In the mist of one of the studies I’m conducting on rural youth development with intention of accessing awareness, accessibility and socio-economic impact of government sponsored youth development initiatives, I come across interesting newspaper headlines and commentary dismissing entirely the TS initiative. Interestingly the preliminary data in my position from a data collection exercise in rural communities of the Okavango delta communicates something else. Among the many recommendations the youth and village leaders in that region asked for is increased enrolment of youth in government sponsored initiatives such as TS. During the data collection I engaged several youngsters that would do anything just to get an opportunity of skills transfer via TS. I also engaged young people that are enrolled in TS of course they wished the money could be way much more. Nevertheless, their gratitude of finally being presented an opportunity of skills transfer outweighed everything else. I met young people that are delighted to finally be of effective service and value to their villages and residents through their TS attachment in various departments.
Back to the articles: I was not surprised by the high number of youth that are reported to have abandoned TS as revealed by deputy permanent secretary (policy implementation) Dr. Bontle Mbongwe on the 18th June when briefing members of Ntlo Ya Dikgosi . She explained that the number of participants now stood at 9 800 out of the 15 000 that enrolled at the beginning of the programme in April this year. This simply justified a hypothesis I had as I engaged youth and village leaders in rural communities. My hypothesis was TS is mostly needed to complement the socio-economic characteristics of rural youth compared to urban and semi-urban youth. I do not have the exact geographic and demographic breakdown of youth that have exited TS but I’m confident the majority if not all of them are urban and semi-urban dwellers. Furthermore, I beg the relevant authorities to engage in due analysis of the figures. In its nature and design, TS is ideal for enhancement of rural youth socio-economic edifice. Rural youth mostly have low educational levels; frequently Junior Certificate (JC) and some BGCSE here and there. Due to numerous education related constrains, a majority of them hardly make it to tertiary level. University of Botswana academic, Owen Pansiri articulates unequivocally these diverse education challenges in a journal article titled ‘Silent Exclusion: The Unheard Voices in Remote Areas of Botswana’. Most rural youth do not have viable economic options the best they can get is a herd boy/girl post, tuck-shop assistant or Ipelegeng. This is largely attributed to low educational standing, lack of any other work experience and the immense scarcity of economic activity. Majority of rural youth are enriched with amazing levels of patriotism and selflessness; they are all involved in voluntary community building of one form or the other. On any given day they are willing (if not) already freely engaged in activities that build and develop the village and its people.
However based on its (TS) nature and design, many youth in rural communities do not end up enrolled, mainly because there are not many government departments in rural areas to enroll these willing young people. In truly remote settlements, it is only a ‘kgotla’ structure, which at most can enroll four young people. Therefore a lot of spaces are available in urban and semi-urban settlements; thus enrolling most of the youth in these areas. Access to youth development information and assistance in rural areas is a challenge; these young people have to travel several kilometres (at their own cost) to deliver and collect application forms for government sponsored initiatives such as TS. However, due to their socio-economic situation, a majority of them don’t get the information at all; in the fortunate event they do, they end-up failing to reach the deadlines and application requirements. The slow rate of response to youth applications does not help the situation in any way. These challenges and many others, end up limiting enrolment of rural youth and diminishing their enthusiasm and hope. Therefore based on their comparative advantage, urban and semi-urban dwellers that have more opportunities, better educational standing and work experiences end up dominating these initiatives only to later abandon them for better alternatives that naturally continue to surface in the urban areas. Furthermore, because of their proximity to services and resources, urban youth have easier and quicker access to public and private media both (print and broadcast), therefore it is predominantly their voices and opinions that form and influence youth positions largely.
It is true that TS has challenges: It is true that TS is not directly and immediately creating jobs for youth and its monthly allowance should be reviewed. However I disagree with the notion that it should be thrown out. It is misguided and suicidal to “throw away the baby with the water”. I believe TS is a noble initiative that has great potential for skills transfer. It is a great platform for career development and skills transfer. I believe TS should not be rolled out in a blanket approach; it should be rolled out to specific areas with demographic and socio-economic characteristics it seeks to enhance. In a comparable regard seasoned economist, Keith Jefferies and his team at Econsult in their 3rd Quarter Review (2013) empirically illustrate and caution against poor planning and project management characterising the public sector. They further recommend that appropriate attention should be devoted to proper planning, selection, design and management of public sector investments and projects, for public money is being wasted, and the nation is being deprived of essential services, thus development held-back. In this regard I call attention to the same reasoning with regards to the TS initiative going forward.
Though not specific, section 1.3 and 2.6 of the Revised National Youth Policy (2010) and its action plan respectively; underscore the fact that youth are not a ‘Homogenous Group’. Youth confront diverse realities, differences in age, sex, experience, marital status, interests and preferences, family background, income, and religion, amongst others. This reality creates a wide gap between the needs, aspirations and expectations of youth across the country; their options and constraints vary widely. It is thus fundamental that as we continue to develop, advocate and implement youth policies and initiatives seek guidance and inspiration from the ‘Lisbon Declaration on Youth Policies and Programmes’ which declares that; the formulation and implementation of strategies, policies, programmes for youth should take into account the economic, social and environmental diversity of conditions in each setting, with full respect for the various backgrounds and philosophical convictions of the people.
On behalf of youth that stand to benefit and grow from the initiative; I correspondingly submit Tirelo Sechaba (TS) is not a useless initiative it’s just misplaced.
Gobe Taziba is youth advocate and researcher with keen interest in youth policy, civic engagement, social inclusion and capacity building.