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African Experiences of Youth in Political Violence - Can Zimbabwe Refuse this Option?


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History tells us that politically motivated violence occurs in every society at some point during its existence. Be it in time of independence or rebellion, young people invariably play a role in perpetrating acts of violence. Indeed, in weak and emerging societies, political leaders sometimes play a subversive role in manipulating and mobilising young people to violently realise and further their own political objectives.

Mobilising youth to commit political violence is not an inherently African problem, but is common in many societies around the world. With the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe, this post offers an African perspective on the mobilisation of youth in political violence.

Young men and women get involved in violence for diverse and context-specific reasons. The prevailing theme in the commentary on youth and violence is that exclusion and lack of opportunities faced by young people leads to disillusionment and, in some cases, their participation in violence. Unemployment, insufficient educational opportunities, poor governance and social marginalisation can lead to the deep disaffection of youth in society, increasing the likelihood of them resorting to anti-social activity and engagement in violence.

However, it is important to recognise that there are many contexts where youth suffer from high levels of exclusion but do not participate in violence. One may ask, what distinguishes those who are mobilised from those who remain on the periphery? Analysing other African contexts of political violence from which Zimbabwe may learn, there are a number of discernible factors that, taking into account the above-mentioned underlying conditions of social exclusion, can lead to youth being mobilised to engage in violence.