A visitor’s assessment Lesotho

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AS I SEE IT

 

THIS is my second visit to Lesotho after close to six years. Indeed there are signs of “progress” as measured in the number of cars on the road, the number of tarred roads and high-rise buildings and the state of people’s personal houses in and around town, as well as in some not-so-remote rural areas.

One also gets a sense that the remote areas are worse off and continue the struggle for survival in a context of continued infrastructural and institutional poverty.

It was sad to learn that there are far less Basotho now than on my initial visit – and this being a result of the sad scourge and reality of HIV and Aids.

Fundraising from the comfort of his protected existence, Prince Harry of the Sentebale fame suggested that one in every three Basotho are HIV-positive. A worrying figure if it was not thumb suck in the excitement of fundraising for dark Africa.

It is not all gloom. There have been many reasons for smiles and relief. Just the thought of being able to park a car and not worry whether one would find it there is such a huge relief from what has become the norm in South Africa.

Those familiar with South Africa would know that crime has reached alarming proportions. Finding your car where you left it could leave one in medical shock.

I also found that Basotho (rich and poor) are very polite, kind, useful and relaxed. The officials at the border post and in government offices were really helpful.

In any place there will always be a black sheep. This goes to the rude and unfortunately xenophobic Highway Patrol Officers of the Lesotho Mounted Police Services who I encountered at an intersection of the Main North.

There was also one lady who works for the UNFPA programme of the UN based at the United Nations House who seems to think she is above everyone else in Africa simply because she works for an international organisation that is controlled by those who guard the unequal relations between the colonisers and the colonised.

These were too few unpleasant incidents to occupy and affect my memory of my lived experience of Lesotho.

It is against our essence as Africans to treat visitors with such disdain for no apparent reason. We do treat visitors with a bit of humanity and respect.

In the same vein about how we treat strangers, there is a scope for cautioning on exaggerated generosity of the sort that exposes Africa to re-colonisation.

If the murmurs about the government treating the people of Asian origin, especially the Chinese, with kid gloves making it easier for them to get citizenship than for a Mosotho child to get a birth certificate, has any basis — this should be a matter of national concern.

The rest of Africa is on high alert from a general trend of Chinese take-over of Africa in a second wave of colonisation of the continent have been reported.

America is also doing its bit with its president and secretary of state recently embarking on trips in quick succession to secure their own portion of Africa.

Europe realises that being the former colonial masters is not enough and works through such ‘development’ initiatives as the Millennium Development Goals for which Africa has responded with matching programmes like NEPAD that affirm the need for “partnership”.

Government programmes in the name of enabling foreign direct investment (mostly a result of the poverty of local development initiatives in a continent where local assets are used by foreigners for their own enrichment rather than by locals for their own development) rarely benefit the majority but few individuals.

Not surprising given the fact that controlling government in Africa is about controlling resources and distributing them as favours to a selected few and aggrandising wealth in the hands of the few.

Lesotho seems to be up for grabs from many competing forces. South African businesses are reaping the benefits of a country landlocked by them and have through the media and cultural domination been able to market themselves and their services effectively.

International and South African media (print, radio and television) have saturated and emasculated the potential for growth for Lesotho mass media.

This has the deleterious impact that Lesotho is not able to control and manage its national agenda as it cannot afford to communicate it.

My question about why Lesotho is not just becoming an open and official province of South Africa has been responded to with vigorous denial, as interesting as it was surprising.

This got me thinking whether we will we one day see a federation of African states? Will Africa ever realise the development potential that lie in the removal of these colonial boundaries that fuel xenophobia and perpetuate the divide and rule approach of colonial era and become one giant resource base and market whose economic logic is focused on producing what we need from what we have?

We all know that as long as this current crop of elite leadership enslaved to the logic of mimicking and working to please the western countries is in power, they would peer review each other to prove themselves worth before that lot in the hope that their begging bowls would be embellished.

That was before the financial crisis in those countries we have proudly adopted and now call global justified major withdrawals of foreign aid. One would think that this was the right moment to disengage from the un 

equal globalisation.

Not for African leaders, they use this to out-compete each other in begging and making Africa’s resources even cheaper to attract the same people whose polices left us in this state in the first place!

Back to Lesotho, my horrors of horror came from my half-day-off trip to Thaba Bosiu. I went up the mountain “that grows at night” with an eager anticipation to learn and get in touch with the cradle of Basotho nation.

This ended in a nightmarish depression. The first house of the man who built the nation is as the colonists call it in “ruins”.

There has been no attempt to preserve it as a national symbol.

The path going up the mountain is under siege from erosion. One would think that the Chinese generosity to build “things of note” in the countries they “colonise with generosity” would have been channelled in this direction.

Attempts to prevent gully erosion around these areas have been made by planting water wasting exotic trees such as eucalyptus and wattle. There is no attempt to restore and rehabilitate the vegetation.

The graves of the kings and bishops have no protection and are exposed to the vagaries of weather. The mountain that gives the country its national symbol — the Qiloane — faces the same fate.

Is it too much to expect that this national shrine be protected when people go without food and economic opportunities?

Is it fair to expect money to be invested in building and preserving such places when thousands do not have decent housing?

Maybe, let us ask another set of questions.

Why would a country have a ministry or department of culture when it does not protect the cultural symbols? So what culture does it protect?

Why is it difficult to justify expenditure on African symbols and languages? Is this not part of a continued imperial agenda towards the undermining of African history and all its evidence?

Why is the African ruling elite behaving in a way that further perpetuates this agenda?

I am not convinced that our leaders are not able to cut back some of their excessive consumption that borders on looting to afford the building and rehabilitation of these symbols.

My student guides told me a story of sacrifice which was fitting to the occasion as this was on Mothers’ Day.

They showed me the cliff where Mofumahali Kholu, the wife of the founding King Moshoeshoe, threw herself to a sad death when she was afflicted by small-pox as it was thought to bring bad luck to the nation.

To protect the whole nation she opted (without force) to give up her own life. Talk about being a mother and love of nation.

This got me thinking about the many women who toil in government and civil service protecting and caring for the nation, in most cases with minimal recognition, while some men act irresponsibly and waste resources.

Then it struck me that in the work I am doing most of the people I had interviewed who occupy high offices were women.

The initial response was to marvel at what on face value looked like a gender sensitive nation.

But after careful consideration it hit me that these women doing such fantastic sacrificial work are still operating in the sphere of caring, traditionally considered as women work.

They are in the “soft industry”. They simply have their domestic roles industrialised and given fancy titles.

The difference is that they are now paid for them, yet still doing what men expect them to do, to nurse the nation, while they mess it on.

Imagine that we did not need such a huge army of counselors for the sexually and physically abused if men were not behaving badly.

While at Thaba Bosiu I learnt that there were men who had the important task of protecting the nation.

Some people in high positions can learn something from these men.

Instead of protecting the nation they have exposed it to continuous threat through looting, spreading HIV/Aids, property grabbing from helpless orphans and women, trading young women as sex or farm slaves to enrich themselves.

Thaba Bosiu, the mountain that grew at night, does not grow any more, it is under the threat of those who should protect it.

Where is your pride Basotho? Will the protection and the furtherance of your nation come ahead of individual gain?

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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