Assessment level of political participation among youth. The case of the National University of Lesotho

Bachelor Thesis, 2014

50 Pages, Grade: B+


Table of Contents



1.0 Introduction
1.1 Background to the problem
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Objective of the study
1.4 Justification
1.5 Outline of the study
1.6 Preliminary literature review

2.0 Theoretical Framework
2.1 Understanding Political Participation
2.1.1 Why NUL should be Political Active
2.1.2 The Mobilization Model
2.2 Political Participation: Empirical Literature
2.2.1 Political participation through election
2.2.2 Determinants of youth voter turnout
2.2.3 Incentives for youth to vote
2.2.4 Disincentives for voting
2.2.5 Why youth votes matter
2.2.6 Political participation through Partisanship
2.3 Political participation and tertiary students
2.3.1 Factors Responsible for Youth Participation
2.3.2 Benefits of Partaking in Politics
2.3.3 Divergent Findings on Participation
2.3.4 Justification for low political participation
2.4 National University of Lesotho and Youth Political Participation
2.4.1 NUL: Historical Background
2.4.2 Political Participation among NUL Youth
2.4.3 Recent political participation Attempts by Students
2.4.4 NUL within a broader Social Context
2.4.5 The context of NUL and issues of participation
2.4.6 Why NUL May not be deep into Politics

CHAPTER 3 Methodology and Research Findings
3.0 Assessment of level of political participation among NUL youth
3.1 Methodology
3.1.1 Population
3.1.2 Sampling
3.1.3 Sample size
3.1.4 Data collection
3.1.5 Data analysis
3.2 Observation and NUL youth Responses

4.0 Data Analysis and interpretation
4.1 Voting Assessment level
4.1.1 Partisanship Assessment level
4.1.2 Political Activism Assessment level
4.1.3 NUL youth reasons for political participation
4.1.4 Reasons for NUL Youth Respondents to avoid politics
4.1.5 Reasons why NUL youth respondents would join or not join a political party wing
4.1.6 Internal assessment of Level of political participation

5.0 Introduction
5.1 Conclusion
5.2 Recommendation
5.2.1 Implications and recommendation on NUL Youth political participation




Figure 1 Levels of political participation Among NUL youth

Figure 2 The most preferred mode of political participation among NUL youth

Table 1 Political participation and gender disparity


The author wishes to express his most sincere gratitude to the following institutions and individuals: First, the National University of Lesotho for equipping me with necessary skills to conduct this research and for providing an environment profitable for learning; second, National Manpower Development Secretariat for its financial assistance; third, I would like to extend my heartfelt thankfulness and delight to my kind supervisor, Dr. Tlohang Letsie, for guiding me tirelessly throughout this study; his comments guided my thinking and strengthened my research; fourth, I am very appreciative to my fellow students who participated in diverse ways in this research.

With my friends, who read and rectified mistakes of this research project, I gladly share plaudits won by this research work; any criticism should be laid at my door alone. To God I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude for making everything possible and to Christ be the glory for he gave me the strength throughout this research.


The youth are lacking in ministerial posts and the national assembly of Lesotho. Yet, it is common to hear people say that the youth are leaders of tomorrow. The aim of this research was to establish the level of political participation among the National University of Lesotho (NUL) youth. Data for this study was collected from 15 respondents through a questionnaire. The study found that that the youth participate less when it comes to voting in general elections and supporting political parties, especially when it comes to enrolling for their membership. On the contrary, the level of political participation among the youth at NUL was found to be high as measured using political activism. Despite their low level of political participation, it was established that the youth at NUL preferred to participate in politics through voting in general elections and buying political party products.


1.0 Introduction.

Across the world, there is nothing that engages the minds of human beings as politics. Neutral as politics is, it either stimulates affection or discontent in different people .To what extent does the National University of Lesotho (NUL) community take part in the political arena of Lesotho? This study provides response to this question and outlines the level of political participation among youth at NUL as established through this research paper. The purpose of the study was to establish the ways in which this said community gets involved in politics, and which mode of involvement is mostly rampant within the NUL youth. The study was more determined to explore the diverse ways in which the youth find palatable and find it easy to indulge in as part of political participation process.

