Our house: The Youth Parliament of Malawi – Part I

 

by Sydney Chuka

Photo credits: The Shire Porter Photography 

In the last two days, I have had the distinct pleasure of attending the first sitting of the Youth Parliament of Malawi in this calendar year. As a matter of fact, it was the first time I had any interest in entering the Parliamentary grounds. No one needed to tell us as children growing up in the days of His Excellency, the late Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, that places of national import were off-limits to children. When I grew up in the 80s and 90s, I would occasionally see the then Zomba-based Parliament building in the newspapers. The Parliamentary building, now located in Lilongwe, is the most westward landmark in the Capital City’s “axis of power” comprised of Capitol Hill, the seat of government, and Kamuzu Palace, the official residence and office of the Presidency.

As I entered the chamber of Parliament, the Youth Parliamentarians were bustling about dressed in black trousers and skirts and white t-shirts and polo shirts.  At around 0913h, a drum was banged to signal the entry of the Deputy Speaker of Youth Parliament, Hon. David Milambe. The procession was led by the Sergeant of Arms of Youth Parliament, Edgar Mtsukwa, bearing the mace over his right shoulder. The Clerks of Youth Parliament followed closely by. It was quiet a spectacle that left me with the sense that this was not a drill; this was the real McCoy. The content of the discussions in Youth Parliament will be analysed and published in a future publication. This article will instead discuss the lessons learned in observing the deliberations. But before we get there, some context will be helpful.

The Youth Parliament of Malawi was established in 2012 following the United Nations resolution to grant the youth around the world an avenue to participate in the policy formulation at constituency, national and continental levels. The Youth Parliament of Malawi has members from all 193 constituencies and are aged between 10 and 25. The disabled are represented and are assigned wardens to assist them during the entire session. The majority of the members of the House are women and women took the key leadership positions in the House: The Speaker of the House, Mary Namaya, Leader of the House, Doreen Benson, and the Leader of Opposition, Mphatso Chanza. Unlike the nationally constituted Parliament, the Youth Parliamentarians are not elected but are selected through a number of evaluations, such as interviews and essays, by a panel that includes staff of Parliament, District Councillors and District Youth Officers. The applicants include those in primary school, secondary school and those out-of-school. The selected members of the House are subsequently approved by the Speaker of the House, presently Hon. Richard Msowoya, MP.

Upon selection to the Youth Parliament, the young men and women are oriented in the art of debate and in the protocols to be observed in the House and beyond. UNICEF has played a crucial role in the development of the Youth Parliament of Malawi from its inception. This year, the Parliament of Malawi has wholly financed the session by providing meals in the Parliament cafeteria, securing accommodation for the members of the House and in collecting them from their constituencies. The resolutions passed in the Youth Parliament are taken up to the Parliamentary Committee of Social and Community Affairs, led by Hon. Richard Chimwendo-Banda, MP, which discusses the resolutions before tabling them in the main House.

Malawi is a member of the Youth Assembly of the United Nations and as such, the members of the Youth Parliament do attend international conferences on the continent. At the beginning of a session, the members of the Youth Parliament discuss the pertinent matters being faced by the youth and independently agree on the matters to be discussed. The House is then divided randomly into a government side and an opposition side. A motion is presented, seconded and debated before the emerging resolutions are presented to the Chairperson of the Social and Community Affairs Committee. The matters discussed in this session were:

1.    Corruption in Malawi

1.1.  Causes of corruption in Malawi

1.2.  How corruption affects the youth

1.3.  What should be done to create a corrupt-free generation in Malawi

1.4.  The role of the youth in the fight against corruption

2.    Youth migration, child trafficking, prostitution and pornography

2.1.  High occurrences of child trafficking in Malawi

2.2.  Youth migration in search of work

2.3.  Prostitution as a source of livelihood

2.4.  Potential solutions

3.    Environmental management and conservation

3.1.  Disruption of classes following natural disasters

3.2.  Government’s ability to enforce environmental laws and policies

3.3.  Youth involvement in environmental programmes

3.4.  Potential solutions

4.    Facilities availed to the youth

4.1.  Youth community extension workers

4.2.  Involvement of the youth by non-governmental organisations and local councils

4.3.  Utilisation of former Malawi Young Pioneer bases by the youth

5.    Energy and mining

5.1.  Involvement and participation of the youth in mining

5.2.  Reliable electrical supply

5.3.  Potential solutions

The proceedings on Thursday were a delight to witness. The Youth Parliamentarians were respectful and shared a quirky sense of humour. One of the Parliamentarians drew an applause from his fellow members when he said that he as a Youth Parliamentarian is suffering as a result of poor shelter. We laughed as humans usually do when we have to protect ourselves from matters that are difficult to absorb immediately. We knew the weightiness of the problem but we were expectant that his next words would go to The Privileges Committee instead. The honourable member did not ask that Parliament constructs a house for him.

