Getting to Know Thabo Phoofolo, The Leader of Lesotho’s Very Own Youth Party

207

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the greatest movements for social justice were started by youth. Lesotho is one of the many countries around the world where youth are realizing that it is important to take a stand and advocate for governmental accountability.

In 2020, through a revolutionary movement called the #BACHASHUTDOWN, a lot of Basotho youth realized that it is important to speak controversial issues and hold leaders accountable for social injustice. Most of all, many youth realized that politics are not reserved for just old people.

Today we shine the Selibeng Spotlight on 34-year-old Thabo Phoofolo, who decided that it is not enough for youth to tweet and make Facebook posts about social injustices. Thabo decided that it is high time youth get represented in the parliament by someone who understands their struggles. It is for this very reason that Mr. Phoofolo decided to form his own party. This is a glimpse into his head.

What inspired your love for politics and what did you do to cultivate that love as a child?

My inspiration comes from my love for my country and people. I love seeing people happy and living with all they need for survival.  One would think that I was a child who was always really focused –  thinking of sustainability and making the world a better place.

It is not like that, because I was a regular bubbly boy. I was very troublesome and if you think about it, what can one do as a boy-child if not to be troublesome and be a teacher’s nightmare?

As I began to grow, I realized that my academic performance was very poor as I couldn’t speak, read and write in both my mother tongue and English because I had a severe speech disorder. Yes, I stutter. We will talk about how I overcome or rather manage my stuttering at later stage.

Despite the problems I came across as a child in my academic journey, I persevered and started to do well and eventually, I got to varsity. Despite my speech disorder, I remember distinctively as a child I wanted to be a lawyer just like my father and help those that couldn’t help themselves in legal matters. Politics was a far-fetched idea for me at the time, as I had not been exposed to them.  My exposure, interest and participation in politics began when I started my varsity.

What distinct achievements have you accumulated in your academic journey that led to love for politics?

As I indicated, my political journey started in varsity. Though in high school I was a hostel prefect and a soccer B-team U18 captain and being a political leader had not yet crossed my mind.

In 2006, I enrolled into a bridging programme at the Motheo FET campus in Bloemfontein. That automatically granted me entrance into the University of the Free State the following year. I graduated from the university in 2011 with a degree in Governance and Political Transformation that consisted of three majors, namely, Political Science, Public Administration and Communication Sciences.

It was during this time when my leadership skills developed and interest in politics was sparked in me. I got involved in several student associations on campus and lead a student organization called Rastafari Allied Student (RAS) for two consecutive years. The organization RAS was mandated to advocate the rights for religious gatherings and practices for minority and indigenous believe systems on campus. 

Because of that, I automatically gravitated towards becoming an active member of the ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League) when Hon. Julius Malema was still ANCYL President and SASCO (South African Students Congress) on campus.

From 2013-15 I furthered my political career, studied, and obtained a Masters’ Degree in International Relations at Jilin University School of International and Public affairs, Jilin Province city of Changchun in the north-east of the People’s Republic of China. During this time, I was nominated to be a class monitor for some of my classes.

When I came back home from school the political climate was not conducive for me. I thus suspended any ideas of being a public servant and sat on my degree. One day, I took out my certificates and started reading my political materials and thoughts of establishing my political party sprung up, that was how it all began.

What is the name of your political party and why did you establish it?

The name of the political organization is called Cannabis Economic Reform (CER).

CER was established in August 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What do I mean by that? CER is an answer to the question of how we as a country and people can recover or rather reform our economy post-covid19. CER was then established to be part of a collective solution towards development post-covid19.

What significant achievements has CER obtain thus far?

CER has conducted several charity events and collaborated with various local NGOs to achieve its objective that is to feed and clothe the more vulnerable and less fortunate in our society.  I will not mention names because charity events are not political instruments. We do it for the love of the country and the people.

As a political party or rather as a collective group of law-abiding citizens, it is our civic and/or social responsibility to help where we can irrespective of different political affiliations. We intend to continue to feed and clothe the less fortunate and vulnerable until we achieve our goal of zero hunger and the complete eradication of poverty.

What sets your party apart?

It is our constitutional right to participate in parliamentary affairs and the development of our country. Having said that let us begin by stating the creation of CER was not to perpetuate division of political ideologies within our society but rather to unite through a common course.

