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The Importance of Youth Engagement in Malawi
November 17, 2020

On August 12, 2020, U.S. Embassy Lilongwe led a digital discussion on youth engagement.

In honor of International Youth Day, the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe led a video panel to discuss the importance of youth engagement and leadership. U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Robert Scott was joined by YALI alumni Tendai Banda, Linda Malilo, Tadala Chinkwezule, Charles Lipenga, Temwa Chirembo, and Alfred Kankuzi. The panelists shared how they are working to engage youth in their communities and how we can all have more of an impact on youth development.

What is the definition of ‘youth’?

The panel opened with a question about the very definition and nature of youth. Chinkwezule elaborated on the fact that the definition of youth is very diverse and cannot be pinned down to simply one definition. The United Nations defines “youth” as a person between the ages of 15 and 24; however, Chinkwezule argued that the term “youth” can encompass people up to the age of 35. Moreover, Kankuzi agreed with Chinkwezule regarding the murky area of classification for “youth.” Kankuzi added that in some cases, youth is not just a matter of the age bracket, but other factors such as forward-thinking ideas and ingenuity.

Young people are often accused of talking too much on social media and not being involved enough with their communities or politics. How do you analyse this statement in terms of the recent 2019 election in Malawi?

Lipenga opened the discussion, stating that he had seen many protests around the country since last year’s elections in Malawi. These protests, he made clear, could not have happened without the help and involvement of youth throughout Malawi. For Lipenga, the Malawian youth have done a great job in recent years of advocating for positive change and reform within the government.

Kankuzi agreed with Lipenga, stating that since 2019, youth’s involvement in social media has actually been a good thing. Kankuzi argued that this generation of youth grew up in a world dominated by globalization and the internet but have been using this experience as a way to increase communication and awareness of civic engagement.

Chirembo and Malilo added that it’s uplifting to see the youth use their voices across social media to speak out and educate their communities. Within Malawi, roughly 80% of the population lives in rural areas, so this social media outreach has helped to widely distribute political messages and civic engagement. Additionally, social media’s connection to politics has helped to engage the new, younger generation in civic discussions and decisions. For the panelists, social media has shown that young people are involved in politics, in new and exciting ways.

How can we help encourage the participation of youth in elective positions? What more can we do to prepare youth for meaningful contributions?

Chinkwezule voiced that as a globe, we should undertake massive training programs for youth to encourage participation and strength. She stated that programs such as YALI empower youth to think outside the box. Malilo agreed, comparing the necessity for further youth involvement to the necessity for female involvement in politics. She stated that we, as a global community, need a similar push for young people to become more involved in politics; however, she sees it as an obstacle that many young people do not have the courage or confidence within them to speak up and voice their opinions. Because of this, Malilo emphasised the importance of civic education programs for young people to show that their voices and opinions are heard.

To learn more about this discussion, you can watch the full webinar here. 

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author, panelists, or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Network or the U.S. government.