Stop the blame game please

Lesotho Times - - Leader -

AMID the hul­la­baloo over the po­lit­i­cal hap­pen­ings, Le­sotho’s textile in­dus­try is tee­ter­ing on the verge of col­lapse af­ter or­ders from for­eign buy­ers, who are mostly from the United States, have ceased.

How­ever, its doubt­ful most Ba­sotho will no­tice, since it seems there are usu­ally more trend­ing top­ics than bread and but­ter is­sues.

As re­ported in this edi­tion, trade unions for the textile and gar­ment sec­tors have rung the alarm bells over the rate at which work­ers are be­ing sent on “tem­po­rary re­trench­ments” since last month. The sit­u­a­tion has be­come so dire they have warned that thou­sands would be left job­less un­less for­eign buy­ers re­sume do­ing busi­ness with lo­cal firms as a mat­ter of ur­gency.

Le­sotho’s textile and gar­ment fac­to­ries pro­duce goods for the US mar­ket through the African Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) — a duty-free and quota-free trade pref­er­ence ex­tended to spe­cific African states to boost their eco­nomic devel­op­ment through in­ter­na­tional trade. Le­sotho is among the 37 na­tions ben­e­fit­ting from AGOA through its textile in­dus­try which em­ploys an es­ti­mated 35 000 work­ers.

While the de­cline in or­ders from the US could be the re­sult of a sea­sonal drop in de­mand for prod­ucts, an­a­lysts who spoke to the Le­sotho Times also cited other fac­tors in­clud­ing the de­lay in ex­tend­ing the AGOA legislation last year and the lin­ger­ing per­cep­tion of po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity that per­vades Le­sotho.

Le­sotho is cer­tainly not at fault for the de­lay in the ex­ten­sion of AGOA since it was up to the US Congress which only de­cided to re­new the 15-year old legislation for another 10 years last June. How­ever, on the is­sue of per­ceived in­sta­bil­ity, Le­sotho has con­tin­u­ally shot her­self in the foot by al­low­ing one po­lit­i­cal log­jam af­ter another de­rail the coun­try’s im­age. As a re­sult, more of­ten than not, Le­sotho has made in­ter­na­tional head­lines for the wrong rea­sons with sto­ries of coups more syn­ony­mous with our beloved Moun­tain King­dom than those about its many tourism des­ti­na­tions.

The catas­tro­phe of thou­sands of fac­tory work­ers end­ing up on the streets puts the ret­ro­gres­sive bick­er­ing among our po­lit­i­cal class into con­text. The is­sues our lead­ers are fight­ing about pale in com­par­i­son to the suf­fer­ing of many who face a bleak and job­less fu­ture, not to men­tion their depen­dants. Lest any­one for­gets, the HIV/AIDS preva­lence rate is higher among textile work­ers than any other cat­e­gory in this coun­try, which means they are all the more vul­ner­a­ble.

That is why a re­assess­ment of our pri­or­i­ties as a na­tion is an ur­gent pri­or­ity. Le­sotho has and con­tin­ues to lose so much ground in eco­nomic devel­op­ment ow­ing to the peren­nial crises. Ul­ti­mately, the whole na­tion, in­clud­ing the glad­i­a­tors, is los­ing out as the na­tion re­mains en­sconced in the least de­vel­oped na­tion cat­e­gory while other poor na­tions grad­u­ate to mid­dle in­come sta­tus.

If any­thing, the threat of thou­sands of al­ready poor Ba­sotho los­ing their only source of in­come should rouse po­lit­i­cal lead­ers across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide to pull in the same di­rec­tion for Le­sotho’s devel­op­ment.

Added to that, the shrill call to di­ver­sify the econ­omy has gone un­heeded even though most peo­ple had seen the dry­ing up of or­ders from the United States com­ing many years ago.

Le­sotho’s textile in­dus­try can no longer op­er­ate as be­fore ow­ing to many threats to its trade with the US, such as the Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) — a trade agree­ment be­tween 12 Pa­cific Rim coun­tries which was signed on 4 Fe­bru­ary 2016 and only await­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

If rat­i­fied, the TPP would re­duce tar­iffs and trade rules among the coun­tries in­volved. It would also al­low very com­pet­i­tive economies such as Viet­nam to do more busi­ness with the US un­der the same priv­i­leges AGOA ben­e­fi­cia­ries cur­rently re­ceive.

That the econ­omy needs to be di­ver­si­fied should no longer be a mere state­ment made at work­shops, but an ur­gent pri­or­ity for the gov­ern­ment. In­no­va­tion and Le­sotho’s com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages such as low labour costs need to be har­nessed to cre­ate vi­able en­ter­prises and at­tract do­mes­tic as well as for­eign in­vest­ment.

The ex­am­ple of Rwanda should serve as an in­spi­ra­tion to Le­sotho. From the ruins of the 1990s geno­cide, the tiny east African na­tion has trans­formed it­self into a tech­nol­ogy hub for the African con­ti­nent, with some com­men­ta­tors de­scrib­ing it as the Sin­ga­pore of Africa.

While Rwanda’s politics are far from per­fect, its rel­a­tive suc­cess high­lights the pos­i­tive out­comes that re­sult from proac­tive, rather than re­ac­tive poli­cies. I HAVE, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, de­cried the fact that un­less some re­me­dial mea­sures are taken by not only the gov­ern­ment, yet pri­mar­ily so, and all stake­hold­ers, to ar­rest the es­ca­lat­ing crime rate, chiefly mur­der and vi­o­lent crime in Le­sotho, this coun­try will de­gen­er­ate into an­ar­chy.