The conversation around the legalization of cannabis in Lesotho is nothing new and CER brings it back into the political spectrum because of its significance as a post-covid19 solution to economic reform. CER believes that the industrialization of cannabis should be part of the National Economic Development Plan as it has a proven economic potential to boost our economy, create new jobs and promote local and international investment.

One would argue that cannabis is legal in Lesotho due to foreign investors coming in numbers to cultivate the crop. From a legal prospective cannabis in Lesotho is still illegal and law permits cultivation when in possession of a license. Cannabis is still under the Narcotics Bureau of Lesotho under the Drugs of Abuse (cannabis regulation) Act. 

The license is an expense and the current legal framework is in favor of foreigners, multinational corporations and rich locals. It is evident that the cannabis industry is a lucrative business; why are our current politicians’ stakeholders?

It is not that CER differs from other political parties, in fact, we understand CER as that missing link between all political parties. All political parties promise economic growth, social development and the eradication of poverty but none say how they plan to achieve this when the country is in so much debt.

CER is of the opinion that the country can no longer continue being reliant on foreign direct investments and we need to produce as a country. Thus, we believe when properly regulated in the best interest of the country and people, the commercialization of cannabis can simultaneously grant us the people the opportunity to own our production and contribute directly to the country’s GDP. Bring back the power into the hands of the people.

How does CER plan to change Lesotho?

I hear this question a lot and my answer remains the same. Not one political party or person can change the situation in Lesotho. It is through collective effort that any change can come about.

Lesotho is not poor – it is just poorly managed. Lesotho is rich with minerals and natural resources and a work force of close to 2.2 million. It is thus impractical for one political party or person to bring any significant change.

It is through unity in a common course can we as a country and the people achieve the level of prosperity we want.  Remember I stated earlier that CER is a thread that joins all political parties because of its economically driven agenda which leaves no-one behind despite ones’ political affiliation and/or socio-economic status.

Our mandate is clear for it is to firstly decriminalize cannabis and legalize it. The legalization of it will bring about sound pro-Mosotho regulations and by-laws to manage the industry. CER will introduce policies such as adult-private use, different licensing system for small and industrial cultivation, and cannabis clubs and hubs but to mention a few.

CER will also look into the industrialization of hemp as means of district development and decentralization of public services. Ultimately, CER seeks to establish a state-sponsored commercialized cannabis industry for the benefit of all. By state-sponsored we mean encouraged and financially backed-up by the state.

To create an industrial agriculture means to address food production, food security and food sustainability. To establish an agri-economic model engineered to boost our economy and create hundreds and thousands of new jobs. Thus from CER perspective the change we want to see is one of peace and prosperity for all inhabitants of our beautiful country.

As a youth leader, what sets you apart?

I wouldn’t say I am a leader now without the CER National Executive Community. All the credit goes to them. All successes and failures of CER have been a collective effort. Should my leadership skills or style of leadership be in question my answer is CER is a family and a well-oiled machine with all its individual parts working in unison.

All decisions are collective. As a leader, I lead in front and always consult and involve executive members in all decisions. I wouldn’t say this sets me apart from other youth leaders though I wouldn’t testify on their leadership styles because I do not know.

Do you think your involvement in politics is inspirational to the youth, if yes how so?

I would like to believe so. I see many youth eager to play a part in the development of their country and for me that says a lot. The youth are tired and they want to see a radical change.

It is understood that for the first time in a long time, the youth of Lesotho know what needs to happen in order to achieve the Lesotho we want. We see it and hear daily either on radio or television that the youth of Lesotho want change and they want it now.

Last question, what advice do you have for Basotho youth?

Love your country and countrymen. Love yourself for who and what you are and if you do not like it, change it. Do not be afraid of change.  Believe in yourself even when others do not.

Allow yourself to dream and pursue that dream even when no one else believes in it. Get out of your comfort zone and do not be afraid to fail. Travel the world, eat different foods, interact, and learn from different cultures. Then come back and play a pivotal role in the development of your country and people. 

Comments

Grace is an uprising youth activist who uses her voice to inspire and inform. She has worked internationally as the Deputy Secretary General with Model UN Impact. This is where she advocated for youth inclusivity in the implementation of the SDGs and further launched projects such as PHAHAMA MOSALI. She is currently the youngest SDGs Ambassador for the internationally renowned Global Citizens Innovative Solutions SDGs Challenge.