Interview: Tom Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho

Tom Thabane

Improving health care, modernising the country’s infrastructure and attracting foreign investment are major priorities for Lesotho, as Prime Minister Tom Thabane tells Global in this exclusive interview 

Tom Thabane has been Prime Minister of Lesotho since 2012 as head of the All Basotho Convention, which is part of a multi-party coalition. While fighting the election, he pledged to tackle poverty, unemployment and health, alongside improving infrastructure and increasing educational opportunities. 

Global: How important is Commonwealth membership to Lesotho?

Tom Thabane: Lesotho highly values its membership of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth provides a forum in which social and development challenges that are shared can be discussed and collectively addressed. Although this group of states may not have significant economic power, in their collective they present a formidable political and moral force. Member states are able to benchmark against each other, sharing experiences and best practice. 

Lesotho has benefited immensely from her membership of the Commonwealth. Apart from assisting Lesotho in human resource development through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, the organisation continues to give significant support to Lesotho’s efforts towards deepening the culture of democracy and good governance, particularly in the strengthening of democratic institutions in the country. 

What opportunities do you see to expand the tourism sector in Lesotho? How easy is it to get locals to understand the benefits of tourism?

The Kingdom of Lesotho is endowed with an array of pristine and unique tourist attractions, such as biodiversity and scenic splendour, authentic culture and her people, that stand her in a very good chance of attracting high-value tourists locally, regionally and globally. Lesotho is also geographically located within South Africa, which is one of the emerging tourist destinations of the world in terms of tourist arrivals and receipts. 

Today’s tourists are seeking ‘relatively undisturbed destinations’ that provide a rare escape from their stressful lives – they need to be educated and contribute towards biodiversity conservation. They respect and want to learn about other cultures, and they want to interact with the locals. At the same time they are looking for destinations that provide active pursuits, such as mountain climbing, skiing, snorkelling, horse riding, etc. Lesotho is well placed to expand as a tourist destination for this market. 

Opportunities to expand the sector include the development of heliports for panoramic views of the majestic Maloti mountain range, accommodation facilities, health resorts, water sports facilities and sports arenas. 

It is indeed not easy to get locals to understand the benefits of tourism when they may not appreciate foreigners wandering around their villages and grazing sites, but it can be done. First of all, local communities should be made to understand tourism as a means to provide economic opportunities, offer direct benefits for environmental conservation and empower them; tourism should be run with the involvement and consent of local communities. Tšehlanyane National Park provides a good example of community involvement and endorsement of tourism activities. 

What investment opportunities are there in Lesotho for foreign companies?

There are investment opportunities in knitted fabric mills; the production of accessories and packaging materials; leather and footwear; assembly of consumer electrical and electronic appliances; food processing; water bottling; mining and resources-based projects, such as sandstone, ceramic ware and brick making; clay processing; environmental projects like waste recycling; the energy sector; development of infrastructure; development of tourist facilities; and pharmaceuticals. 

The establishment of a pharmaceutical company is one of the strategic projects that Lesotho is aggressively marketing. Currently, all pharmaceutical products are imported into Lesotho. 

The pharmaceutical company will manufacture a variety of drugs to replace imports with locally produced drugs and medicines. The company will also have the opportunity to service the regional market. 

Is the fascinating Basotho culture being threatened by outside influences?

Yes, Basotho culture is, like all cultures, being threatened by outside influences. We are, like all others, victims of globalisation and the ICT revolution – people move in and out of Lesotho and in the process they bring in new cultures. Culture is dynamic – it changes with time and young people are the main victims of these changes. On the domestic front also, there is high rural-urban migration, which is largely driven by the search for advancements, whether education, employment or other economy-related forces. 

Traditional Basotho culture, which is predominantly observed in rural Lesotho, gets subsumed in urban cultures, which are significantly spread and supported by modern technology, including television, radio and the internet. 

The issue of HIV/AIDS among children has recently been addressed by the Baylor College of Medicine, but what is being done to address other health concerns in the country?