Through­out Le­sotho, there are many re­ports of shoot­ings, killings and vi­o­lent crime that af­fect or­di­nary in­no­cent law-abid­ing cit­i­zens. At the fore­front of all these are the famo killings, (a mu­si­cal genre that is as­so­ci­ated with two ma­jor groups, col­lo­qui­ally called terene and seakhi), that are dis­turb­ing as­so­ci­ated with po­lit­i­cal par­ties across the di­vide, op­po­si­tion and gov­ern­ment. How­ever, a word of cau­tion has to be sounded that this state­ment does not in any way in­sin­u­ate that any po­lit­i­cal party is ac­qui­esc­ing to the killings. These groups are iden­ti­fied by the colour of blan­kets they wear. To add in­sult to in­jury, com­mon crim­i­nals have jumped onto the band­wagon also cal­lously killing in­no­cent peo­ple.

In the midst of all this es­ca­lat­ing may­hem, one would nat­u­rally ex­pect both the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion as well as the other stake­hold­ers to work to­wards curb­ing and elim­i­nat­ing the vi­o­lent crime, yet on the con­trary, they are blam­ing each other for the sense­less and bru­tal crimes. Re­ports of acts of bru­tal­ity and killing through­out Le­sotho, par­tic­u­larly, Maseru are sim­ply callous, bru­tal, evil and cruel and may not be cap­tured un­der one rubric let alone to graph­i­cally de­scribe them. I reckon these mur­der­ous crim­i­nals wor­ship Satan as they do not at­tach any value to the sanc­tity of hu­man life. My heart sank when I heard that hired killers were al­legedly paid M2 500 per mis­sion to kill peo­ple.

For a small coun­try like ours that is not di­vided by any dis­tin­guish­able char­ac­ter­is­tics, it is in­deed wor­ri­some in the ex­treme that gangs are seem­ingly with­out any hin­drance in sight, ma­raud­ing our cities and vil­lages com­mit­ting mur­der, ar­son and other bru­tal vi­o­lent crimes with ab­so­lute im­punity. Seem­ingly no­body seems to care save that all we hear is the con­stant me­dia ha­rangu­ing by po­lit­i­cal par­ties across the spec­trum in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment.

All these very im­por­tant stake­hold­ers seem to care is to make po­lit­i­cal mileage out of the un­for­tu­nate morass that this be­lea­guered na­tion is en­tan­gled in; es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lent crime. One of the core du­ties of any gov­ern­ment is to pro­tect its cit­i­zens and their prop­erty, as well as en­sur­ing sta­bil­ity not mud­sling­ing.

Amidst all these ac­cu­sa­tions and counter-ac­cu­sa­tions, our lead­ers have to take heed of the old Ki-swahili id­iom that when ele­phants fight it is the grass that suf­fers. In ad­di­tion, it would be chary to in­vest in a coun­try whose vi­o­lent crime has spi­raled out of con­trol.

This has the rip­ple ef­fect of im­pact­ing neg­a­tively on the shrink­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the newly-grad­u­ated, the thou­sands of youth roam­ing our streets un­em­ployed. Politi­cians need to re­alise that it is their col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to grow and ca­pac­i­tate our econ­omy.

The po­lice ser­vice and the de­fence force are both con­sti­tu­tion­ally em­pow­ered to en­sure sta­bil­ity, up­hold law and or­der as well as all the laws of Le­sotho to en­sure a na­tion that is at peace with it­self and its neigh­bour.

It does not need a rocket sci­en­tist to know that vi­o­lent crime is the an­tithe­sis of a vi­brant econ­omy. If the na­tional cake shrinks, that is, the rev­enue of the state, de­cline, and the rip­ple ef­fect will be felt through­out all our de­vel­op­men­tal ef­forts as a na­tion.

It trans­lates to the ef­fect that there will also be fewer busi­nesses and em­ploy­ees from which the gov­ern­ment, tax col­lec­tor, in our case, Le­sotho Rev­enue Au­thor­ity (LRA) can col­lect taxes. In re­turn these taxes fund our in­fras­truc­tural devel­op­ment ef­forts and main­te­nance, our de­fence and law and or­der, ed­u­ca­tional, health­care, wa­ter and elec­tric­ity and many oth­ers.

The courts also have to play their role in pun­ish­ing crim­i­nal con­duct, par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent crime. In this ef­fort, it is also our col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity as a na­tion and the gen­eral pub­lic, in­deed as en­joined by law, to tip-off and in all man­ner as­sist law en­force­ment agen­cies to erad­i­cate the spec­tre of vi­o­lent crime, in par­tic­u­lar and crime in gen­eral.

We need to call upon our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment to de­sist from the pub­lic mud-sling­ing and play­ing the blame game when our Rome, Le­sotho, is burn­ing to ashes. In fact, un­less ar­rested, vi­o­lent crime will re­sult in Le­sotho im­plod­ing. This is no idle threat, ButhaButhe and Hlotse, where a shop­ping com­plex and Pitso ground, have been torched are typ­i­cal ex­am­ples of what will en­sue if noth­ing is done.

These ac­cu­sa­tions and counter-ac­cu­sa­tions clearly demon­strate how low po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have stooped and the cal­iber of politi­cians we have. They just blame and blame end­lessly with­out any pos­i­tive re­me­dial ac­tion.

The mes­sage is sim­ple: Please stop the vi­o­lent crime be­fore it spi­rals out of con­trol.

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