations like the ILO, World Bank and IMF pitch unemployment in Zimbabwe at more than 90%.

This is a problem, because in order to know if a policy or programme works and is sutainable, we need accurate ‘baseline data’. Confounding this is the need for more up to date analysis following the mass dismissals triggered by the recent Supreme Court ruling.

Gender disaggregated data

Besides knowing the total number of unemployed youths in the country, we need gender disaggregated data on how many males and females we have under each age group.

This is important for programmes targeting young women. For example, we need to know how many young women in Zimbabwe are likely to benefit from a proposed intervention and if the proposed intervention is what they need? Understanding this could limit the number of failed projects and save resources.

Educational and economic status of young people

The educational and economic status of young people is important to help establish, accurately, the needs of the young people. For instance, not every young person above the age of 21 is prepared to go to university. There are some who still need to revisit secondary education or go to technical colleges.

Since unemployment is a major challenge, we need research to capture knowledge on the skills and qualifications of those unemployed. Such information is necessary to create relevant employment opportunities.

Disability among youth

Among youths, disabled young people may have different needs. For instance, if an organisation decides to disseminate simplified copies of the National Youth Policy, then they have to provide copies in brail or in audio format to cater for the visually impaired. But we can only effectively cater for them, if the numbers and locations of the youths in question are known.

Child marriage

Child marriage is one of the main challenges facing girls in Zimbabwe. To determine how big a challenge, we need figures that give a true reflection of the state of child marriages in Zimbabwe. Without this, there is a higher chance of over-estimating or undermining the damage the practise is causing in society. Only with accurate evidence can the mitigations to child marriages be properly planned and executed. Such evidence is illusive both in the public sector organisations and non-state players.

Need for interrogation of evidence from national, regional and international blueprints

Finally, although there has been a demonstration of use of evidence to inform the youth empowerment strategy through the indicated baseline study including other national, regional and international blue prints, there is need to interrogate, synthesise, triangulate and contextualise the evidence. An example is the Key target: Employment and Wealth Creation and Enhancement which was pegged at 2,265,000 by 2018. This has its basis from the national blue print Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset). It is apparent that the evidence on the ground cannot sustain such a key target and independent economists have observed that in itself the national Zim-ASSET blue print is not evidence informed.

The Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) and the VakaYiko Consortium are supporting a series of policy dialogues with government partners in Zimbabwe. Policy dialogues seek to strengthen sustainability and knowledge sharing across the research-into-policy system by expanding professional networks for policy makers to engage with critical players like researchers and civic society organisations. This way they obtain the much-needed evidence to inform their policy decisions.

Ronald Munatsi is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Evidence Informed Policy Network (ZeipNET) whilst Daphne Jena is an author and editorial assistant at Her Zimbabwe. The views expressed in this article are their personal views and not necessarily the views of their individual organisations.