INTERVIEW: Youth unemployment a big problem

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Lesotho’s unemployment, poverty and income inequality and other social ills remain pervasive in the face of non-inclusive growth. In the past two weeks, thousands of Basotho youth were seen in long queues at the ministry of home affairs and police headquarters nationwide applying for jobs.

Youth unemployment rate in Lesotho in 2019, according to the International Labour Organisation, is estimated at 33.68 percent.

theReporter’s Kefiloe Kajane sat down with a youth representative in Lesotho’s National Reforms Authority and youth leader Phetho Matla to discuss youth unemployment and the issues around it.

KK: Please tell us about your responsibilities as a youth representative in the Lesotho National Reforms Authority.

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PM: My name is Phetho Matla, a youth leader. I have a political background, having grown up in a political family. I represent the youth in the Lesotho National Reforms Authority (NRA) and my responsibility which is a responsibility for anyone who is a representative in the reforms, was to get to a point where we have is National Reforms Authority. We were involved in posing questions to the communities, to shape the reforms and basically to get where we are now where we have handed everything to NRA.

KK: Youth unemployment is a huge problem in the country at the moment. What do you think is the cause of this?

PM: I would say lack of succession planning and lack of adequate platforms for the youth so they can be put in positions and learn work. How are we supposed to know something that we were never given an opportunity to learn? From the highest structures of leadership, the reason why we vote for old people is because the youth never had enough platforms or opportunities to go learn from.

There is no reason why we do not have a youth parliament. The youth are not well represented in our country and that makes them suffer at many levels because, even when there are youth initiatives, they do not follow proper democratic channels and they fail even before they start.

Even when you look at the management at the ministry of youth there is a lot that still needs to be done. We have had ministers of youth that did not understand that people can make careers out of sports. Honestly, you cannot expect a person who was born in the 60s to understand such things. I believe that everyone should be represented by their own peers.

KK: Do you think youth are involved enough in trying to fix problems that affect them?

PM: Certainly not. I like the initiatives that national organisations make whereby they involve affected stake-holders to try and solve issues that affect them. They did a great job to a certain degree when helping develop our own National Youth Policy as youth in 2018.

It was made by stake-holders that are affected such as the youth, but the only thing I am still skeptical about is that for such things, we still involve outside consultants and you realise that we still have the same skills, which makes you wonder why they were needed while we are here. But then, the initiative was made and the National Youth Policy is there and when we talk about things like the African Youth Charter, which is something that was made by youth. Of late youth are certainly not involved in many things.

KK: As a youth representative, what do you think can motivate the youth to be more involved in fighting for the better future of Lesotho.

PM: First, I would like to go back to succession planning. There is no way you can involve youth without recognizing the work and all the sectors they represent. We can motivate youth representation when a young person sees another young person representing them. That itself is enough to motivate them to do better.

For young people to be involved in decision making, they should familiarize themselves with the National Youth Policy. It is there on the government website for everyone to access. When they know it, they can then be able to take on the government, challenge it and even protest.

We can now be able to come to the government about the things in the National Youth Policy because they are laws. It was adopted by the government so it is a legal instrument. We will be able to question ministers on the decisions that they make based on what the policy says. That will prevent people who are in leadership positions to end up resting if youth were to question and advocate for a better future.

Let us go and read what our previous youth representatives fought for, study it and understand it and may be that can motivate us to do better.

KK: What do you think needs to change and be reformed so Basotho youth cannot find themselves in the same position in, maybe, 10 years from now?

PM: Laws. We have played our part by compiling the youth compact on reforms. Our laws need to cater for the youth. Platforms also need to be there and be accessible to our youth so that they also can showcase their knowledge and learn about their country.

Also, the youth need to understand that by platforms it does not mean you should be given opportunities just because you are a young person in a country. You still need to excel in what you do. Also, things like the youth parliament as I have mentioned, are things that need to be introduced so that they can give the youth a certain perspective. These are some of the things that will make sure that in the next 10 years we are not struggling with leadership.

KK: Do you believe if young people were more involved in leadership positions, unemployment would not be as high as it is now?

PM: I believe that a young person knows what their peers need because that is what they also need. I believe that if the youth had a political hunch, they can lead and have a better future for this hungry. A political hunch relates to what society wants; we should not just think that having an educated person as a leader will be our solution, because they will always go back to consult the books for solutions when that might not be what the people need.

I believe that the youth of this country have a future in leadership and changing the situation that we find ourselves in, but only if they are represented and stand up for what they believe in.

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