Social movements are transcending the localised approach that has helped them gain traction in the past. Many are joining hands with like-minded organisations, combining ideologies with their neighbouring countries to both literally and figuratively cross borders. They are finding that leveraging local action and grassroots initiatives can dynamo impactful inter-country collaboration.
We spoke to Youth4Parliament representative Mary Mwaba about minority inclusion, the need for meaningful youth participation, and trans-border collaboration.
TIA: Thank you for speaking with us Mary. Could you start by telling us about your work?
I am a Youth and Gender Activist under Youth4Parliament (Y4P), which is a grassroots social movement in Zambia that advocates for increased meaningful participation of youths in governance and politics. The movement’s primary objective is to empower youths to recognise their potential in effecting positive transformation within their local communities. It also serves as a platform for youth engagement, encouraging them to harness their collective strength and drive meaningful change at both the local and national levels.
With a membership exceeding 60,000, Y4P includes young parliamentarians already serving in the national assembly.
TIA: That’s incredible, how exactly did you build such a large membership base?
We work with young people directly through community-based meetings. We do one on ones or find interactive touch-points, for example when we go to rural areas, we organise activities at the sports ground, and so forth.
TIA: And the young parliamentarian members you spoke of, what is their role or relationship with Y4P?
Y4P is not active in parliament. Instead, we helped young people who would go on to form a caucus that speaks on behalf of youth, get elected in the 2021 general elections. They help push the youth agenda on issues such as climate, youth participation, universal rights, and so on. Ultimately the main reason we have a youth focus is to push the youth agenda, so they’re more like our allies in bridging the gap between the youth and National Assembly.
TIA: ‘Universal rights’ brings an interesting aspect to mind. What is Y4P’s definition of ‘youth’? And how does it prioritise inclusivity and facilitate the engagement of minority groups? For example, people living with disabilities can only participate when their individual barriers are accounted for.
We’ve adopted the general definition of youth being someone who is 18 to 35 years of age. Anyone who falls under this range regardless of political party, male or female, where they are from, as long as they are within that age and have interests in politics. That’s all we care about. We work with every youth.
To your point of inclusivity, we collaborate with youth-led organisations that already focus on a given demographic. Using your example of people living with disabilities, there’s a youth-led organisation called Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities that helps us. Another one is the Center for Young Leaders in Africa (CYLA- Zambia), a project pushing for a mixed-member electoral system because we acknowledge that they (PWDs) are disadvantaged when participating in governance. After all, their challenges are not the same as every other youth.
Additionally, a project called Girls Gone Political focuses on increasing the meaningful participation of young women in politics. At Y4P we’re always ensuring that we have a gender balance in our programs. Every meeting it’s mandatory, especially in the communities, we make it known that we need a gender balance as people are coming to participate. We don’t care whether you’re a mother, let everyone be free to come through. We take deliberate actions to ensure we have more women participating, considering their challenges which are a bit different from just being a youth.
Also, people from the community (LGBTQ+), for us it’s not even an issue. We have them and we’ve made an environment where everyone has to accept the person just as they would any other person. We engage them in that manner as well.
Then we developed a mixed-member electoral system toolkit to analyse the current state of affairs and suggest ways in which we can make the political environment favourable. We encourage a lot of collaboration to ensure that we bring in every youth.
TIA: How can you say your work has grown? What are some of the things that you’re able to do better or weren’t able to do initially and can now do more effectively?
The first thing was it was a bit challenging to reach out to other young people across the country. One, because we don’t handle finances (at the moment). Any support that comes through either comes in the form of material support or in cases where we need direct support like venues, transportation, and whatnot, the funds have to go through a registered organisation that can audit how we spend those funds.
Now at least, with the exposure and a lot of partners coming on board and a lot of organisations and individuals believing in the idea and wanting to support it, we are receiving some financial and technical support. Also, because of the network we’ve created starting from the parliamentarians and NGOs that have become open to working with social movements, there’s been an expansion on how we operate and where we operate.
TIA: Speaking of your growing capacity, network, and partnerships, what are some of the things that you’re hoping to achieve soon?
We just don’t want to limit our work to Zambia. We’re a Pan-African movement interested in ensuring that each young person across Africa, realises the power they have in making and influencing decisions.
We’ve actually taken a step towards that by launching Youth4Parliament in Malawi. It was a natural step because many of the problems that young people face especially in Zambia are way similar to those that are faced by young people in Malawi. We’ve also helped the Malawi chapter establish Y4P Malawi by sharing information on how we started, how we’ve reached this far, and how they can do better than we did.
We are pushing young people to think outside their country. The issue of a Borderless Africa isn’t something that most young people (at least in Zambia) pay much attention to
In addition, we are pushing young people to think outside their country. The issue of a Borderless Africa isn’t something that most young people (at least in Zambia) pay much attention to. But it is an important link to how they progress, how they operate in the next three years, to five years. We show them how issues that might look global don’t just affect those people that are rich or older people that are traveling frequently but your livelihood as young people and your access to opportunities.