It was also the goal of this research to identify the mode of political participation which majority of the youth at NUL preferred over others. It was of paramount importance to discern how meaningful and fruitful do educated Basotho youth consider politics to be.

The study used questionnaires to gather information that would address the objectives of this research paper. It also involved interacting with the youth at the National University of Lesotho to explore their level of political participation. In this regard, their inclination in political events were identified and established.

1.1 Background to the problem

Lesotho has not performed well developmentally because it has experienced high unemployment levels especially among the youth. Youth unemployment rate among youth aged 15-24 was 47.4% in 1997 and 33.5% in 1999 (Index Mundi, 2011). In 2010, Lesotho’s youth unemployment was estimated 38% by the International Labour Organization. While youth unemployment rate remained high in Lesotho, literacy rate in general escalated and was estimated at 87.4% in 2011(Index Mundi, 2011). The implication here is that there are more graduates in the midst of high levels of unemployment.

The government has introduced free primary education and the number of graduates is expected to rise yet there is still a problem of unemployment. There are liberties of freedom of speech in Lesotho and majority of the youth, and educated community have access to facebook, twitter and other social networks of which one doubts if they are adequately utilized by the youth at tertiary to transform the country so that it eventually embarks on job creation than is the case. Tunisia used such networks to bring about its own revolution and so did Egypt as they challenged appalling rates of unemployment. The youth activists spearheaded the uprising that led to the downfall and eventual prosecution of Mubarak and some of the key figures of his regime in Egypt (Norris, 2005). NUL community has to find these social networks instrumental to shaping new political and social awareness and increase political participation not only among the youth but also the society as a whole.

Apart from social problems encountered by the youth that graduate from the University they are also confronted with state problem. They simply cannot afford to peacefully invest in a country that is politically unstable hence they will have to opt for labour migration as well. Lesotho experienced a lot of struggles to democracy hence political instability which is not conducive for investment. It realized the coup in 1970 by Basotho National Party (BNP), a military coup in 1986 began by Basutoland National Party (BCP) compelling BNP out of office and a royal coup spearheaded by king Letsie III in 1994. Apart from that, some degree of violence and instability was also realized which lead to the intervention of Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1998 (SARDC, 2001).

By large, Lesotho does not have a political climate conducive for sustainable development. There have been some struggles, cleavages and frictions around tertiary schools. Many people have been either incarcerated or killed in political events, demonstrations, protests and even in events that do not superficially appear political. At the National University of Lesotho a student was shot dead and 14 of the students among the students who were part of the demonstration were injured (Sunday Express, 2009). Apart from 2009 incident, another student was shot and others injured in the year 2013 (Public Eye, 2013).

Among demonstrations unleashed at NUL some of them left some students shot. At one time the government was reported to have been striving to exonerate itself from any possible blame. In the year 2009 minister of education (‘Mamphono Khaketla) suspected that those protest were not neutral but perhaps politically driven as she asserted, “…There is a third force orchestrating these string of strikes” (Sunday Express, 2009:4). In the midst of this plight the students sought for the intervention of the king (Letsie III) but he ignored them (Public Eye, 2011:2).

Owing to the political setup of Lesotho which is not palatable for development especially for the youth that keep graduating the youth should persuade the government to be responsive to their demands. The fact that government intelligence service keeps either shooting or killing protesters should also be protested against by the youth. They can influence government policies if they were to be political activists. Holding more political protest, demonstrations, being active political party members are some of the mechanisms that give the youth a platform to lobby for their needs.

1.2 Statement of the problem

NUL youth are notorious of striking and demonstrating only for National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) allowances. Compared to youth of other countries such as Egypt, Basotho youth do not seem to protest on political reasons even though Lesotho is a democracy with freedoms of movement, assembly and speech. It looks as if they view themselves as subjects too feeble to exert a significant influence in policy-making to transform the political system. Despite high levels of unemployment and escalating levels of joblessness among the tertiary youth that graduate from NUL and other institutions of higher learning, the youth as victims seem to be calm and silent upon this plight. It appears as if they are doing less if not nothing at all to change the status quo.

