We demand right to determine future

We demand right to determine future

“Nothing for the youth, about youth, without youth” is a statement coined by youth civil society and much publicised by Lesotho’s civil society since 2017.
It is in the spirit of that statement that the youth assert their responsibility to direct the decisions and leadership of their development.
As the statement clearly shows the youth are demanding a chance to shape and lead their development without middlemen or proxies.
Although youth civil society seems to be making strides in claiming youth development space it is disappointing that the young people in active politics are not using their proximity to power and their clout to achieve the same.
The reference here is to youth leagues of political parties and the Students’ Representative Councils (SRC’s) at tertiary institutions.
They should be screaming the serious problems affecting the youth but they are largely silent or more concerned with enjoying the few crumbs they get from the high tables.
Rarely do we hear them talking about the rampant unemployment, the dire lack of opportunities and the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on their generation.
The youth leagues are close to senior political leaders, their parties’ National Executive Committees (NECs) and government ministers but they are not doing enough to influence the policies that help the youth.
That daunting task of pushing for policies that benefit the youth is left to the civil society that politicians already view with unjustified suspicion.
The youth leagues will promptly issue statements to react to perceived attacks on their leaders and political parties but will never make as much noise about more pertinent issues like unemployment and empowerment.
SRCs will embark on strikes whose foundations are politically partisan not youth economic empowerment.
According to the Youth Development Index (YDI) Lesotho is ranked 14 out of 54 Commonwealth countries on youth political participation.
That impressive ranking translates into massive power for youth political leaders to direct political will yet youth political leagues have not harnessed that clout to change the sorry plight of the youth.
They don’t realize that they have to work towards removing barriers that impede the empowerment of the youth.
Instead of breaking the hurdles they see the youth civil society as an enemy piling undue pressure on their political masters.

Removing tokenism

Economic disempowerment is pushing youth leaders in political parties to desperation and making them vulnerable to exploitation.
Their political masters know that “to control a strong young person, smear their lips with a cheap sugary apricot jam for the youth to lick, that youth will stay focused on the sugar not realising the stomach is still empty.”
The result is that those young people who get close to power are quickly captured. They are lured into silence by a few tokens that give the impression that they are much better than their colleagues. So instead of speaking for their youth they tend to speak for themselves and their leaders.
They have come to believe that it is their role to defend their political masters instead of the youth. They quickly forget that they represent the youth not their political parties and leaders.
It is this misuse and abuse of youth leadership that makes it impossible for the strong participation of the youth in politics to translate into any meaningful development and empowerment of the youth.

Claiming autonomy

The independence of youth political structures is blurred as youth leaders in the political setting are still too dependency on the NECs in which their participation is embarrassingly low. Often there is one youth league member in the NEC.
Little wonder youth issues are not high on the agenda of most NEC meetings.
The party may be one, the colours may be similar, the mandate may be shared by everybody but youths need an autonomous platform to shape party policies and channels of engagement and even to denounce, without fear, the NEC’s incorrect positions and policies on youth.

Removing the traditional and or cultural barriers

Basotho are people who believe in respect for seniority and authority. The society believes that a child should not answer back to an adult.
Those who speak out are regarded as disrespectful even when they have a valid point and they are correct. We value silence more than opinion.
Sadly our terms of defining respect (not speaking out) have manifested into a culture and tradition in which parents (adult leaders) cannot see when their children are suffering.
Under these circumstances one can conclude that adult political leaders are not really feeling the pain the youth are suffering in the face of rampant unemployment, abject poverty and disempowerment.

Dealing with ‘divide and rule’ tactics

The “them and us” mentality that exists between youth civil society and youth political leagues blinds the groups from pursuing a common vision to benefit the youth.
The youths in political leadership are refusing to see the civil society as partners in advocating for the empowerment of the youths.
Youth civil society views youth political leagues as enemies of youth development. On the other hand youth political leagues view youth civil society as stone throwers out to undermine their political leaders with incessant criticism.
In the final analysis all these groups are united by one thing – “youth development.” The animosity between them is clouding their judgement on fundamental issues. Youth political leagues need to realize that youth civil society does not seek to win elections but want to transform societal conditions and build better governance.

l Matsoso is an entrepreneur and executive director of LEAD Youth Empowerment Institute, a non-profit youth development consultancy and think-tank. He writes in his personal capacity.

By: Zwelithini Matsoso

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