In the city centre the other day I saw a truck full of ZANU-PF youth militia. I didn’t want to look because the sight of them made me scared. I feared (irrationally) that if I locked eyes with one of the young boys he would pull out a gun and shoot me. Yet, I wanted to see these young boys individually and collectively so I could get a sense of what they look like, even what they feel. I didn’t lock eyes. Perhaps my fear won out, but more I think failure to lock eyes was because these young boys don’t have eyes. Of course, I don’t mean that literally. They have eyes. Eagle eyes in fact, which seek out innocent citizens. Just that their eyes seemed hollow. Vacant. Almost as if their eyes signaled the ways brainwashing has stripped them of their own self. As I walked away, my entire body felt sick thinking about a governmental spin which would claim these young boys as graduates of a successful youth empowerment programme.
The above is a reaction to a particular (twisted) approach to empowerment. That disclaimer stated, I’m not a fan of the broader directions empowerment has been going. Things seem out of balance. The prevailing focus is towards empowering youth with less thought and action put into empowering adults. But of course, how can there be adult empowerment when nearly every adult is busy with youth empowerment. To me this is giving rise to empowerment overload. Perhaps being an adult empowerer of the youth is empowering. But still, a conundrum seems present in Zimbabwe: An adult generation that tends to look outward, and perhaps even an adult generation that tends to see the youth as the only individuals worthy of empowerment. Further complicating empowerment overload is expectation that one becomes an adult empowerer of the youth at an early age. I’m struck by the great many Zimbabweans in their early 20s involved in empowering the youth. These kids are in their early 20s. Why have they so quickly graduated to being the empowerers?
I’m thinking out-of-balance empowerment overload got going in synch with statistical geniuses emerging in full force from the HIV/AIDS industry. There’s no doubt analyses concerning declining life expectancies and shifting population age demographics are valuable in understanding the impacts of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. This data speaks effectively to loss of human capacity and the ensuing ripple effects on economic sectors, governance, and sociocultural dynamics. But there was danger with the resulting label: Lost Generation. I cannot help but wonder what emotional and psychosocial effects these analyses have had on members of the “lost generation” who have remained alive. Possibly, the label has numbed adults into giving up on themselves in favour of channeling all energies towards empowering the youth.
The ZANU-PF youth I began with are, in my mind, victims of empowerment gone very, very wrong. I can’t emphasize that enough. I don’t think there could be anything more disturbing than empowering one human being to kill another. It’s not a perfectly parallel example, yet, I think it’s worth considering the more subtle misdirection potentially embedded in out-of-balance empowerment overload, to ask the question: Who’s empowering adults in Zimbabwe?