“We cannot talk about feeding our people; we cannot talk about liberating our people; we cannot talk about our people being equal in power and equal in influence to any other people unless we are talking about revolution”- Dr Amos Wilson (1941 – 1995)
Although Amos Wilson wrote the above in reference to the state of the black man/woman in America brought about by intentional, long-term, racially based institutional exclusion and how that state could be reversed, a quick read of what reads like a founding document of a social movement named Unity for Radical Transformation (URT) quickly reminded me of his words…
But out of all the words Wilson either uttered or wrote in his lifetime, why specifically these ones and what exactly in this URT founding document suggests that the state of our nation might have begun to radically politicise the youth?
Importantly, who exactly are these youth behind URT; can their initiative graduate from being an idea to a mobilising agent of consequence in Lesotho?
Last but not least, to what end would this mobilisation be?
As an attempt to contextualise while making a simple gesture of encouragement by way of showing these brave and ambitious Basotho youth that what they are trying to do has recently been done with a remarkable degree of success elsewhere; what better example is there to use than Uganda’s People Power movement formed in 2017 with the goal to mobilise Ugandan youth against the political delinquency of President Yoweri Museveni?
But first, who are these Basotho youth and what exactly does their initiative stand for? A quick background check yielded seven names which always appeared in the numerous press statements they released before establishing URT. These are; Kananelo Boloetse, Motsamai Mokotjo, Thuso Leina, Thandi Chabeli, Sibongile Mapikitla, Tumelo Motueli and Resetselemang Jane.
How civil activism birthed a social movement
Page four of their founding document begins with the following sentence: “After careful consideration of all efforts we have undertaken since March 2021, we have decided to register a protest and advocacy organization which will be named Unity for Radical Transformation”
This in essence answers the question of rationale. But before we even delve into it as outlined in their founding document and maybe as an attempt to assess the virtue of these youth against the task they have put themselves up to, i.e., to protest injustice and advocate for change, let us briefly examine the efforts they claim to have undertaken since March and maybe make our own judgments as to whether they are really worth their salt.
Below is a chronology of their civil activism around specific issues of national significance which culminated in a social movement, URT.
- 22nd January 2021, they wrote an open letter to the Minister of Health, Hon Maqelepo expressing their concern about a shortage of medical oxygen at hospitals and requested him to publicly apologise and take responsibility for the deaths.
- 27th January, they wrote an open letter to PM Majoro requesting him to establish an independent inquiry into the Covid-19 crisis and to ascertain whether NACOSEC was legally constituted.
- 1st February, they wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to take disciplinary action against Cabinet Ministers who violated the Public Health Regulations by attending Major General Lekhanya’s funeral en masse.
- 9th February, through their lawyer, they wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Police seeking his audience in order to protest the decision of the police not to charge Cabinet Ministers who violated the Public Health Regulations by attending Major General Lekhanya’s funeral.
- 22nd February, wrote and delivered a letter to new Health Minister, Hon. Sekatle asking him to explain whether the country was in a state of emergency or disaster and requested him to repeal the Public Health Regulations as they were inconsistent with the constitution.
- 8th March, they released a press statement requesting the Office of the PM to ensure that there is transparency in the recruitment of new NSS members.
- 12th March, they released a press statement condemning the expulsion of over 300 nurses by Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
- 13th March, began a petition demanding the reinstatement of all expelled nurses.
- 17th March, delivered a petition with 6,460 signatures to the PM’s office demanding the reinstatement of all expelled nurses. It was not accepted.
- 23rd March, released a press statement criticising MPs M5,000 petrol allowance.
- 30th March, successfully delivered the petition on expelled nurses to the PMs Office. It was received by the GS.
- 15th July, released a press statement condemning the illegal 20% salary deduction by publishers of Lesotho Times and Sunday Express from journalists.
- 3rd August, they released a press statement condemning the reception by MPs, of the M 5,000 petrol allowance despite the public outcry.
