FELIX NKINKE, Lusaka
YOUTHS are believed to be future leaders who shoulder the burden of carrying the development flag into the future. As such, any programmes or projects initiated to enhance their integration into society so that they play a meaningful role are quite crucial.
Government, in recent times, has implemented various statutory instruments and policies to specifically empower the youth in the country.
The birth of the Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission, which has a youth empowerment component, and the creation of the Youth Development Fund (YDF), are key elements in youth enhancement in the country.
However, despite these initiatives being in place, some rural-based young people are not aware that such programmes exist. Many feel there is no thoughtful attempt by local authorities to enlighten target groups on these positive initiatives.
â€œIâ€™m not really sure whether I know that such programmes to help young people exist. All what I heard is that there is money which Government gives young people for business,â€ said Moses Muti, a craftsman and trader.
Mr Muti, who is in his mid-20s, is among dozens of youths trading in wooden goods at BP Filling Station at the T-junction of the Mongu-Kaoma-Mumbwa roads in Western Province. Youths at this popular trading spot sell different wooden merchandise like hoes, axes, stools, bow and arrows as well as walking sticks, among other items.
These wooden merchandise are usually bought by motorists travelling between Lusaka and Mongu. A few local people also buy these items but most of the customers are people outside Kaoma district.
â€œWe have big challenges to conduct our businesses profitably and more importantly to move from this stage to another level. Our market base is very small and confined to motorists travelling from Lusaka to Mongu. Itâ€™s not helping in any way,â€ Mr Muti said.
But this is not all. Chipoya Kalipe, another trader, cited the lack of finances as another major cause of stagnation in their businesses.
â€œWe need money to grow our businesses so that we support our families, but where to get this money is a big problem. Here in Kaoma it is difficult to borrow money from anyone because many people just run small businesses to support themselves,â€ he said.
When asked if he was not aware of any government programmes that empower young people with money to grow their businesses, Mr Kalipe just shook his head. â€œNo, I have not heard anything about these programmes. Itâ€™s news to me.â€
The lack of information on youth empowerment programmes is shared by many rural-based young people who want to work hard to improve their livelihoods.
According the 2010 Central Statistical Office population data, of the over 13 million people in Zambia today, about 35 percent are young people aged between 16 and 35, meaning the countryâ€™s population is mostly youthful.
This development has posed a huge challenge to the country which is now facing high unemployment levels among youths, thus becoming imperative for Government to seek solutions to the problem so that young people can be empowered economically.
The Citizens Economic Empowerment Act No. 9 of 2006 is principally aimed at uplifting the lives of targeted citizens who have suffered marginalisation. It is meant to level the playing field and raise the citizens to a position where they can effectively participate in national development.
The youth, women and the physically challenged, are at the centre of some key programmes within the Act.
On the other hand, the YDF, a tool aimed at empowering youths with capacity and finances through a revolving fund and grant support, is in place across the country for vulnerable young people who are in need of support.
This revolving fund is open to all the youth. Youth groups, co-operatives, associations and enterprises including youth non-governmental organisations that meet the set benchmarks are eligible to access funds from this pool.
â€œWhat is required for me and other youths to get hold of these funds? We have no sufficient information regarding this youth fund. We need people to come and engage us so that we weigh our chances of getting loans or grants,â€ Mr Kalipe said.
He also wondered whether or not rural-based youths have the ability to meet the required eligibility criteria set for one to access the YDF.
According to the YDF guideline manual, the journey to access a loan or a grant begins with the filling in of an application form which should be accompanied by a copy of a valid business name or company registration and those of co-operatives and associations.
Senior office-bearers should provide a curriculum vitae, valid licence of operation, copies of national registration cards (NRCs) and proof of physical address of business and banking details.
The YDF should demonstrate how the money will be utilised and how the project will contribute to their empowerment. Also, key in this regard is to show the ability to wisely manage the resources.
The die has been cast and it is rolling on the table. Government has set benchmarks for accessing the YDF and the monies are up for grabs by youths countrywide.
For youths like Mr Kalipe and Mr Muti, along with others at the Mongu-Kaoma-Mumbwa T-junction, their cry is to have someone explain to them how they can access the YDF.
â€œWe are ready to meet officials who can educate us about these funds. Even if it is a loan or grant scheme, we can mobilise ourselves and ensure that we meet what they require,â€ said Masobi Mupunga, another trader.
Indeed, rural-based youths should rise to the occasion for them to be eligible to access the YDF.
Many are of the view that local authorities in various districts should come up with measures to help them access the empowerment funds.
It is deemed world over that micro credit for small-scale entrepreneurs is key to employment and wealth creation for youths who are determined to positively contribute not only to national development but also to their well-being and that of others.
FELIX NKINKE, Lusaka