Time for cooler heads to prevail
IT seems the dark clouds are never far away for Lesotho, with the Mountain Kingdom grappling with renewed political tension. In this edition, we report on the stay away and protest march scheduled for today aimed at pressuring the government into “speedily” implementing recommendations made by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) commission of inquiry into Lesotho’s instability.
The heavy presence of security forces in the streets of Maseru as of yesterday, casts an ominous shadow on the fragile peace that has been holding in the country. There is no telling what will happen next as the contending forces dig in and tempers flare. We earnestly hope cooler heads will prevail on all sides, and nothing untoward occurs.
In the grander scheme of things, whoever “wins” this duel is immaterial because, as a nation, we are all losing. What worries the ordinary people more is that Lesotho is in the throes of a debilitating drought which has serious ramifications for food security and their livelihoods?
Added to that, Lesotho is at a crossroads with its main development partners, with the European Union (EU) having already decided not to disburse €26.85 million (about M460.65 million) meant to support the national budget due to issues of unaccountability. The United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has also told the government to explain the steps it would take to address its concerns on the rule of law and governance issues before the issuance of a second compact. A withdrawal of MCC funding support would be so momentous that there is a very real risk that other aid organisations might also reconsider their assistance to the Mountain Kingdom.
Lesotho received its first five-year MCC grant in July 2007. The $362.5 million compact, among others, helped fund the construction of Metolong Dam, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to mitigate the negative economic impact of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.
However, the MCC board on 16 December 2015 deferred a vote on Lesotho and Tanzania’s eligibility for a second five-year compact, citing the countries’ poor governance record.
In March this year, the MCC’S board of directors voted to suspend their partnership with the government of Tanzania, saying the east African nation “engaged in a pattern of actions inconsistent with MCC’S eligibility criteria”. Lesotho’s fate is still uncertain, but the signs are not encouraging.
As if to buttress the concerns raised by our development partners, the latest outlook by ratings agency Fitch on Lesotho’s economy states as much. It notes that political tensions were complicating any policy response to the growing fiscal deficit. In essence, the continued ruckus was crippling the government’s attempts to redress some of the challenges the economy is facing.
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. What we need is selfless and visionary leadership from across the political divide. The poverty many of our compatriots grapple with is certainly more pertinent than the one-upmanship that characterises our politics.
The decisions all our leaders make have telling implications on this nation and our children’s future. While implementing the recommendations of the SADC report might have negative implications for the coalition government in the short-term, it would ensure the country does not become a pariah in the international community.
Ultimately, the political instability in Lesotho did not start with the present coalition government, lest we forget. Basotho from across the political divide need to take responsibility for this malaise. As rightly noted by Gem Diamonds Chief Executive Clifford Elphick in this edition, our fixation with politics has retarded progress in the development of the requisite technical skills to support diamond mining. This also applies to Lesotho’s economic development which has been perennially stalled by bouts of political instability.