A SLOWING Chinese economy, a slump in copper prices and electricity shortages are currently making things look bleak for Zambia’s future. But then you meet the country’s future adults.
As global and local leaders gather in the capital Lusaka for a high-level get together on women’s children’s and adolescent’s health, sitting around a closed session round-table meeting almost all of the faces belong to young people.
These individuals were from across Zambian society and were invited to participate in the board meeting for the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) to ask their questions, share their experiences and be part of a conversation that will shape a strategic plan when dealing with the Sustainable Development Goals.
It’s small wonder that they were invited. Zambia’s youth are a force to be reckoned with; currently 82% of Zambia’s population is under 25 – over 10 million individuals – the highest population of youth in the country’s history.
Among those at the table are members of the Zambian Bloggers Network, a 119 person strong community of young Zambian bloggers whose influence stretches across society. Many of the bloggers are journalists but found that the media was still not hitting on some pertinent issues. Topics like sexual health, which are hard to talk about in a country with such a strong conservative Christian element, yet issues of teenage pregnancy and early marriage are rampant in the country.
(Bloggers Doreen Chilumbu Nawa and Mutale Kapekele Ndalama). (Photo/M&GAfrica).
One of the bloggers, Mutale Kapekele Ndalama, said that the network, formally registered in 2011, relies heavily on the goodwill of bloggers - 90% of the time they are simply writing to get a message out or raise awareness around topics from health to business and agriculture. Their dedication to their writing means that as internet costs are coming down in the country, and more and more Zambians are getting online, their voice and ability to affect change will also become powerful.
Whilst the bloggers are forcing society and, particularly, youth to confront controversial subject matter, at the meeting were also two individuals who were raising awareness about rarely discussed, but important, issues. Looking to make them go viral offline.
Brighton Kaoma and Josephine Pumulo co-founded the “Agents of Change” foundation. A really simple concept that gives the youth a voice by training them and getting them onto radios so they can share their own experiences with a large audience.
They try to spread the word on issues of climate change and HIV/Aids - climate change in particular is a subject that rarely gets given much attention by youth in many African countries. Brighton and Josephine said that this is often because it’s thought to be a “myth” or that considered boring, because its impact is not properly recognised.
But they are both deeply passionate and committed to the topic explaining how incidents such as flooding can prevent youth from going to school or how drought can bring power cuts affecting their ability to learn as they walk further distances for fuelwood. Their determination to stir passion amongst youth to stand up is palpable as they describe how “young people inherit the policies and decisions made by adults” so they needed to give the youth a platform. They’ve managed to stretch their reach to incredible proportions; training 100 youth reporters, getting airtime on five different local radio stations and bringing on board 10 radio presenters to act as mentors.
At the roundtable, it was clear that Africa’s heavyweights in the world of the SDGs are listening and determined to get real engagement with this demographic. Graca Machel, the Chair of PMNCH declared that the partnership’s framework is committed to bringing in the youth whilst Katie Taylor, the Board’s co-Chair stated that they would “decide on a formal structure at the meeting on how to involve youth” and that with the youth’s “energy and spirit” she was hopeful that Zambians, and Africans as a whole, would be able to meet these ambitious targets.