Two million, seven thousand and twenty one. This is Lesotho’s population as stated by the Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 census[i] – the first electronic census project to have been conducted in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region[ii]. As far as national populations go, it is not a big number and is placed as the tenth smallest population in Africa[iii].
At a minimum elevation of 1,400 metres above sea level, Lesotho’s inhabitants reside in the highest low level on planet earth. It is thus no surprise then that within her borders, the country possesses a landscape, scenery and culture so euphoric it could only exist among the clouds[iv].
The cuisine, as is customary across the continent, is best enjoyed with one’s hands; I give due respect to copyright and so say, the food in Lesotho is so good, you will lick your fingers. The native tongue, Sesotho, is a language with nuances so poetically delicate that those who master it are said to speak “ka leleme le paqameng” – a flat tongue[v]. Moreover, the country’s natural resources include lucrative commodities such as diamonds, mohair and, one of the most important resources of the natural world – water. Yet despite this, Lesotho is one of the least developed countries in the world due to a blend of natural disasters, pandemics and political instability that have slowed growth. Through a series of setbacks, both unavoidable and/or self-induced, the country is not what it could be.
In Sesotho it is said, ‘Basotho ba ikhants’a ba lapile’, meaning ‘Basotho are arrogant even while hungry’. While it is true that for countries pride and ego are necessary in maintaining sovereignty, the false pride as alluded to in this phrase is not a positive trait and it is one that is accompanied by an aversion to asking for or even receiving help. Furthermore, this can be linked to an unwillingness to be called to order. This is an outdated notion that the masses of our people can no longer afford. The need for the work of entities like the National Reforms Authority (NRA)[vi] in addressing these attitudes of the past is amplified. With 2022 marking 56 years of Lesotho’s independence (4th October), and national elections to be held later this year, the matter of the country’s future leadership takes centre stage.
Politics; patriotic at best and petty at worst. With a political arena of 60 political parties [vii], there are many politicians in Lesotho. However, solutions to the long-standing economic hurdles faced by the kingdom have remained elusive and those arising become more challenging to address. These issues not only impact international relations, but most directly affect Lesotho’s most vital stakeholders, the population of 2,007,021 who make up her people. Hunger is a daily reality for many in the kingdom, meaning Basotho families struggle with meals to eat. Rising unemployment and increasing reports of violent crime, including youth gangsterism[viii], highlights the need for security forces (including those that focus on the rehabilitation of offenders) to be capacitated with conducive environments and equipment needed in accomplishment of their great public service. In the same breath, the police must act as protectors of human rights and not a deadly threat to the people they are meant to serve [ix]. Additionally, rising reports of cross border crime including livestock theft, immigration issues and human trafficking means security services need to be able to liaise with South African and other international partners in finding solutions. Other prominent social issues such as gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health education, risk becoming like loose grains that risk falling through the cracks among the environmental and economic agendas to be addressed by Lesotho’s various ministries.
With leadership an integral issue, it is evident that a change is needed. That change appears to be enroute. The entry of the ‘Revolution for Prosperity’ political party led by Sam Matekane has caused a stir that announces the arrival of a leader who needs no introduction. His ever-growing list of accolades include successes in business, and charitable acts including building schools and churches, as well as building a laboratory at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic[x]. He has done acts of public service that rival that of the country’s own government and surpass examples of corporate social responsibility or, as some may say, a show of financial clout. These acts exemplify leadership skills which many politicians would be hard-pressed to parallel. With its resources, the dwellers of this kingdom are not meant to live in poverty, but, it has been mismanaged, and rampant corruption keeps it undeveloped. Perhaps the question becomes, is the corruption of the private sector any worse than that of the public sector? The eradication of corruption remains a distant dream for countries in the African context, perhaps more realistically it can be brought to a level that does not have a nation crippled for the niche benefits of political status.
So, will Lesotho’s government have new leadership? If the tethering loyalty of the rural highlands can be severed, it looks that way. And if it happens that new negotiators will step into the public offices that serve the Basotho nation, a teething period will be endured as an adjustment for all players in government will be experienced. With the reality of first attempts being inherently sprinkled with rookie missteps, one term may not be enough – a second term will be required. All the while, the globe is operating against the backdrop of a pandemic that has unmasked humanity to itself; an ongoing European war and its global repercussions; and climate change which has us expectant of the unexpected. It’s a handful for any government to meander.
Addressing this country’s challenges means new leadership will need to find a means of productively co-existing with local and foreign partners and find a grey area in which to engage with an opposition that has ascribed to the same modus operandi for decades. The best relationships are blurred, and we can learn from each other’s strengths as well as our weaknesses.
Oh it’s so easy to say (especially to a blank piece of paper) but of course in reality, not so easy to do. They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and so, each will have an individual perspective of Lesotho. We can only hope that those entrusted with the course of the country’s future understand the value of the task they are entrusted with – shaping a prosperous environment for the 2 007 821 who live in it. An environment with access to electricity (sans loadshedding) and water; services that amidst escalating crime and the covid-19 pandemic, become necessary basics. The possibility for change lies within the Basotho nation. It is to the nation to vote a change into fruition. And as a democratic country, all have the freewill and discretion to make our own choices. We must all vote.
[ii] The United Nations Statistical division at https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic-social/meetings/2017/lusaka–regional-workshop-on-2020-census/docs/s12-03-Lesotho.pptx
[iii] The 10 Least Populated Countries in Africa – WorldAtlas. https://www.worldatlas.com/amp/articles/the-10-least-populated-countries-in-africa.html
[iv] The Telegraph; “17 Things You didn’t know About Lesotho”. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/africa/articles/amazing-facts-about-lesotho/
[viii] the reporter.co.ls; “The menace of gangs” 31 May 2021. https://www.thereporter.co.ls/2021/05/31/the-menace-of-gangs/?amp ; allafrica.com; Lesotho: Ex-Offenders fight Gangsterism. https://allafrica.com/stories/202205240347.html
[ix] news24.com; “Lesotho police under fire for allegedly shooting, killing university students during protest”. https://www.news24com/amp/news24/africa/news/lesotho-police-under-fire-for-allegedly-shooting-killing-university-students-during-protest-20220621
[x] Eyewitness News; Covid-19: Businesman pledges up to R30 million to upgrade Lesotho’s lab system. https://ewn.co.za/2020/04/08/covid-19-businessman-pledges-up-to-r30-mln-to-upgrade-lesotho-s-lab-system/amp