1.3 Objective of the study

- To examine the level of political participation among tertiary youth at NUL.

One deemed it necessary to determine the level of political participation so as to know the contribution and efforts that the youth apply to solve their problem especially unemployment problem.

1.4 Justification

The study was conducted as part of academic requirements for the achievement of a bachelor’s degree. It was therefore necessary for my university degree accomplishment. Besides that, it was necessary for the improvement of my learning and for me to garner practical knowledge.

It is only through knowledge that people realize their misfortune. It is necessary that an initiative be added to knowledge and an action taken to combat one’s plight. It’s a joint individual effort that can work to transform any oppressing political system. Without people coming together for a joint effort to participate in political movements to influence any pressing policy their relief seems unlikely. If all would distance themselves from any political activity and join no campaign against unpleasant issue, policy, or political decision their misery would only exacerbate. Those involved in decision making in the body politic have a way of developing a clique- an iron law of oligarchic like structure. This system comes up for nothing other than to perpetuate oppression and to make the clique to amass unlimited wealth at the expense of the marginalized majority.

The only way to preclude this unfair routine of a relation between the politicians and the citizens is for the citizen to take part in the political processes as much as they can. If ever it could come to pass that this research paper gets accessed by the society and policy makers it would assist in establishing the level of political participation among the youth at NUL. It would serve as a criterion for Basotho to utilize in order to predict the chances of their society from being transformed politically by the NUL institute. NUL youth would get challenged by the findings of this study or get inspired either to deepen their level of participation in politics, or abstain from them depending on their mission. The faculty of Social Science, Political Science field in particular, would realize with the help of this study to weigh their impact among their students, adjust their operations to gear for their target, transform students as they may have planned it, and make them to be political active if that be their vision. The society would use these results to discern the impact of NUL on their children politically and decide whether it is worth sending their children to NUL, or to withdraw them if they do not wish to see their children being politically active.

Studies conducted on political participation were confined to neither Lesotho nor the NUL community hence they cannot assimilate nor resemble the attitudes of NUL society in politics. This study aimed to address the question that concerns the degree at which NUL youth has transformed its community politically. It has established the intensity at which NUL society is involved in political activities.

1.5 Outline of the study

The study is composed of four chapters. The first chapter is an introduction to the research. The second chapter of this study is concerned with literature review; the third chapter is about the research results and the last is on conclusions as well as recommendations.

1.6 Preliminary literature review

Different authors define political participation in different ways and use a variety of variables to measure it. Juli (2008) shows that there are different ways of political participation and this were conventional (this includes voting, political campaign, being interested in politics and discussing politics) and unconventional (this includes lawful demonstration, protest, signing a petition, buying certain products for political and environmental reasons). Protest is emphasized as a form of political participation (Barnese and Kaase 1979; Meyer 2004).

Lipset (1963) has established that political history and culture that is more or less individualistic or collective shapes the patterns of political participation. Others have shown that political participation is shaped or structured by religion (Scott, 1957), Urban and rural difference (Smith, 1957), government structures (Rose, 1954), age education and wealth (Inglehart, 1957, Morales 2008, Inglehart and Wezel 2005). Juli (2008) also found that proportional electoral system encourage political participation. Lesotho uses both proportional and mixed member proportional representative electoral system, thus we would expect Basotho to show high levels on the continuum of political participation.

One study revealed that young people considered voting seriously if their parents were politically active (Jones 2007:7). It was necessary therefore to assess the impact of education on students towards political participation. The study examined the level of political participation among the educated youth at NUL and established how intense their partaking in political events is.



2.0 Theoretical Framework

This chapter deals mainly with literature review concerning political participation among the youth at the tertiary institutions and the theoretical framework within which it is going to be located.