The deliberations on child trafficking pinpointed poverty as the primary factor leading to children being trafficked within Malawi or across the borders to earn an income in marginal working conditions. According to Malawi24.com, a report released by Eye of the Child in April 2017 highlighted that “[out] of 58 cases of child trafficking that were reported in the study … 18 traffickers were brought to court, [of which] only 9 traffickers were convicted and sentenced.” The young Parliamentarian who cited the research concluded the point by saying that Malawi is lacking strong legal structures to handle the child trafficking cases with the necessary expediency.

The child trafficking situation in the country is closely linked to the problem of youth migration. Many young people, including myself, are compelled to seek employment in more developed countries, of which South Africa is a favoured destination. To clarify, this is not just a problem affecting the youth, it is a problem affecting Malawi’s workforce. Looking at the pay structure in Malawi in both formal and informal settings, it is no surprise that many people who really don’t want to leave find it near impossible to stay. Having listened to the argument, it is clear that Malawi is going through a silent talent management crisis. If the voice of the Youth Parliament is not heeded in the main House, the country stands to lose in the medium- to long-term.

The House also heard that in one district, an average of 25 young men and women are visiting the District Council on a business day to seek travel documents so they can go seek greener pastures that are commensurate with their aspirations. In all fairness, can you really blame them for wanting a better future? Our forefathers were ecstatic driving 4×4 vehicles due to challenging road conditions; yet this generation grew up listening to “Aston Martin Music” and dreaming of arriving at their primary school in a Rolls Royce Dawn so they can make a speech on how they made it on career day.

The discussion reminded me of Bank Alert by P-Square, an African music video that perfectly speaks to youth migration. In the video, the hero, who is not gracefully dressed, is telling the heroine that he must leave Nigeria for a year so he can make an earnest living before returning to ask for her hand in marriage. As he is having this rather sensitive conversation with the love of his love, the potential father-in-law comes out of the house. Annoyed that this seemingly poor man is whispering sweet-nothings into his daughter’s ear, he rushes back into the house to pick up a saw. Fully invigorated, he chases the hero away. The next frame opens with the title “5 years later”, the hero is now flying in a private jet back to Nigeria. He is welcomed at the airport with an entourage of Range Rover Vogues and Mercedes Benz G-class wagons. He inspects the lanes of homes that he has built whilst abroad before being escorted by Police to the home of his heroine. The potential father-in-law that chased him previously, now welcomes the hero and cannot stop throwing the cash that his potential son-in-law brought in the air. The mother is dancing the best she knows how. The heroine is the envy of the community. As a present, he hands her a Range Rover Evoque. His shameful departure is now met with jubilation.

The moral of the story is this: if the hero had not left Nigeria, he could have not been the man he knew himself to be nor could he have made the investments. The music video accurately portrays the aspirational psychology of our generation. Our forefathers did not have to leave home to achieve their aspirations. However, that Malawi is now a relic of the past. The larger question at hand for policymakers is: can Malawi sufficiently accommodate the aspirations and talents of its youth?

As in the music video, the youth don’t want to leave on a one way ticket, they actually want to invest in their native countries prior to their eventual return. In addition, the native country benefits from the mental expansion that their citizens experience whilst abroad. Think about it, what would the founder of this nation have been, had he never left home in his youth? Did he not come back? Did Malawi not benefit from his exposure abroad? Is it not the story of several of Malawi’s Presidents? Is it not the story of our generation?

Looking at the Youth Parliament, I understood how different they are from those who came before them. They were from all regions, tribes and socioeconomic strata, yet they worked together for the good of the country. Their debates could have been more thorough to encompass many more views on the issues they discussed, but what do you expect from an education system that does not expand the minds of the students beyond the examinable material? There is a need to develop not only the Members of the Youth Parliament, but all young Malawians, to be well versed on the challenges they face into the foreseeable future. The Youth Parliament is selected on merit and is therefore a decent barometer on the quality of education in the country.

However, no story is complete without its villains. The Speaker of the Youth Parliament reported that a certain publication deliberately and maliciously misquoted a member of the House. It was a sad moment for the future of Malawi. The underhanded tactics usually used by the media in the mainstream political environment were now attacking the very future of the country that they need to develop. The closing remarks of the Leader of the house were memorable. She said that the Youth Parliament was not in the House for politics, but rather for national development

 

This story has been written in the spirit of #malotoathu.

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