TIA: We know that Y4P has a relationship with Africans Rising who are a huge advocate and connector for a Borderless Africa. You’ve already highlighted how that relationship has informed your aspirations, how else has it affected your activities?
Our relationship with Africans Rising started when we won the Africans Rising Social Movement of the Year Award in 2021. That was an election year for us and we did a lot of mobilisation for youths who wanted to participate as counsellors, members of parliament, council chairs, and mayors and agitated for meaningful youth participation and informed voting. After that mass mobilisation, it was reported that Zambian youths were responsible for changing the regime by voting more than any other generation. Which is how we were recognised and nominated for the award that we were voted into.
Because we won, we hosted a general meeting in Lusaka where issues that would be discussed during the African Movements Assembly (AMA) 2022 were submitted. This also gave Africans Rising an opportunity to witness our impact and partnerships first-hand. They saw the organisations we work with such as Global Platform Zambia which is a youth hub, and ActionAid Zambia, the local youth who form our membership and grassroots social movements we partner with. They also came to understand how we’ve managed to hold our principles of not holding money but effectively implementing the majority of our activities. In the end, we identified some of the opportunities and collaboration, which we continue to partner on.
TIA: As we reflect on Pan-Africanism and moving past borders, this year Africans Rising launched the African Liberation Week to mobilise citizen movements and build solidarity and unity of purpose across the continent. What are your thoughts about it, what did Y4P’s participation look like?
The African Liberation Week was amazing to start with, even though our environment is different now. We’ve had issues with protests in the past. It affected every other protest that followed- you can’t hold a protest if you don’t get permission 14 days before the activity, you have to go to the council for interviews about why you’re holding that protest, planning and receiving funds like five days before the activity so then now you have to panic, you have to deal with the law, you have to deal with the police, etc.
We believe a borderless Africa is another way of fighting different inequalities that exist
Nevertheless, we managed to organise the continent-wide event. What was amazing about it is, after pitching the idea to some of our partners and participants, they were willing to come on board (despite the challenges). Fight Inequality came through and said, ‘Oh we would love to partner with you because we agree with this agenda, and we believe a borderless Africa is another way of fighting different inequalities that exist.’ It aligned with their vision and their values. They also came on board and sponsored part of the activities and helped us find venues for some of the pre-protest activities so that we could talk to as many young people as we could about what Borderless Africa is and why we should promote it. It also helped us with greater technical support for our virtual meetings.
We reached out to other organisations also and preached the idea. Of course, others weren’t interested, but others were, so they were like, “Okay, we have young people we work with, even ourselves we can come through.” They even connected us with other media people that were interested and they came on board.
TIA: It sounds like it was challenging but gratifying in the end. What do you think might come from it?
The whole process reached some of the intended stakeholders including Parliament. I think it also reached some representatives at the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also, in our correspondence and interactions with MPs, we emphasised that they find a way of sharing this information with the President.
We had many bystanders join the protest and ask what it was about, and they thought it was something they’d love to support. Up to now, people still check-in in the groups like, “How far are we with borderless Africa?” People are still signing the petition and it has made Africans Rising, our movement, and those we are collaborating with more known in Zambia.
It also reignited the unity of purpose, bringing young people back into the spirit of Pan-Africanism, and appreciating that there’s so much more we can do to it. I think Liberation Week created that environment for it.
TIA: What will we find in your next chapter?
We look forward to having young people penetrate leadership spaces in the governance and politics space but not just any other young people but young people that are going to push the Pan-Africanism agenda. We want to nurture a breed of young people that are rooted in pan-Africanism. As Y4P, we are unapologetic about the youth revolution, we want young people in leadership and governance that are capable but also visionaries. One day, it might not be now, it might be 50 years from now, we will have equal representation that is meaningful.
Youth4Parliament is a grassroots social movement in Zambia that advocates for increased meaningful participation of youths in governance and politics. The movement’s primary objective is to empower youths, enabling them to recognise their potential in effecting positive transformations within their local communities. With a membership exceeding 60,000, Youth4Parliament comprises young parliamentarians already serving in the national assembly. The movement serves as a platform for youth engagement, encouraging them to harness their collective strength and drive meaningful change at both the local and national levels.
About Mary Mwaba
She is a passionate Youth and Gender Activist from Zambia who graduated from the University of Zambia and is part of the Core Team of Zambia’s largest Grassroots Youth Social Movement. She tirelessly campaigns for meaningful youth participation in Zambia’s governance system. Above youth advocacy and propelling the youth into governance, Mary’s work focuses on creating equal opportunities, dismantling barriers, and promoting inclusive policies for youths.