By Thandiwe Kubere

MASERU – Lesotho this year, celebrated youth day in style as the government, UNDP and other stakeholders encouraged pursuing entrepreneurship to better lives, improve the economy of the country and beat the high rate of unemployment. Youth with different business ventures, therefore put up their stalls and displayed a variety of products and services they offered at Manthabiseng Convention Centre on Saturday.

United Nations Development Project (UNDP) further established a mentorship program- Lesotho National Youth Entrepreneurship Mentorship Program (LNYEMP) which will help motivate the youth and equip them with relevant skills to ensure the success of their businesses. The mission was to also effectively promote and enhance entrepreneurship among youth, as well as to equip them with the necessary skills.

After rotating around different stalls, Prime Minister Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane declared that he was very impressed and proud to witness that Basotho youth could come up with such incredible innovative ideas and business ventures as some were new to his eyes and he would love to be a part of. He further assured them that he will see to it that they will get the support they need, whether through mentorship, training or the necessary resources.  He also encouraged youth to work even harder and together as this would guarantee their success in the long run and stop them from procrastinating their ideas and be bold enough to take the first step.

The Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation, Culture and Social Development, Hon. Pitso Lesaoana noted that there is a need to measure youth unemployment and be able to respond to youth needs. He further noted that the ultimate goal of the program is to engage everyone in fighting the high rate of unemployment which is visible in the country.

Resident Coordinator of the United Nations Khozi Mukwashi expressed her excitement and even noted she was in awe and would not read from the speech she wrote but would speak from the heart after seeing what the youth could come up with and their green skills. “Youth are the biggest assets of the country. It is one thing to say that, but another to actually put in the money and fund youth innovations and business”. With that, she challenged the government and stakeholders to put in money where their words are and invest in the youth. She further encouraged them to go around the different districts and find ways of assisting, whether through mentoring or pouring resources to sustain youth businesses.

She urged the youth to make money in ways that will be sustainable for the country and future generations. “Respect the land you have to obtain the resources you need for sustaining your enterprises. You are leaders despite your age and your time is now. You are each other’s keepers, so when you become entrepreneurs, aim for both men and women to strive and have zero tolerance for abuse. My commitment to you is that we are going to do everything that we can to support your journey, even if that is by investing. Keep innovating and be creative. We wish you the very best”, said Mukwashi.

Some of the challenges pointed out, which are encountered by youth in Lesotho, among others include, skills mismatch, limited employment opportunities and private sector constraint to support employment creation to complement the government employment opportunities.  The purpose of the program is to solve the challenge of Youth Unemployment through youth entrepreneurship.

The event based itself on Lesotho national youth policy of 2017-2030, which aimed at effecting positive youth development efforts from remote to urban areas of Lesotho such that no one is left behind. The purpose of the program is to solve the challenge of youth unemployment through youth entrepreneurship. The NYP 2030 has a vision built on the belief that the country has potential and capacity to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality over the next decade.

The policy places youth as key players in their development and advancement of their communities, the nation, the continent and the globe. They possess skills, knowledge, attitudes and capacities that, if well harnessed, can lift the country out of pressing challenges of high unemployment, poverty, inequalities, negative health outcomes and underdevelopment. Therefore tangible commitments, resourcing, action and accountability by all stakeholders working in partnership with the young are all vital. Lesotho further needs to develop young people’s capabilities as part of a long-term solution to poverty, unemployment and inequalities which will open opportunities for the youth to participate, by investing in the enhancement of their capabilities.

Socio-cultural, political and economic norms have previously been seen to side-line the youth, treating political and economic participation as the perquisite of older people, hence a continued need for policies and implementation frameworks that pay deliberate attention to youth concerns.

At the event, youth-targeted interventions were deemed necessary to enable youth to actively participate and engage in the socio-cultural, economic and political life of the society. 

Unemployment, specifically amongst the youth, has been declared a national crisis. In a situation where young people’s unemployment is highly prevalent, there is need for a social protection system that supports youth inclusion as they transition to adulthood to help them develop lifelong skills and capabilities. Young people who cannot earn their own living find it difficult to move out of their parents’ homes and be independent young adults. In addition, young people who are inactive are often marginalized by their communities and are unable to find a way to engage meaningfully with society. The NYP 2030 further seeks to provide a blueprint for state entities, civil society, private sector and youth in their youth development efforts including the strengthening of social cohesion and integration into society.

Therefore, with initiatives such as these, the youth of Lesotho are hopeful for a better economy which does not leave them behind and further give them a chance to change their lives for better.