Young Basotho destitute of hope, financial independence and fundamental freedoms. With their dreams fading, their bright futures dwindling and their time stolen, their hands are tied. Basotho youth today are discouraged and pessimistic; they bear the burden of marginalization and possess sentiments of worthlessness. As they endure Lesotho’s ruthless terrain, young people often encounter white-collar malice, professional injustice, boundless nepotism and outright exclusion. Young Basotho hint at an absence of local venture capitalism, a paucity in job creation and an unsupportive business climate and labor market. To state that youth unemployment is a challenge is an enormous understatement.
In recent times young Basotho have been faced with high rates of unemployment and limited opportunities to generate income. Although statistics relating to youth in Lesotho are often scarce and outdated, the Lesotho Youth Empowerment Survey (2012) purports that in Lesotho the youth comprise 38.9 percent of the population and unemployment among Lesotho’s youth is often in the range of 30.0 percent. To the naked eye, the rate of unemployment appears far greater.
A memorable bible scripture reads: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.”To most Basotho, the verse offers little solace because most young people maintain the belief that their season will never come. It is evident that Lesotho’s public sector employment market is reaching saturation point but similarly, the country’s private sector is incapable of absorbing the legion of existing graduates. Therefore, the Government of Lesotho has been advocating for youth to establish businesses and income-generating projects. However, to the majority of young people this seems like an inconceivable undertaking in the absence of startup funds; a contemporary catch-22.
Undeniably, youth unemployment is a multifaceted conundrum in need of solving. One graduates from a tertiary institution but is unable to secure employment due to a perceived lack of experience yet, the prolonged out-of-work situation further dampens employment prospects. The graduate cannot volunteer as she does not possess an income for her subsistence. The graduate also cannot establish a business as he lacks management experience and has insufficient startup capital and resources. The longer the graduate seeks employment, the more she diminishes her job prospects and increases her probability of remaining unemployed. As the graduate applies for countless job vacancies to no avail, his peers continue to climb up the corporate ladder moving from one job to the other. This is the bitter reality of Lesotho’s labor market; employers bypass the unemployed to target those still working.
Regrettably, the story does not end there. When the graduate finally pockets an employment opportunity, they enter professional territory abundant with colleagues in possession of more than ten years of experience. Therefore, their climb up the corporate ladder is once more delayed by inadequate professional experience. Consequently, recent graduates cannot enter the job market as the former graduate awaits promotion and the graduate’s experienced elders occupy management levels as they anticipate retirement.
The tragic tale is not one-sided, by marginalizing young capable people, the economy is at a loss. The importance of youth participation in an economy cannot be undermined. Lesotho ought to unearth the potential for technological advancement persisting in young minds, employ innovative business systems and processes perfected by young talent, and engage young people in solution-seeking discussions and strategy formulation. The above statement can be authenticated by grasping that it was young Even Spiegel (25) who revolutionized mobile applications, Mark Zuckerberg (30) who pioneered social networking media and Nathan Blecharczyk (31) who transformed lodging. The above entrepreneurs have amassed billions of dollars, created jobs and contributed to the well-being of their countries.
Thus, how can Lesotho engage young people professionally? Today’s leading industries are health technology, finance, technology services, communications, etc. Imagine if Lesotho advocated for venture capitalism for youth startups to enable young people to pioneer the above industries while creating jobs for other young people. Imagine if Lesotho followed in the footsteps of the African Silicon Valley (Nigeria), the mobile-based economy (Kenya) or the Africa tech hub hotspot (South Africa). These three African giants comprehend the indisputable truth that economic development is intrinsically linked to technological innovation; a sphere dominated by young thinkers and doers.
As young people search for purpose and an opportunity to contribute to their families and society, Lesotho should not forget that they can be powerful agents of change in society given the wise guidance of their elders. It is evident that for the situation of prevalent youth unemployment to evolve and for young people to become part of the solution and not the problem, society has to endeavor to solve its desperate problems of economic decline and underdevelopment with the full participation of young people.