2.1 Understanding Political Participation

Political participation is defined as those activities by private citizens that are more or less directly aimed at influencing the selection of governmental personnel and/or the actions they take (Verba et al., 1972:2, Resnickand Cassale, 2011:2). These include voting activities in general elections, meeting with community members, contacting political representatives, involvement in collective action, contacting political representatives, the signing of petitions or boycotts (Jessica 2009:5). Resnick and Cassale (2011:2) chose voter turnout, partisan attachment and protest activities as key elements of political participation. These variables will also be given more attention also in this study

Political participation describes one’s political sense, cognisance, comprehension of historical development of politics and taking part in the political processes (Verba et al. 1995: 2, Norris 2002: 5). For the purpose of this study, political participation is defined merely as partaking in political activities such as protest, strikes, and demonstrations rallies, partisanship and voting in national elections.

2.1.1 Why NUL should be Political Active

There are superficial obstacles and impediments that apparently create an apolitical NUL. The Council Guideline of 24th March 1993 issued out a circular which partly hinders political action in the campus. However, the very circular clearly states that it recognizes the right of citizens to contribute and take interest in national affairs. It goes on to argue that it therefore unequivocally upholds the right of its staff members and students to participate in political life. It even goes as far as protecting students and staff from any intimidation by others owing to differing political affiliations (Pule, 1993).

Apart from that, there are still pressing national issues that the tertiary youth still confront and should counter through political participation. One of the issues is high youth unemployment level in the country. Another case is that of a dysfunctional government characterized by corruption and failure to deliver public goods and services such as affordable or cheap running water and poor sanitation.

The University still lacks enough government support as well; it lacks facilities for good quality education to be realized. The government does little to multiply the Universities in the country for more accessibility by the youth across the country and to widen the scope of qualifications offered by a higher learning in the country. Students still have to go abroad to study for other fields of knowledge that are not available in the Lesotho.

Since politics affect peoples’ quality of life, partaking in politics would help orchestrate political decisions to a desired direction on the part of the individual involved. Political participation might also affect individual life satisfaction and happiness. This was observed by Sen (2002: 359) as he writes, “Participation can also be seen to have intrinsic value for the quality of life. Indeed, being able to do something through political action- for oneself or for others- is one of the elementary freedoms that people have reason to value”.

One other reason why NUL youth should engage in politics is because they are more Knowledgeable. Education supposedly increases relevant skills needed to understand and participate in politics, as well as increases political interest, sense of civic duty, and concern for the importance of political participation (Persson, 2012:2). It was discovered that going to college is likely to increase the probability of voting by at least 19% (Berinsky and Lenz, 2010:365).

There are a lot more other reasons why one expects to find NUL youth still participating in politics. Such reasons can be individually motivated or nationally driven. Poor services in the public sector, an exclusionary budget process made by the government, unevenly distributed services and resources in the country and antiquated government policies are among the issues that the youth should stand up against and see to it that they are rectified.

2.1.2 The Mobilization Model

The analysis of youth participation in this study will be confined within the theoretical framework of the mobilization model. The mobilization model argues that people participate in response to the political opportunities in their environment. Usually, the youth at tertiary participate more in politics because the opportunities for them to do so are greater than for other people who have not reached their level of education. They do so also because they are persuaded by other people to partake in politics.

According to Verba, et al. (1995:337-43) the opportunities for participation are not uniform across the population. They also link this model with resource model to illustrate why some people do not become political activists. Their argument is that the opportunities for participation are linked to the resources since individuals with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to have access to political parties than are low- status individuals because such associations emanate where individuals with high status reside.

Where this is the case, it is right to assert that an interaction between resources and opportunities attract or mobilize people in to politics. Social pressures to partake in politics are connected to resources as well. This comes to pass because individuals of higher status are most likely to get involved in politics. The very act promotes a norm of political participation among such people that is not common among low-status individuals.

Put simply, one supposes, as it were, the status of lectures and tertiary students at NUL are ranked as high status in Lesotho, those within communities are ranked as of low status. The latter are seen to have lesser access to opportunities and resources related to political participation as to the former. The youth at tertiary are most likely to get mobilized into politics as their status has set it as a norm for individuals of their calibre to do so. This theory has been employed because of its stronghold on the assertion that social environment in which people live is more favourable to participation than it is for others on a different social context.

