The youth should be given a bigger platform in the national discourse.
“What I ask of the young people of Botswana is that they should realise that they are the generation of today and tomorrow. The future of this country rests in their hands. Many of us who are gathered here today are on our way out, having made our contribution as best as we could to the welfare of this country. All that we seek at this juncture is, therefore, to involve young Batswana in the activities which have made the Botswana Democratic Party a great party because in all our efforts and endeavours, we have been guided by one ideal, and one ideal only, and that is the ideal of kagisano, the ideal which has made our country a true model of democracy.”
These words were spoken by the first President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama in Mochudi on April 9th 1977.
These were very encouraging words from a visionary and exemplary leader. We would like to believe that Sir Seretse Khama was not speaking for the BDP only, but for the youth of Botswana as a whole.
However, it is saddening that three decades later, Seretse Khama’s words and vision have not borne as much fruit as many of us would have hoped.
It is a fact that, after over 40 years of independence, Botswana has not made much headway in improving the plight of the youth and empowering them to make a meaningful and more significant contribution to the national economic and political discourse.
Most of our political representatives in councils and parliament are adults, some of whom are way beyond their retirement age.
Like Sir Seretse Khama said, the youth are the leaders of today and tomorrow. We are not saying that they should be bulldozed into the political and economic arena, no. We are simply saying political parties; nongovernmental organisations and the corporate world have to institute comprehensive youth empowerment initiatives. The youth should be subjected to intensive apprentice schemes that will equip them with the requisite skills and experience to be able and resilient leaders of tomorrow.
Political parties in Botswana do not have such mechanisms in place. Instead, they use the youth as messengers and choir boys who have no meaningful contribution to party policy, but are largely forced to bootlick and rubber stamp outdated initiatives by their leader.
Of course, such initiatives are often short-lived and have scant consideration for the interest of the youth. This malady should cease.
When opening the Botswana Democratic Party Youth Wing Congress on Friday, President Ian Khama admitted that the youth wing has not been active in influencing party programs and policy.
But we disagree with his contention that this was because of the factional fights bedevilling the BDP. Rather, we submit that the continuing sidelining of the youth is a result of party constitutions that fail to entrench youth empowerment.
Political parties in Botswana should revisit their constitutions and put in place statutes that will give the youth leeway to influence party policy. The same obtains for other political parties in Botswana: Botswana National Front, Botswana Congress Party, and others. It is only when they are given meaningful and active leadership roles that the youth can become able leaders of tomorrow.
We also advocate for economic empowerment of the youth. Government should revisit its youth empowerment schemes and ensure that they are relevant to the challenges that the youth of this country are facing today.
Otherwise youth empowerment will only be a mirage.
The Out-Of-School-Youth grant is a welcome development, but it should be coupled with other initiatives to ensure that it bears the required results. A simple survey to check how many projects that have been funded under this grant are still operational will undoubtedly show a very disturbing trend. We cannot simply give the youth money and expect them to fend for themselves.
Instead, they must be put through rigorous mentoring programs that will ensure that they obtain the requisite skills. They must be given a competitive advantage over more established traders so that they also get a firm footing.
It is not enough to give the youth funds and expect them to compete with established industries. Government and the private sector should ensure that the youth funded companies, which are still in infancy stages, are given preferential treatment when it comes to procurement. Otherwise all of the funds that we are channeling towards youth empowerment schemes will be effectively thrown down the drain.
Financial institutions should also be encouraged to put in place innovative measures through which young people can have opportunities to access funding and contribute to the national economy. A casual survey around Botswana suggests that the country’s economic wealth rests with a few conglomerates, while the youth wallow in unemployment and abject poverty. The youth do not own houses because of the stringent requirements that are put in place by financial institutions.
Very few of them have political office while an abundant number of them are unskilled and unemployed. This is a recipe for disaster.
But the onus also lies with the youth to work hard to improve their lot. Young people should rid themselves of the dependency syndrome and work hard to prove themselves. They should be exemplary and well behaved individuals who show a willingness to learn from their elders. They should desist from the trappings of frugal spending and flashy lifestyles. The youth should learn the powers of saving and investing their money.
As John F. Kennedy said, “to some generations much is given, of others much is expected, but this generation of youth have a rendezvous with destiny”.