By Marko Phiri
BULAWYO, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mikah Mbewe performed dismally in his high school examinations and decided the next best thing to make sure he could find a good job was to get a driver’s license.
He has been trying for three years without success.
“I just don’t have the money,” the 21-year-old said. Officials at the Vehicle Registration Department demand bribes to issue driver’s licenses.
“I know they actually have a schedule for the amounts one must pay for different kinds of driver’s licenses.”
A learner’s license goes for $20. The bribe climbs to $300 for small vehicles, $400 for heavy trucks, and for buses up to $500, Mbewe explained.
Instead of his dream job, Mbewe is selling sweets on the streets of Bulawayo’s central business district, despairing that he can ever earn enough for a license.
A new Transparency International-Zimbabwe (TI-Z) survey released this month found that 65 percent of young people say they have been asked to pay a bribe for public services, ranging from issuance of driver’s licenses to passports and national identity cards. The Vehicle Inspection Department was cited as the most frequent institution demanding bribes, followed by education and police.
And young people feel powerless. The TI-Z report found that 49 percent of the youths surveyed said they believe they “cannot make a difference in the fight against corruption,” because they lack political power.
“Everything is for sale here,” said Tinashe Marufu, a 26- year-old teacher. He has given up waiting in long queues for a passport and cannot afford the $150 bribe to expedite the process.
Disillusionment from corruption is concerning in a country where 77 percent of the population is under 35, the report said.
"To secure the future of youths there is need to safeguard the culture of accountability, integrity and good governance," the report, led by TI-Z researcher Farai Mutuondoro, said.
Zimbabwe is not alone with high levels of corruption experienced by youth, said Rosie Slater, spokeswoman for the global, anti-corruption group Transparency International. A report focusing on youth and corruption in four Asian countries found that up to 72 percent of young people “would engage in corruption for personal gain.”
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe for years has decried the scourge, though critics say little is done to address allegations of corruption amongst top government officials.
The TI-Z survey also found that young people said signing petitions was a waste of time because advocacy had little effect on the current government.
Alex Magaisa, who teaches law at Kent University, said political disillusionment among the generation of future leaders in Zimbabwe is indicative of a broader crisis in governance. But he is not surprised given that even professionals such as lawyers have been caught in corruption scandals.
“This is a reflection of the culture of corruption now dominant in Zimbabwe,” Magaisa said.
Another recent survey by research group Afrobarometer found that Zimbabweans had lost faith in the country’s institutions to deal with corruption, with a fifth of the respondents saying nothing would be done even if they reported corruption.
The TI-Z report was based on a survey of 750 young men and women aged between 15 and 35 from different economic strata and regions of the country, questionnaires and focus group discussions.
(Editing by Stella Dawson and Leslie Gevirtz)