Complicity in silence
IN this edition, outspoken Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC) faction spokesperson Bokang Ramatšella has stated his intention to hold a protest march to hound out of the country United States Ambassador to Lesotho Matthew Harrington.
Mr Ramatšella’s threats on Mr Harrington and other perceived enemies of the government have slowly, but surely, intensified with the LPC official describing the envoy as a “terrorist”.
That an official from one of the seven governing parties has been allowed to rant and rave against the United States is not only unfortunate but disconcerting. Sadly, Basotho with no link whatsoever to Mr Ramatšella’s antics may be affected by his belligerence to a country that has poured in literally billions in helping this country fight disease and deprivation.
The United States is the only major Western power with a direct embassy in Lesotho and one of the Mountain Kingdom’s largest benefactors. The programmes the Americans have sponsored over the years and continue to bankroll in Lesotho are too many mention.
However, to give context to this column, we will mention some. The American government supports Lesotho’s fight against HIV/AIDS through its President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
From 2006 to 2015, PEPFAR provided over US$250 million to support Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS response.the Mountain Kingdom has also benefited from United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) — an innovative agency created by the US Congress in January 2004 to reduce global poverty through economic growth.
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 PEPFAR to mitigate the negative economic impact of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.
As if that were not enough, Lesotho is eligible for trade preferences under the US government’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2016. AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the US market to eligible Sub-saharan African countries. The legislation, which was renewed for 10 years by US lawmakers last June, is meant to incentivise African countries to open their economies and build free markets.
However, the main sticking point for Mr Ramatšella is the Americans’ insistence on “concrete actions” that address concerns about “impunity and the rule of law” as well as implementing recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community Commission of Inquiry.
As a result, the Americans could withdraw assistance to Lesotho because of these concerns since the aid comes with conditions there is political stability in the country.
Mr Ramatšella recently told this paper, the warning by the diplomat that Lesotho risked losing trade and aid preferences under AGOA and MCC were “terrorist statements”. He wants the Americans to continue pouring in money without asking questions about accountability and rule of law.
Unfortunately, that can never happen anywhere in this world. As they say: “You can’t eat your cake, and have it too”.
Unfortunately, the coalition government is doing the nation no favours by their failure to rein in Mr Ramatšella. Many government officials have been hiding behind the excuse they had not heard Mr Ramatšella making the incendiary remarks. The feeble attempts by the Democratic Congress Youth League, as reported in this edition, will convince few of the coalition’s sincerity.
The longer Mr Ramatšella continues to harass the American ambassador, the more it seems his utterances reflect the government’s position. Suffice to say, the pulling out of the Americans would have ghastly consequences for the country’s economic fortunes and wellbeing of the populace.
It thus behoves the coalition government to elucidate on its position with regards to Mr Ramatšella’s remarks and live with the consequences. Their fence sitting is fooling no one and doing the nation more harm than good.