Let cooler heads prevail in Lesotho
IT wasn’t that we did not see it coming, but it is staggering all the same. As reported elsewhere in this edition, Vice-president for Policy and Evaluation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Beth Tritter, has written a letter to Finance Minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla expressing concern over “the rule of law and accountability issues” in Lesotho.
Among other things, the letter also reveals that the Americans took umbrage with Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s recent remarks admonishing Lesotho’s development partners for “interfering in the country’s affairs”.
The letter also goes on to warn that these and “other developments” would be taken into consideration later this year when the MCC decides if Lesotho should be awarded a second Compact. The correspondence is as forthright as it is unequivocal; unless Lesotho accounts for the political and security unrest rocking the country — and explains Dr Mosisili’s declaration of 8 June 2015 in Maseru that foreigners have no business meddling in the country’s internal affairs — then the Kingdom might as well forget about the second Compact.
Ominously, this possible withdrawal may also be coupled with Lesotho also missing out on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) - a trade provision that allows thousands of products from African countries to enter the US tax-free which is due to expire in September. While the US Senate has recently passed legislation to extend the Act for another 10 years, it still has to go through the House of Representatives. Both AGOA and MCC require countries which qualify for aid to uphold, among others, the rule of law, principles of democracy and good governance as well as the protection of human rights.
As stated in this column on countless occasions, the US Senate’s version of AGOA reauthorisation provides increased flexibility with, and advance warning for a country whose eligibility is in question. In addition to an annual review and request for public comment on whether beneficiary countries conform to the eligibility criteria, US President Barack Obama may now initiate “out-ofcycle” assessments.
Additionally, the US government will have more flexibility in dealing with beneficiary countries not meeting the eligibility criteria. The Senate legislation provides for the “withdrawal, suspension, or limitation” of duty-free treatment. This gives the president a more targeted way to penalise violations. Ironically, earlier this month, Dr Mosisili confidently stated that AGOA was already in the bag and that “Basotho have nothing to worry about”.
On the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Compact, the premier was also buoyant, saying the US had sent a high-powered delegation to Lesotho to discuss the matter with government. However, recent events will most likely have disabused him of that notion. While Lesotho’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct, it would be foolhardy for us to expect development partners to turn a blind eye to allegations of human rights violations.
After all, the relationship is not transactional but based on goodwill with Lesotho with the most, if not all, to lose if it is terminated.
The government’s belligerent approach in addressing the issue is likely to result in a lose-lose scenario since the people they represent are likely to suffer the most if the facilities are removed. The compact has gone some way to reduce poverty and increase economic growth in this impoverished Kingdom, which largely depends on the donor community for survival.
Acknowledging the political pressure Dr Mosisili is under in this issue, it would be prudent for him to engage the development partners behind closed doors and iron out their differences than to further antagonise them through the press. While he needs to save face within his political constituency, the premier cannot do so at the expense of Lesotho’s developmental well-being.
As the diplomatic tiff escalates and no party is prepared to back down, Dr Mosisili risks further backing himself into a corner that will become harder to be extricated from.
Hopefully cooler heads will finally prevail.