The Mother-Baby Pack was launched in 2011. Every pregnant woman attending antenatal care services is given a Mother Baby Pack, regardless of her HIV status. Adaptation of World Health Organization (WHO) 2013 HIV guidelines also mean that every HIV-infected pregnant woman is given antiretroviral therapy for life. This is given regardless of their CD4 count or WHO clinical staging. 

The government of Lesotho is committed to controlling and eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases among children under five years of age and adolescents through immunisations. Village health workers also provide a link between the communities and the health centres to provide primary health care services such as home-based care, growth monitoring and identification of malnourished children. 

What is being done to modernise the country’s infrastructure?

Last year the government commissioned a study to provide an overview of alternative road tolling in the country, especially targeting roads that link Lesotho with South Africa. The aim is to find ways of generating a substantial amount of money that can be used for the construction of modernised roads and maintenance. In this coming Budget preparation, sectors like tourism, agriculture and mining will present their infrastructure needs for the next few years and the government will ensure that service sectors like public works, transport and energy provide essential services, regardless of the Budget allocation. 

The Lesotho Electricity Company infrastructure network in Lesotho is very old. It needs a serious revamp. A feasibility study has been conducted in an attempt to address this unfavourable condition and the government is committed to putting in place corrective measures, as well as a maintenance framework. Meanwhile, for the very hard-to-get-to remote places, the government will resort to solar and wind power as sources of energy. The government has advanced plans to generate additional electricity (1,000 KW) at the Kobong hydropower station. About 200 KW will cater for the country demand, including the industrial sector’s energy needs, while 800 KW will be exported to South Africa. 

ICT can also be used to improve coverage and efficiency of service provision, such as health, education and general trade in services, including e-commerce, as well as facilitating the establishment of global social networks. The government, through the Ministry of Information, Science and Technology, with the support of development partners (the government of China), is in the process of migrating from analogue to digital communication networks. 

This coming fiscal year, the ministry, with the support of the African Development Bank, will implement the e-governance project, which intends to promote the use of ICT for delivering government services, the exchange of information communication transactions, and integration of various stand-alone systems and services between the government and citizens. 

How would you describe Lesotho’s relationship with South Africa?

Lesotho’s relationship with South Africa is a special one grounded on historical and cultural ties. South Africa is one of Lesotho’s main strategic partners. The destinies of the two countries are intertwined, due to Lesotho’s unique geographic location, which sees it completely surrounded by South Africa. The two countries share common cultural and social ties, including language, which date back centuries. 

Lesotho played a pivotal role in the fight against apartheid and since the attainment of freedom in South Africa in 1994, relations between the two countries continue to soar to new heights. South Africa is Lesotho’s biggest trading partner. One of the flagship symbols of co-operation between the two countries is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which delivers water to South Africa’s industrial heartland and generates electrical power for Lesotho. This is a shining example of co-operation which should be emulated in order to avoid conflicts brought about by hydro-politics. The two countries co-operate in a number of sectors under the umbrella of the Joint Bilateral Commission of Co-operation, which was signed in 2001. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being the head of a small country? Does Lesotho have a distinctive role to play in southern Africa?

We do not see our size as a disadvantage, rather as an opportunity. As a small country we face fewer challenges than larger countries, which have diverse languages and cultures. It is much easier to make an impact in the socio-economic development of our people with fewer resources. The interests of our people are not as diverse as those in larger countries, so it is much easier to achieve political cohesion. 

Being small does pose a number of challenges including marginalisation, having a small and fragile economy, combatting the effects of climate change and transnational crime, to name a few. Our size motivates us to redouble our efforts and resolve to deal with these enormous challenges. But it does not deter us from fully and actively participating in the affairs of the region in which we are located and the organisations in which we are members. 

Lesotho has played, and continues to play, a significant role in the political and economic integration of Africa in general and southern Africa in particular. In fact, some of the most important decisions and milestones in the integration agenda of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community have been reached with Lesotho at the helm of these organisations.

About the author:

Tom Thabane is the Prime Minister of Lesotho


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Amnesty International