Apart from the mobilization model, rational choice theory is usually used to analyse political participation. It asserts that a rational actor conducts cost-benefit analysis to explain voter turnout or any other behaviour. Every rational individual chooses whether to vote, participate in politics, protest or demonstrate after weighing the cost of such action; if the benefits outweigh the cost then an individual would participate; if not he abstains (Downs, 1957:260). Highlighting the conditions and context within which NUL is embedded in would help analyse the factors influencing their level of political participation

2.2 Political Participation: Empirical Literature

This section is an empirical literature review which centers on a collection of political participation aspects such as protests, demonstrations, boycotts, and strikes pursued by the lectures and the students at NUL. It also discusses the factors responsible for political participation and goes on to show the different forms of political participation.

The attempt is also made to establish the modes of political participation that have been observed around NUL. The issues responsible for fluctuation in the levels of political participation are accounted for.

2.2.1 Political participation through election

There are many mechanisms available for the youth to participate in politics. Elections and partisanship are among some of the mechanisms. Youth are too powerful and too salient to be ignored for national election processes. According to UNDP (2013:2) the youth aged between 15 and 25 make up a fifth of the world’s population. However, they are usually involved in informal politically relevant processes such as activism or civic engagement. In national election and parliaments the youth are rarely formally represented. Many of them do not even participate in national elections. This has the effect of affecting democratic governance in a bad way.

In cases where the youth-led protests have toppled a non-democratic regime from power, a significant frustration often is likely to arise if youth are excluded in new formal decision-making which can be made possible through elections to parliaments (UNDP, 2013:15). Consequently, this can have the effect of destabilizing the political system and even accelerate conflict. In short, the international community has realized the value of youth participation in general elections.

The youth have special reasons to vote in presidential or national elections. They have concern over election outcome. Potential power to affect the process of democratic transition and consolidation is mostly in their hands especially where they constitute a larger portion of the population. For example, in Kenya’s 2007 disputed elections the youth were responsible for acts of violence of which included ethnic violence that culminated in over 13, 00 deaths and displacement of 600 000 people (Lawther, 2013). The youth committed these acts on behalf of disputing political parties.

With the realization of the significance of the role of the youth in general elections, the government of Kenya decided to involve the youth in national elections. Mercy Corp created a programme called “Yes, You can”, for instance, it involved over 500 000 Kenyan youth and established 17 000 youth parliaments from the national to local level that helped to strengthen youth development and prevent electoral violence (Lawther, 2013). This strategy of youth involvement proved to work for Kenya as young people emerged as active participants and had a greater influence in influencing national policies. Apart from that, Kenyan youth also took role in national elections such that 12 of the parliament leaders were elected to public office (ibid).

Consequently, the 2013 elections demonstrated that Kenya is capable of conducting free and peaceful elections. Factors that drive youth to the polls have been crucial to achieve a relatively stable political climate in Kenya. It seems very important to encapsulate more of the factors that attract youth not only to the polls but also into politics.

2.2.2 Determinants of youth voter turnout

There are a number of factors that determine the likelihood of young people to participate in elections. Young people who actively partake in their community activities from early on are more likely to become engaged citizen and voters. The type of political system in place also has the effect on participation. A democratic system enhances political participation through elections than other types of political systems. Another important factor is legal framework. A youth friendly legal framework is crucial in enabling youth political participation in election processes. According to UNDP (2013:4) in one third of countries, law stipulates an eligibility age to run for parliament at the age of 25 years or above, creating a gap between the legal age of majority and or voting age, on the one hand, and the age at which an individual can serve in for an elected office. An eligibility voter age in Lesotho is 18 years and anything higher than that. The suggestion is that there has to be an alignment of minimum voting age and the minimum of eligibility age to run for office.

