The concept of volunteerism is a noble endeavour.
Volunteerism seeks to encourage people particularly the youth to spend their time and talents to promote charitable causes without thinking about monetary compensation.
Youths are among other things expected to care for the poor and disadvantaged in society.
They are also expected to engage in civic duties that uplift their communities and drive social change.
These are indeed worthwhile goals.
Sports and Youth Minister ‘Mathabiso Lepono this week told parliament that the youth corps programme is meant to “equip youths with skills to make them employable”.
Lepono said the programme is also meant to encourage youths to participate in the country’s development through youth initiatives.
There is nothing wrong per se in instilling a spirit of volunteerism within our youths.
But there are lessons from elsewhere in Africa that we need to heed. We can only ignore these lessons at our own peril.
Too often we have seen governments in Africa create youth militia under the guise of volunteer programmes.
The militia has often acted as a reserve force to harass government opponents and force everyone to toe the line.
These youth militias have acted as repressive instruments in the hands of repressive regimes.
This was true in the case of Malawi under the late dictator Kamuzu Hastings Banda.
Banda formed the Malawi Young Pioneers ostensibly to keep the youths from the streets and help in national reconstruction programmes after the country’s independence in 1963.
The youths were to receive training in improved methods of agriculture, carpentry and the building trade.
But the programme soon veered from the rails as the Young Pioneers became a tool in the hands of the oppressor.
The Young Pioneers soon became an eyesore on the national psyche as they harassed and battered government critics.
The Young Pioneers soon metamorphosed into a private army that was at the beck and call of Banda, a ruthless dictator who is alleged to have fed his opponents to crocodiles.
It was not just in Banda’s Malawi that youths were abused in this manner.
In Zambia, we also saw the National Youth Service programme with similar consequences for the rule of law.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s regime has also abused the National Youth Service programme.
Mugabe’s militia seem to perform the same job with military precision.
Here at home, we have still not forgotten about the Lesotho Youth Service (LYS), an organisation under the late Leabua Jonathan that terrorised government critics in the 1970s and 80s.
The LYS was also formed under the pretext that the youth were being equipped with agricultural skills.
But behind the scenes, the LYS was a real menace to anyone who was deemed an enemy of the state.
The lesson from history is therefore clear.
Governments sometimes use such youth programmes under the guise of promoting national development.
We hope the government of Lesotho will not fall into this trap.
We hope the national youth corps programme is what the government says it is.
We hope there are no dark motives behind the launch of the programme.
We raise these points because we note there are already shrills of discontent within the corridors of parliament over the launch of the youth corps programme.
The opposition has complained bitterly that it has not been consulted.
In fact, opposition MPs expressed total surprise in parliament on Tuesday over the launch of the programme.
We think the government has yet another problem of its own making by failing to communicate effectively.
It is our position that a national programme of this magnitude needs buy-in from all stakeholders if it is to be successful.
Instead of waiting to parry questions in parliament, government ministers must involve the opposition in formulating critical national projects and policies such as these.
The clandestine manner, as the opposition is alleging, in which the government is introducing the programme can only raise suspicions about its intentions.
The government must up its game and clearly enunciate its goals and vision.
If it has nothing to hide – and we want to believe this is the case – the government must strive to build national consensus on key national projects.