- 15th August, the released a press statement decrying the non-response of PMs Office regarding their request to march and stating that the march would go on the 20th
- 18th August, The Post newspaper published a news article about them titled “youth activists take on MPs”
- 21st August, they released a press statement explaining that the march failed to occur because they were arrested at 10am and released at 5pm without charges.
- 11th September, they announced formation of URT.
Does URT have a future? – People Power as a point of reference
In any African situation where youth, as a collective and driven purely by their collective suffering, have embarked on protest to genuinely change the order of things as opposed to merely fighting for a seat on the gravy train, success has always followed.
There are just too many great African examples to mention but two of the most touching in the recent past are the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) which culminated in the 1976 Soweto student uprising and the youth (25-year-olds & below) led Tunisian street protests dubbed the Jasmine Revolution whose fire caught-on among some Middle East and North African countries giving birth to the Arab Spring.
Just four years ago, the youth of Uganda, many in the similar age group to that behind the Arab spring, threw their lot with the People Power movement, a social movement established and led by the then 35-year-old musician popularly known as Bobi Wine, formally referred to as Robert Kyagulanyi.
Though the initial rallying call of the People Power movement was for Ugandan youth to rise in protest of Museveni’s attempt to eliminate age limits for the presidential seat, the underlying issues were deep economic inequalities and the sickening poverty of the people topped by one of the worst barefaced assault on the political opposition.
What further fired up the youth was the constantly thrown around eye-opening truth that 77% of them being 25 years old meant that the only Ugandan president they have ever known was Museveni. The rallying call then evolved to demand political change.
On the contrary, Unity for Radical Transformation is not explicitly calling for political change but as per its own founding document, to “create a platform where young Basotho men and women and other future-focused individuals will meet and exchange ideas in an atmosphere pervaded by hatred of the status quo.”
The sum of this status quo is that 994,000 Basotho live below the poverty line and 484,000 live in extreme poverty while the already privileged MPs continue to increase their perks. The question then is: will the already politically fed-up and detached youth welcome this platform and use it to build a collective consciousness in order to chart the line of social protest and advocacy? In Uganda and in spite of the detachment of youth from shaping their own future through direct participation, the social status of Bobi Wine became a huge draw card and the critical issues he raised quickly filled the ranks of his movement with thoroughly radicalised youth.
The implication therefore is that, the social status of initiators is not of paramount importance. The real draw card is the message and in the case of URT initiators, their track record of consistently being proactive in protesting the vice of political/administrative mediocrity, though brief, may speak volumes on their behalf.
It may therefore seem that their real challenge is getting their initiative known and understood properly which may be constrained by funding which was not the case for the People Power movement because being a millionaire, the Ugandan initiator (Bobi Wine) easily funded his own trips around the country and bought slots on radio and television.
However, since wherever there is a will there is a way, this may not be much of an issue for Unity for Radical Transformation because on fully appreciating the rationale and future prospects of the movement, the youth themselves may sacrifice a buck or two now and then to fund the operations of the movement.
I conclude by dealing with the last question in the opening paragraph; to what end will the advocacy/youth mobilisation of URT be?
There seemingly exist only two options. The first one is to, like People Power, evolve into a political party. The second and currently the most viable option is to become a youth pressure group of great consequence which through its facts-based rapport with the general youth population (regardless of their political affiliation), may establish itself as a kingmaker in the political space. How so? By constantly striving to raise youth’s awareness of central issues that their beloved political leaders/parties generally use as rhetorical punch lines merely for political mileage and votes.
This may inevitably create a much informed youth electorate that demand well-thought-out policy positions as preconditions for a youth vote. This in itself is a mild form of a revolution of political consciousness and as Fidel Castro once stated how a revolution is not a bed of roses, they must know that this will definitely not be a walk in the park.
Whatever they have decided to fight for will not be given to them on a silver platter. In urging the youth to take their rightful position in national affairs, they might as well begin by assisting them to internalise the words spoken by Malcolm X to his followers at the height of the civil rights movement when he said to them, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice. If you are a man, you take it”.