Pre-election period can be useful to encourage and support youth to participate in elections. Youth-friendly political parties serve as vibrant catalyst to encourage the youth to partake in presidential elections. Provision of education regarding elections can also inspire the youth to get involved in elections. The UNDP (2013:6) encourages for youth involvement in all phases of voters’ education campaign in order to attract them into the election processes. The youth have to be invited to visit national parliaments. There should be internship schemes for students in parliament if the youth are to be attracted to vote in elections.

In Europe, most of the youth tend to recruit through schools for youth parliament. They however, encounter a financial precariousness. Many national level European youth parliament organisations have access to limited resources (LSE Enterprise, 2013:46). One finds Lesotho youth parliament to be largely disorganized when compared to European one. The youth in Lesotho do not use schools for recruitment especially at tertiary level; rather they organize at village level and campaign there without formal recruitment in schools. Vibrant youth organizations such as Basotho National Party (BNP) Youth League, All Basotho Convention (ABC) Youth League, and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Youth League do not seem to make significant impact in politics. These youth cohort seems to have less if any representation in parliament. It looks like it is only elderly people that fill up the parliament and not youth.

Conversely in Republic of South Africa young people seem more mobilized than in Lesotho because they were able to form the African National Congress (ANC) youth League which survived to this day. The association focuses on protection of working class, the poor and active mobilization of vulnerable workers who are exploited as petrol attendants, waiters and waitresses, mine workers and farm workers. ANC Youth League organization of the youth possess a high potential to influence national elections in their favour than would the disorganized youth in Lesotho.

2.2.3 Incentives for youth to vote

Voluminous literature provides several reasons that compel youth to participate in elections and political processes. One of the reasons is that voting is not merely a fundamental democratic right but it is an end in and of itself to remove existing barriers to youth participation in politics (UNDP, 2013:15). The youth may choose to vote because they deem elections to be the right way to influence political decision-making. Some just know that elections are important. Others deem voting as a moral obligation. Voting is also seen as having an impact on problems that concern the youth’s lives (Flash Eurobarometer, 2013:33).

2.2.4 Disincentives for voting

On the contrary among the youth, there are those who chose to abstain from either voting or participating in election processes. Some claim that their vote will not change anything- it makes no difference to the total votes (Flash Eurobarometer, 2013:35). The other reason may be lack of interest in politics hence low voter turnout among the youth. In some cases, the obstacle for youth to vote may be around registration procedures which are hard to overcome. The youth may tend to be susceptible to registration obstacles mostly because they may lack resources and familiarity with governmental bureaucracy requisite to acquire and complete registration application. Nonetheless this reason may not be very much a problem with NUL tertiary youth especially because the University usually provides the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with an office for such registration processes within the campus during a pre-election period.

Others suggest that some of the youth hold negative attitudes towards government and a feeling of inefficacy (Ryan, 2006:2). In short, the youth chose not to vote because of bureaucratic barriers and attitudinal differences. Other scholars observe that every rational youth decides whether to vote just as he makes all other decisions: if the returns outweigh the costs, he votes, if not he abstains (Downs 1957:260).

2.2.5 Why youth votes matter

It is very important to measure youth voting behaviour and to analyze its impact because voting is essential to democracy. First and foremost, voting in general elections is critical for democratic representation. Low turnout implies that some groups especially those that are not voting are not well represented in political decision-making. According to Ryan (2006:24) in United States of America (USA) voting among the youth (people aged 18 to 24 years) has declined by 15 percent since 1972 while registration among this group has declined by 13 percent. It goes without saying that the youth representation in political decision is less hence biased. Biased representation means that certain groups possess greater influence on the makeup of government, political agenda and ultimately policy outcomes. Sheerin (2007:7) rightly maintains that high voting turnout among the youth would, on the other hand, act as a buffer against political extremism, and hence is crucial for democratic stability.


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Assessment level of political participation among youth. The case of the National University of Lesotho
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Political participation, voting, elections, youth, National University of Lesotho
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Moeketsi Kali (Author), 2014, Assessment level of political participation among youth. The case of the National University of Lesotho, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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