By Farai Danny Mhlanga
The lockdown and social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the participation of young people in civic and governance processes. Therefore, young people should leverage on information and communications technologies (ICTs) to improve accountability within governance processes for better disaster management and response. Not only should they use ICTs in times of disaster, but ICTs should be a strategic tool used to improve accountability within governance processes always.
ICTs are a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to create, store, disseminate, communicate and manage information. ICTs make administration more effective by cutting red tape and can remove unnecessary human involvement during public service delivery processes.
Young people have access to some of these technologies such as computers, internet, radio and smartphones that they can use to improve governance processes and promote positive youth development (PYD). These are programmes or methods that seek to empathise, educate and engage with young people in productive activities and optimise youth developmental progress. Nowadays, ICTs play a crucial role in shaping and empowering young people to participate in civic and democratic processes and call the government to action.
Taking into account the current situation and considering that half of Zimbabwe’s population is under the age of 35 and, with reference to the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) Youth Situational Analysis (YSA) 2019, 42% of young people in Zimbabwe own smartphones. This would then imply that there is room for improving government accountability if youths use the available technologies to participate and engage in democratic processes for improved response within government institutions. Young people should use the available ICTs resources within their reach to promote and seek redress and improved accountability from duty-bearers and leverage on its popularity and wide spread use as a means for PYD.
Since most youths are already using ICT as part of their everyday lives, the challenge is to inspire them to use these platforms in a positive and constructive manner that allows for more meaningful participation in civic and democratic processes. In this era of sustainable development, communication and technology are central to development; therefore, there is need for young people to take action and lead in using ICTs effectively for better engagement and participation in governance process in the quest for national development.
How youths can leverage on ICTs for accountability?
Young people should use the existing social media platforms to start online youth movements or to push agendas that help them understand the issues and problems they face so as to have one amplified youth voice that aims at engaging in civic and democratic processes in order to request for accountability.
Online movement building is an important and effective strategy that can be used to improve accountability by putting pressure on government. Many movements in Zimbabwe have been used to drive different political agendas. Young people should build their online movement on Facebook or Twitter. Online movement building makes it easy to recruit and mobilising resources that can be used to engage and participate in governance processes.
Young people should network and partner with various stakeholders in different parts of the world for better resource mobilisation and develop partnerships that provide resources and information on how to work with government to improve accountability. ICTs bridge geopolitical boundaries and bring people together virtually. Young people should be eager and wise enough to connect with other youths, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations that carry out advocacy work so as to gain knowledge on how to participate and engage better in governance processes to improve accountability.
Youths should educate themselves online by taking short online courses that help them understand governance processes within their context. It is not advisable to be radical in nature when engaging with government, but rather impartial. That kind of wisdom can be gained if youths learn more about governance and accountability in order to actively participate and be engaged in political processes. The information is readily available and accessible; but there is need for young people to use it for their benefit and interest to seek for transparency and accountability from government.
Conducting offline and online research on the accountability and answerability of government is of great value and importance in trying to improve civic and democratic processes. After conducting such research, young people should disseminate the key findings and results using the available ICTs in order to clearly communicate the key issues and perceptions so as to identify the gaps and inform policymaking. The shared knowledge and results can be accessed by anyone and can be used to programme, lobby and bid for improved reporting and government responsibility.
Young people should conduct talk shows on YouTube, podcasts, radio and TV channels. On the other hand, young people should also listen, watch and participate in the already existing TV and radio programmes that unpack governance issues for knowledge gain. Talk shows are very informative and youths should take advantage of these platforms so as to understand the need for an inclusive and responsive government.
Young people can conduct or participate in online dialogues with policymakers using the existing virtual platforms in order to attain information and lobby for better policymaking for improved accountability. These dialogues with policymakers can be done via WhatsApp, Zoom, Facebook and Messenger, among others. Online dialogues with policymakers are an entry point for youths to be constructively and actively engaged in civic and democratic processes so as to effectively challenge the status quo and hold the government accountable.
Young people should use ICT to assert themselves in national development processes. By doing so, youths become an increasingly integral part of governance processes, therefore, giving young people more leeway to question government actions or seek information from government officials and institutions. This can be attained if young people recognise and accelerate the use of ICT in development strategies and frameworks in the present and for the future.
ICT opportunities that exist for youths
Youths are technology-savvy, and, therefore have a comparative advantage to use ICT for research and information sharing that can in turn be used for advocacy that informs policy for better service delivery. Most youths spend time on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, among others, but rarely use these platforms to connect with government, development practitioners and other related stakeholders that can facilitate their involvement in national development processes.
ICT poses a great opportunity for youths since they have the qualities and attributes to enable and further PYD through effective ICT use and to find solutions to bridge the digital divide that exists between urban and rural.
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This article was made possible by the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust.