MASERU — For decades they have operated on the fringes of society.
They had been completely marginalised with no real say over their lives.
But things appear to have changed.
Basotho youths are crying out for recognition.
In fact they are slowly demanding the right to be recognised.
They are demanding a say in the decision-making process.
They want to be involved in the policy-making process, its evaluation and implementation process.
They say they want their own special representative in parliament.
They also want to be involved in the preparation of the national budget.
They are also demanding a platform where they can play a positive role in national development.
These are the concerns that came out of a one-day forum for young leaders in Lesotho hosted by the United States embassy in Maseru on Monday.
The forum was a follow-up to the Young African Leaders Forum hosted by US President Barack Obama in August.
The purpose was to motivate the development of visionary African leaders, share the vision of Africa’s development and strengthen the partnership between Africa and the US.
‘Mabulara T’suene and Lemohang Molibeli from the Lesotho Council of NGOs represented Lesotho at the US forum in August.
Obama in August told the young leaders that African youths have the capacity to contribute to the development of their own countries.
“You reflect the extraordinary history and diversity of the continent.
“You’ve already distinguished yourselves as leaders in civil society and development and business and faith communities and you’ve got an extraordinary future before you,” Obama said then.
He said African youth’s commitment towards issues of development would not only benefit their respective countries but the world at large.
“Whether it’s creating jobs in a global economy, or delivering education and health care, combating climate change, standing up to violent extremists who offer nothing but destruction, or promoting successful models of democracy and development for all this we have to have a strong, self-reliant and prosperous Africa.
“So the world needs your talents and your creativity. We need young Africans who are standing up and making things happen not only in their own countries but around the world,” Obama said.
The Monday forum was called to discuss challenges facing the youth and nurture their development.
Obama’s message appears to have found takers in Lesotho.
Tšuene, who was a member of Lesotho’s delegation, says the country’s youths are ready to participate in all national development campaigns.
Tšuene however says this can only be possible if youths are given the right platform to do so.
“Youth are ready to participate in their country’s development. They want to be part of the national policy making process.
“They want the current education system to be changed in a way that they get first-hand training in business entrepreneurship.
“The youth are enthusiastic about their development and that of their own country,” Tšuene says.
She says what the youth were calling for were not unachievable ideals.
“The things that the youth need are possible. They do not need a special budget.
“The Ministry of Gender already incorporates an aspect of youth development. The youth are ready to volunteer,” Tšuene says.
“Things will be even easier if people have adequate access to information. There should be a systematic way of consulting youth in decision making.”
Speaking at the Lesotho Young Leaders Forum, Gender Minister ‘Mathabiso Lepono said the national volunteer corps project was one of the projects initiated by the government to involve the youth in the country’s development.
The government introduced the volunteer programme in April this year.
But the project was met with fierce resistance from political parties which accused the government of trying to set up a youth militia to bash critics and government opponents.
The government has fiercely rejected these claims.
It says the programme is purely driven by the need to mobilise youths to support development-related projects.
Lepono also dismissed claims that the Lesotho Voluntary Students Association, another government initiative set up to promote student volunteerism, was politically driven.
Some students at the Monday meeting alleged they had been asked to produce ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party cards and pay M10 to be registered as members of the association.
Lepono rejected claims that students were being recruited on the basis of party affiliation.
“The initiatives that have been introduced and that are still to come are for every Mosotho youth. No one should be asked to pay for membership of any of the projects,” Lepono said.
“The government of Lesotho recognises the universal declaration of human rights as the basis of its action and services.
“It also wants to promote the work of youth organisations in areas such as democracy, environment, human rights, population, drugs, community development, leadership training and others,” she said.
Lepono said the government of Lesotho was fully cognisant of the expectations of the African Union in matters relating to the development of youths.
“All the rights of our young people as enshrined in the African youth charter conform to the principles of youth development advocated by the Commonwealth and the United Nations and without the establishment of the National Youth Council, the way to their achievement has always remained somewhat bleak.”
Lepono said the enactment of the Lesotho National Youth Council Act 2008 and the Lesotho National Youth Council Elections Regulations 2009 marked a significant milestone in the development of youths in Lesotho.
She said the Act and regulations have been widely distributed and preparations to hold the elections for the council were now at an advanced stage.
“Once the council is in place it will serve as an advocate, a connector and an enabler for the youth,” Lepono said.
She said the government in collaboration with non-governmental organisations and development partners will develop a vibrant and supportive environment for youth who are inspired to dream and are committed to action.
“We in Lesotho boast of such youth whose inspiration and commitment were displayed in their active participation during the formulation of the Lesotho National Youth Policy and preparation of the Lesotho National Youth Council Bill.
“Their self-sacrifice and energy indeed deserve our appreciation. The Lesotho National Youth Policy and National Youth Council Act should therefore be viewed as products of analytical thought and intuitive understanding both of which are marks of high human development.
“Their potential should therefore be fully unleashed and utilised for social, political and economic advancement of our nations.
“This humanity that will mould the future should not therefore be left until the future, not to be taken for granted nor indulged in later through an expedient justification of its crimes.”