Author: Gillies C. Kasongo, March 4 2015 - Youth unemployment remains a major challenge in Southern Africa, threatening the region’s socio-economic development.

Although youth constitute the majority of the population in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), they still grapple with a vast array of challenges that end up making them appear insignificant in the region’s development. 

According to the United Nations Regional Overview, youth unemployment in selected SADC countries is very high. This problem is most pronounced in the rural areas where most youths especially from poor backgrounds cannot even imagine themselves finding employment anywhere, let alone in the cities. 

Young people still struggle to acquire the necessary experience and expertise required to exert themselves in the market place. Providing for their families, fighting disease and hunger and securing their own career development becomes difficult, when most of them are out of employment or cannot employ themselves.

Confronted with lack of appropriate education qualification, unemployment hinders the youngsters from furthering their education through skills acquisition opportunities. 

These challenges are exacerbated by the political and social structures that are characterised by the centralized civil service and weakened service delivery at local levels.  

For instance, a country like Malawi, which has inadequate capacity to compute those out of employment including youth, 80 percent of secondary school leavers in Malawi return to their villages every year as they can neither find jobs nor employ themselves. 

This coupled with the challenging legal frameworks and red tape syndrome, among others, in the region, creates an environment that haunts the potential of young people to find opportunities to advance themselves and contribute to socioeconomic development initiatives.

As we commemorate 2015 World Radio Day, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) recognises the potential that community radio stations provide in addressing some of these challenges. The potential of community radio stations goes beyond creating platforms for dialogue to providing career and job opportunities for people based in the rural areas who would probably have never found an opportunity to work in the urban set up. 

As part of the Radio Platform for Citizen Participation Project, a PSAf team interacted with several rural based-young people who are working for Community Radio Stations in Malawi. Intelligent and highly motivated young people have gotten hooked into the running of community radio stations and are developing skills on the job as broadcasters and producers. 

Most of these young people, though working as volunteers and part timers, have found an opportunity for career advancement in an environment where there seemed to be nothing for them to do. The 15 licensed community radio stations in Malawi could provide viable opportunities for youth empowerment. 

With support from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), PSAf is working on enhancing capacity of community radio stations and their staff and volunteers in content development in Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, thereby creating an opportunity for the young community radio staff and volunteers to develop skills in content development and radio programming.

Participatory radio thus has increased the quantity of programmes featuring the voices of the rural and marginalised groups, and enabled the station to attract new listeners while retaining the existing one. 

There are many examples of the impact of radio on community empowerment and youth. However, over a billion people the world over, still has no access to radio, a good portion are found in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Zambia and other SADC countries will do well to reflect over this year’s World Radio Day that focuses on “Youth and Radio”.

There is need for cooperating partners and other stakeholders to strategically forge partnerships with community radio stations dotted across the region to galvanise the potential that they present in addressing some of the socio-economic challenges of the region. 

It cannot be overemphasised that community radio stations are good allies for community empowerment and development in Southern Africa. PSAf believes in the power of community radio stations in improving the lives of the poor and the marginalised communities of our society because they are based in the community where the people are. 

In an environment where most of the population is rural-based, the need to support community media and community radios in particular cannot be overstressed. 

Gillies Kasongo is PSAf’s Senior Programme Officer for Media Development and ICTs. For feedback, email