Why Le­sotho ur­gently needs a na­tional di­a­logue

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Peete Mo­lapo

‘’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

Con­tin­ued on page 14. . .

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