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Mixed bag reactions over youth parliament

By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The youth parliament that took place this past Friday has set tongues wagging over social media this past weekend.

While some applauded the National Assembly for this initiative,  the detractors accused the youth members for failing to articulate the crucial issues that affect the youth but instead imitated their political leaders.

In a move to commemorate the International Day of Parliamentarism with IPU, the Lesotho Parliament celebrated this day by “taking parliament to the youth”.

The 30th June, has been marked as the International Day of Parliamentarism, and the day has been celebrated every year since 2018.

The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Hon. ‘Matlhohonolofatso Tšepang Tšita-Mosena said by taking parliament to the youth, they want to empower them for parliamentary appreciation.

She stated that this 11th parliament aims to intentionally foster a generation of active and empowered youth who are well-versed in democratic processes and are equipped to advocate for the changes they seek in their lives and constituencies.

Mosena further said through this initiative, the parliament was engaging and exposing young people to recognize the strength of their voice and harness it to drive the changes they aspire for.

 “We expect that after this initiative the youth will be empowered to keenly follow the work of the parliament and use their voices to champion their needs and how they want their affairs to be conducted,” she said. 

The youth were taken on a tour and brief on operations of the parliament. They also experienced firsthand the workings of the parliament through shadowing the various roles of presiding officers, Leaders of the house and opposition, the Cabinet, members of opposition, members in government side, Clerks and parliament staff.

The concerns emerging are that the youth have “failed” to leverage on the platform afforded to them to raise their voices to champion their needs and engage in the meaningful discussions for the parliament to adopt their needs when it reconvenes.

Some of the issues singled out that the youth grapple with include high rate of unemployment amongst youth according to official sources, the young people also yearn for the establishment of Youth Council, establishment of youth parliament,  Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), alcohol and substance abuse, sports and recreation facilities, child marriages and unintended teenage pregnancies.

One of the youth who participated in this exercise, Karabelo Mohlohlo said she has learned the workings of parliament.

The Mashai No.76 youth MP said it is not “easy for the government to implement decisions as the opposition does not allow them to table their motions”.

She said youth should take a particular interest in politics and stand their ground on issues that they do and affect them.

From Qalabane No.57 constituency, Mokone Masupha described the experience of becoming a youth MP as “wonderful” saying he is now in a position to be a leader.

He said “everything is possible, I can come here [after] the next elections”.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Rt. Hon Sekhamane said political representation means acting in the best interest of those represented.

“Now, Nearly 40% of Lesotho’s population is between the ages of 15 and 35.  Yet this age group is only 2.5% in our Parliament; truly a far cry for the word, representation.  If at all we take seriously Benjamin Disraeli’s assertion that, “Youth are the trustees of posterity”, then we would need to immediately stop hedging our bets, and work honestly and diligently to close this deficit in political representation. 

“We need to reshape the political landscape of Parliament to make it more attractive, more accessible and more enhancing for young people.  I read with a great deal of encouragement and delight, the IPU Press release of April 2021 that, “Parliaments are getting younger”.  I only wonder why our country cannot join in this admirable global trend and give our Parliament a face lift, sprucing it up beautifully, and making [it] younger,” he said.

The Rt. Hon. Speaker also noted that the eleventh parliament believes that it is its duty to carry out the outreach programmes, create platforms for engagement, and enhance access to its processes.

To achieve this, he said the best way to is ensure a fair representation of all sectors of the population. He said this is why they have embarked on a campaign to “take Parliament to the people”.

Earlier this year, the parliament celebrated the International Women’s Day, an event that attracted participation of civil society from across all spheres to contribute and question issues of interest to them. From UNICEF Lesotho (United Nations Children’s Fund), Umasree Polepeddi said one of the tenets of democracy is that citizens have the right to engage in decisions that affect them.

She highlighted that the virtues of parliamentary democracy are embedded in a system of governance and lawmaking processes that reflects the voices of the citizenry, interests and concerns including those of youth and children.

“We are all witnesses to the current era – an era where young people possess the power to drive positive change like never before. Youth are not merely leaders of tomorrow. They are leaders of today as well. The stories of countless young trailblazers across the globe remind us of this truth.

“The likes of Malala Yousafzai, who has become a strong advocate of girls’ right to education, Greta Thunberg, who continues to be an inspiration in the climate change movement, and our very own Michelle Tau making headlines in sports as Lesotho’s top-ranked female Taekwondo star. Their resilience, determination, and unwavering commitment to making a difference have inspired us all. Youth voices matter; your ideas can shape policies, influence decisions, and create a better future for yourselves and future generations,” she said.

Reflecting on the exercise, the Deputy Speaker said the youth have undoubtedly learned something to take home with, and are will now become ambassadors of their MPs and parliament. She said she hopes the impact will bear fruit to have youth MPs change from the current 3 to an increase in the 12th parliament.

Mosena said the experience has ignited a passion for leadership to some, and added: “you are not the same as when you first entered this place”. She thanked all who participated, promising more engagement with the youth in the future.

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