Growing up is hard. Adolescent life – the path of discovering oneself, finding one’s voice – is a journey in and of itself. In our youth, we begin to learn what it means to be responsible for ourselves. We are held answerable for our actions and the results thereof, and mould the foundation of characteristics we will carry into our adult lives.
In the Lesotho context, the challenges of this journey are compounded by living in a country rifled with issues including widespread poverty; large rates of unemployment; political instability and corruption and high HIV/AIDS statistics. For a great portion of Basotho youth, these are constant challenges that impede their way of existence and can heavily alter their perception of the opportunities they have in this life.
Who do we hold accountable? The answer that instantly comes to mind is government. It is an expectation that a country’s leadership is meant to create legislation, policy and opportunities to provide civil society with an environment within which people can individually and collectively live in equality, harmony and prosperity. This is perhaps an overly idealistic view, naïve to the realities of African politics and the pervasive effects they have on the lives of citizens.
Let’s bring it closer to home: Our national motto is Khotso, Pula, Nala (Peace, Rain, Prosperity). Yet, with regard to the latter of these ethos, one could put forward that the omnipresent cloud of instability in Lesotho’s governing regimes, marred by lack of transparency and often corruption in work and business of, have crippled the trust we as Basotho have in whom the policies of government are truly meant to help prosper.
However, I feel it would be too easy, too simplistic to place sole responsibility on government. We need to remember that in a democratic society, we are all government. Each voting finger (generously doused with that blank marker), places elected officials into positions of power to represent us, and attend to our issues. Finding resolutions that can bring positive, long term change, should be a communal effort in which we all recognise the power we have to reach the potential of Lesotho.
Many of the challenges facing the youth – high HIV/AIDS prevalence, illegal and dangerous abortions, substance abuse – are the fruits of unemployment. In turn, the root of unemployment is to a great extent, due to a lack of education. I refer to education not only in the sense of formal, classroom learning, but also with regards to being exposed to, and better informed about, the possibilities provided by the resources of our own land. It is a sad truth that the politics of our country, which have been scandalised by nepotism and corruption in the awarding of jobs and tenders, have created a mistrust in the transparency of the opportunities that are purported as being meant to help all Basotho.
Endowing youths with knowledge of the wider scope of skills they can acquire so as to take advantage of opportunities available from native sources cannot be underestimated. This would also help to quell perceptions of high barriers to entry for entrepreneurship and business that can be dissuading factors to the willing but silenced dreamers in our land. Entrepreneurship is a vessel driven by dreams; through it we can create emergent spaces and new markets, which accommodate and actualize their dreams.
A formal education should be afforded every citizen as it is the cornerstone to a world of infinite prospects. Beyond this, youths in Lesotho need to be supported and given platforms to develop and hone abilities within the spheres of arts and sports as well; to be encouraged to pursue passions outside traditional mainstream employment. It is (sadly) an all too familiar sight to have graduates bearing brown paper envelopes containing details and credentials, walking the streets of our towns, as I have done myself, becoming despondent with each failed application.
Seeing young people lined up at factories, hoping to find work well below their aptitude, just to be able to meet the responsibilities of life, highlights the need for creating work outside the customary office setting. An education can and should work not only to give us a sense of reassurance that one is equipped with skills that can be of use to others, a hope that there are openings in which we can be useful, but moreover, to be able to recognise and understand how we can use accessible supplies to generate income avenues for ourselves.
Conventional education should be given priority right from the grassroots level of primary school. Recognising the great work by the state in availing free primary school education, it is essential to ensure that it is of a quality that permits Lesotho’s young to pursue further education adequately. We too often take for granted the wealth that is in being able to properly read and write; having the ability to express oneself and also read information for oneself, gaining knowledge from literature. It is however of little use to know how to read and write if one is not given the chance to apply that in a real world setting.
We also have to remember that in Lesotho, many of our youth are unable to finish with a classroom education. Financial obstacles, familial obligations (for example many households in Lesotho are child-headed), and child marriage can mean that formal education is not a feasible option. As such, a model that prioritises the equipping of a myriad of practical skills in educating youths, is significant. In instances where school is not an option, agricultural teachings (subsistence and commercial) should work and assist people in sustaining themselves. Engagement with youths, for example through workshops and clinics, on issues of climate change and understand evolving weather patterns is of even greater value in this regard. Imparting knowledge through both formal and informal conduits, caters for Lesotho’s need for inclusion of all the youth in the benefits of education.
Strength in unity. A cliché but is deemed such because it holds real truth. Basotho youth will find their loudest voice and strength when united in finding outcomes to the hurdles we encounter. The trials faced by our generation are best understood by us who experience them, and so it is critical that we as youth come together to say what they are, and seek guidance and support. Social media, youth and sports groups can be used as channels of interaction amongst youths with common interest. This unity can however only have real impact, be feasible and bring practical answers if given backing.
The cooperation of government, the private sector and civil society at large is paramount to seeing ongoing, sustainable remedies. Their role should be as financial intermediaries, as well as in coaching and skills development. Internship programmes; financial aid for youth initiatives; continued education of our youths; vaster support for art, music and other non-traditional means of livelihood are some ways in which I believe Basotho youths can be empowered to fight the scourge of unemployment and the seeds that sprout from it. An investment in our youth, the bearers of Lesotho’s potential, is an investment in Lesotho’s future. It is up to all of us to ensure it is a bright one.