What the future holds for youths

What the future holds for youths

AT the core of Vision 2020 is a fundamental question: “How do Basotho envision their future?”
The document gives several scenarios.
The first is that of Melupi, a time of “political stability, effective public sector management and favourable trends in investment”.
The second is “Declining investment”, a period of khomo ha likae batho re bangata.

The third is “Weak public sector management” which is the time of metse e metle liotloana.
Lesupi, the period of “Political instability, weak public sector management, declining investment”, is the final scenario.
Chapter 4 of the Vision 2020 closes with an observation that Melupe is the “best scenario which portrays the desired future of the Kingdom.”
Given these scenarios it is perhaps crucial to ask what the future holds for our young people in relation to youth economic empowerment (entrepreneurship, skills development and jobs).

The National Youth Policy of 2017 estimates that there are 602 160 youths in Lesotho.
That amounts to around 30 percent of the population, according to the latest census figures.
The youth unemployment rate stands at a staggering 35.8 percent.

The situation is worse in the rural areas, according to the United Nations Lesotho Human Development Report of 2015.
The National Reforms roadmap says “a country that has been crossing through rivers of despair and desperation, turns a new leaf, scales mountains of faith and hope and descends into valleys of success and progress”.

Given that bold declaration you would think the time for real progress to Basotho youth economic empowerment has arrived.
Yet the reality and the prospects look grim. You could say 2018 is a period of khomo ha likae batho re bangata. The numbers don’t lie. Youth economic empowerment interventions have declined to almost zero.

We have also reached a period of metse e metle liotloana which is an existence of an ineffective public service with marvelous policy documents that gobble public funds in their development and consultancy yet result in little dividends.
With acute Youth unemployment, Lesotho is into a period of Lesupi.

Today’s reality dictates that youths not only start businesses but also, sadly enough, create the right environment for that business to survive and thrive.
It would not be fear mongering to predict that social and political unrest is imminent as a result of the disempowerment of the youth.
Tensions are already simmering. Campaigns like #helpmefindwork and #NMDSloansmustfall clearly indicate that Lesotho’s walls of peace and stability are cracking rapidly precisely because youth economic empowerment has never been a top priority.

The reforms roadmap is guided by the theme: “The Lesotho we want” which is not far away from the Vision 2020’s question of “How do Basotho envision their future?”
The reforms agenda is however skewed towards all things the youth view as political: Constitution, Parliament, Judiciary, Security and Public Service.
This leads to a question as to who the reforms are likely to serve. Is it those with jobs or those without?
Could it be those reigning as heads of Government or their subordinates?

The proposed reforms agenda is essential but what remains even more vital to the majority of the youth is a holistic approach to the economic issues.
Sadly, possibilities of entrenching economic issues into the reforms remain rather gloomy as reforms into economic issues or business climate are not part of the objectives of the National Reforms Commission Bill of 2018.

The Lesotho we want is characterized by leading fully economically empowered livelihoods. This is how we envision the present and future of Lesotho.
It is perhaps, in inference, worth discussing the ideal picture of the reforming economic or business climate which is attributable to youth economic empowerment.

The fundamental argument in the economic reforms is based on liberalizing our weak economy by simplifying regulations into starting and operating a business.

There is absolutely no economic empowerment sense for a country confronted by such high youth unemployment rate to charge a whopping M250 to license sole proprietors and a staggering M530 for company registration.

We have arguably some of the most expensive licensing fees in Southern African.
The Lesotho National Youth Policy articulates in its wish list that at least by 2026 youth unemployment rate will be standing at no more than 15 percent.

The same policy embraces the view that the youth should be granted at least 25 percent preference to public sector opportunities. But this calls for a serious uprooting of nepotistic and corrupt practices in the public sector.

China, India and Cuba are some of countries that pioneered economic reforms. The result if that the three countries have low youth unemployment rates: China (10.8 percent), India (10.2 percent) and Cuba (5.8 percent).

China, Cuba and India are just a testimony that a country that goes beyond rhetoric about youth economic empowerment can actually harvest fruitful dividends from its investment in youth.

We should do the same if we are to avoid a looming disaster.

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.

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