Stop the blame game please
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.