Why Lesotho urgently needs a national dialogue
‘’Democracy is no vaccination against poverty” (UNDP Poverty report -2000). Next year Lesotho will be celebrating 50 years of independence and there has to be something material to celebrate because independence cannot be celebrated for its own sake.
It is a means towards an end. my opinion is that Basotho acquired independence not because it was in fashion at the time but as a means to establish a democratic state in order to put the economy on a trajectory to prosperity and social welfare.
applying the logical framework, independence was acquired with the strategic objective and intended impact of eliminating poverty. The outcome from independence was expected to be a democratic system of government whose outputs would be peace, stability, and economic growth as well as development.
The desired outcome of a democratic system has been achieved but the question is: has it produced peace, stability and economic development? Invariably, with the exception of a few countries like Botswana and mauritius, Sub-saharan african countries including Lesotho have performed below par when it comes to these three primary responsibilities of government.
The reason for this is simple: the inability of the democratic state to deliver. For the majority of Sub-saharan african countries, including Lesotho, the once buoyant optimism towards democracy has faded to foreboding. In this article, I argue that Lesotho desperately needs profound reforms to extricate itself from economic stagnation, poverty and disease that have all now become its middle names. To chart the way forward a national dialogue is indispensable. Justification is pro- vided below as a narrative of the country’s socio-economic developments to date.
In as far as economic growth and development is concerned, Lesotho continues to be one of the 49 least developed countries (Ldcs) in the world. Since independence, economic growth has been hamstrung by high volatility due mainly to the vagaries of the weather and vulnerability to external shocks.
In the last 15 years the economy grew by four percent on average. By virtue of its very low level of economic development, Lesotho has a potential to grow by rates well above seven percent to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) recently adopted by the United Nations.
However, given the structural constraints it faces, that level of growth is not attainable in the short to medium term. The level of poverty remains high (57 percent) and could be deepening with the current challenges of unemployment, inequality and disease. according to the World Bank human development index (HDI 2014), Lesotho ranks 162 out of 187 countries.
This, by all accounts, is a very low rating. In terms of quantity, the country boasts one of the highest literacy rates in africa (87 per- cent males, 98 percent females) but in terms of quality, it ranks among the poorest. The inequality adjusted HDI deteriorated by 36 percent in 2013, meaning the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening.
The official unemployment rate in Lesotho according to the Bureau of Statistics is said to be 22.5 percent but the unofficial one is conjectured above 40 percent. The country has recently acquired the number two spot among countries with the highest prevalence of Hiv/aids in the world.
The changing climatic conditions, exemplified by the current drought, and land degradation are intensifying at an alarming rate, yet there are no proactive initiatives to rein in the deterioration.
In terms of economic transformation, Lesotho has not changed much since independence. The economy still depends on migrant labour, government, and a small and weak private sector dominated by a large and growing informal sector. Unfortunately, for more than 30 years now, the number of mineworkers has been steadily falling.
From 65 000 in 2000 they have declined to 30 000 in 2014. Within the unemployed labour force, 54 percent fall between the ages of 20 to 29, thus indicating a very serious problem of youth unemployment in Lesotho.
While civil service employment rose by 22 percent between 2000 and 2014, the wage bill has rocketed to 26 percent of GDP, one of the highest in the world, and government is under heavy pressure to scale down. Despite decades old pronouncements about reducing dependency on Southern african customs Union (Sacu) revenue, it still accounts for 50 percent of government revenue.
While tax collection efficiencies have been improved through the Lesotho revenue authority, expanding the tax base through a vibrant private sector is still a big challenge. What is worrying is that Sacu itself faces an uncertain future. The International monetary Fund recently gave a chilling warning that should the country not em- bark on “major fiscal adjustment”, it faces a “severe risk of macroeconomic instability”. Since independence, the economy still lives beyond its means. In 2014, consumption exceeded domestic production by 30 percent.
at 32 percent of GDP in 2013, industrial activity in Lesotho is still low as measured by total industrial value added. Given that it once reached a high of 38 percent in 2005, it means that the economy is now deindustrialising. critical is the agricultural sector whose contribution has contracted from 27 percent in 1980 to only seven percent in 2013.
over 70 percent of the population depend on agriculture. The manufacturing sector, which has been growing phenomenally since 2001, buoyed by the high performing garment industry, has now shrunk to 12 percent from a high of 22 percent due to poor growth in the apparel industry.
The poor performance in agriculture and manufacturing has, to some extent, been positively offset by the growth in the emergent mining industry, construction and services sectors. Despite its potential as a growth generator, the diamond
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