Prime Minister Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili answers Global’s questions on Lesotho’s politics, the country’s economic growth and the AIDS epidemic
Lesotho’s Prime Minister Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili has spent more than 13 years leading his country. He was returned to power in March this year after a three year stint in opposition that followed three terms as Prime Minister. He has degrees from universities in Canada, the USA and South Africa and worked as a teacher before entering politics. Mosisili, 70, left the Lesotho Congress for Democracy in 2012 to form the Democratic Congress.
Global: Politics in Lesotho have been quite turbulent over the past couple of years. What do you think convinced the Basotho to return you to power at the general election?
Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili: Many countries have experienced different shades of political turbulence in the past few years, and indeed Lesotho has not been an exception. But the level of turbulence experienced in Lesotho can in no way compare to what some countries experienced in other parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The results of the February 2015 elections in Lesotho caught us all by surprise – a most unexpected exit poll. But these results taught us all that we can no longer take the electorate for granted and wallow in the age-old belief that their support is guaranteed.
The most important outcome of the election result has been the need to bring different political persuasions to the table of negotiations in order to be able to form a government. We cannot, therefore, boldly say Basotho returned the Party I lead to power, rather we need to be humbled by the trust the other six coalition partners reposed in the Democratic Congress (DC) to allow us to lead the current Coalition Government.
The Democratic Congress leads a broad political coalition in Lesotho. What do you see as the main challenges, and advantages of coalition politics?
The biggest challenge is managing diverse political beliefs in a populace whose politics have been marred by diversity. It is an added challenge for me in particular because I have had the good fortune to lead a party that did not depend on the support of others to form a functional government. On the positive side, I can boldly say that coalition politics have provided a unique opportunity to rally our people behind a common national programme. We are of the considered opinion that the current coalition agenda augers well for the reform programme we have committed ourselves to. You may be aware that Lesotho celebrates the 50th anniversary of independence next year and there is no better platform to usher the nation into that historic celebration than the current coalition of seven political parties and the reform programme articulated in the Coalition Agreement.
Lesotho has had coups in the past and some politicians have spoken recently of their fears that the army still has too much power. How is the current government’s relationship with the armed forces?
Lesotho has had only one coup, which was in 1986. It is therefore incorrect that we have had coups. I am not aware of politicians who harbour fears of an impending coup except for the propaganda that has been widely voiced by some opposition politicians who would like to dictate the way we run government. We are proud of the professionalism of the Lesotho Defence Force. In fact had it not been for that professionalism, Lesotho would have tottered on the precipice of collapse in the two-year reign of former Prime Minister Dr Thomas Thabane. The army has no power or political ambition as far as we are aware. Therefore the relationship between the Coalition government and the army is strictly professional and we have no apprehensions that the situation may change any day soon.
The country has suffered terribly from AIDS. How can the international community support Lesotho in slowing the spread of the disease and caring for orphans?
It is a matter of great concern that the progress made in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS before 2012 was eroded by the careless and nonchalant attitude of those who led government in 2012. This is a reality we have to confront with the vigour and aggressiveness necessary to reverse the spread of the pandemic.
We have just initiated an innovative, indigenous leadership programme whose primary focus is to ensure involvement and accountability of all strata of leadership in the health service delivery and galvanise the collective energy of every leader, including Village Health Workers who have been faithful supporters of people living openly with HIV/AIDs.
Our special appeal to the international community is for them to lend support to this leadership programme and ensure that the resources they provide are not utilised in a vertical pattern that does not ensure cohesion for the current leadership agenda. It is expected that His Majesty King Letsie III will launch this programme soon. The Ministry of Social Development already has a support programme for orphans and vulnerable children. As part of the leadership drive, that Ministry, working with its international partners, will be assisted to improve its outreach to orphans.
The African Development Bank Group has predicted growth of around 4.4% for Lesotho this year. Which areas of the economy do you see as being most critical to driving continued growth?
The key drivers of economic growth this year will be the following:
- The Manufacturing sector will continue to achieve robust growth as exports of manufactured goods, primarily the apparel sector to the US, continues to grow. The recent extension of Africa Growth and Opportunity Act by the United States has strengthened our position as one of the most competitive apparel producers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Furthermore, our continued investment in this sector, aimed at achieving full vertical integration will contribute to improved performance of the sectorThe second key factor for growth this year will be mining. Our exports of diamonds to the EU and US continue to grow and the current US dollar/rand exchange rate has made our exports competitive
- Thirdly, we expect the construction sector to perform above average as a result of the commencement of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. This infrastructure project will significantly boost our GDP for at least the next seven years
What would your message be to prospective investors interested in investing in Commonwealth countries like Lesotho? And what would be your message to Basotho enterprises eager to work with these investors?
My key message to potential investors is that Lesotho is ripe for business. Government, with the assistance of its co-operating partners, has put in place a transparent and effective policy framework that facilitates doing business in Lesotho. Lesotho is a safe destination for investments and the safety of investors is guaranteed. It is also important to highlight that Lesotho enjoys preferential market access into most developed country markets including the EU, US, Canada and China.
In addition to this, Lesotho as a member of the Southern African Customs Union is part of a bigger regional market that includes South Africa. Our geographical location facilitates our strong position as part of the regional and global supply chain. Lesotho has just witnessed positive developments in the automotive sector. We particularly see opportunities in the manufacturing, mining and agro processing sectors. We have put together a dynamic framework of incentives that make us a competitive destination. The cost of doing business in Lesotho is competitive and we have built a reliable infrastructure that includes a cost-effective utility regime.
We are convinced that our economic future depends on how well, as government, we facilitate the integration of our local business community into our FDI strategy. An inclusive investment strategy driven by Basotho will ensure economic sustainability and growth. My message therefore is that the Lesotho government is fully committed to ensuring that Basotho are an integral part of this growth strategy and to this we are putting in place incentives aimed at facilitating partnerships between local investors and foreign investors.
Originally published as: ‘Coalition politics have afforded a unique opportunity’