By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU — The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) has come a long way since its establishment in 1967.
Tasked with promoting Lesotho as an attractive investment location for both foreign and indigenous investors, the LNDC holds key to the country’s economic development and is constantly exploring ways of maximising its mandate.
This week, the Lesotho Times (LT) caught up with the Corporation’s Caretaker Chief Executive Officer and Board Member, Tseko Alfonse Bohloa, who said the time has come for the organisation to change its game-plan and employ other innovations for the efficient marketing of the economic opportunities that abound in Lesotho.
LT: You recently took the marketing of Lesotho, through your investment-promotion initiative, to South Africa. But why South Africa and not the rest of the continent?
Bohloa: We are a country inside another country and this has different effects on how the world perceives us.
Some people, who include investors, expect us to be like South Africa in terms of infrastructure-development, but this is not the case. We are still making efforts to catch up in other economic aspects.
However, why we think South Africa should be our first marketing stop is a realisation that we can forge strong partnerships and work together in various sectors.
Because of our location, of being completely surrounded by South Africa, and also some similarities brought by our historic ties, we feel strongly that we can partner with South Africa.
LT: Was this your first time to hold such an investment promotion indaba with captains of industry and other stakeholders in Sandton?
Bohloa: We held a meeting with some investors years back and it really taught us how investors can quickly forget you if you stop engaging them.
A lot of investors were asking where we have been all these years. We realised the importance of remaining relevant and always presenting new opportunities that can fascinate investors.
I mean, we are a country known the world over for its high altitude and as the place to be. According to recent climate-change studies, countries like Lesotho are likely to thrive in terms of food production because of our high altitude. So, what this tells us is we are the future. However, going back to our recent investment promotion indaba, this time around, we had a new thrust in line with the current economic trends and demands.
Led by the Minister of Trade, Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing, Sekhulumi Ntsoaole, we spent three days meeting with different investors. The idea was for them to see what we have to offer, as a country.
LT: What type of investors were you targeting?
Bohloa: We have a lot of confidence in our tourism, agro-processing, automotive, manufacturing and construction sectors.
We are a beautiful country with immense tourism opportunities that are yet to be tapped into.
We have the best climate for vegetable, pulses and fruit-production and a significant number of our farmers now understand how they can improve on their current production and supplies.
We know that despite our current achievements, we still need to strengthen or diversify the production base and focus on producing high-quality produce.
Various projects in different ministries are being undertaken to achieve this.
What we are looking at is value-addition to create jobs. We also have potential in the automotive sector and this can feed into the South African market.
Our construction sector is rising and we are optimistic that Lesotho’s future is going towards the creation of planned and modern settlements, shopping malls, clinics and schools.
We are talking about mega infrastructure-transformation. During the series of meetings, we held a donors and development partners’ roundtable, which formed part of our strategy.
We were targeting institutions such as the African Development Bank, which was represented at the meeting, United Nations agencies, embassies and other development agencies. It was important that they understood what Lesotho was all about.
LT: Which sectors were the stakeholders interested in?
Bohloa: Well, a lot of investors associate Lesotho with diamond-mining and water, so there were a lot of enquiries about these sectors.
But generally, there was interest in all sectors we presented and also some sectors we had overlooked such as information communication technology and service provision.
Basically, a lot of investors had the opportunity to meet people from Lesotho and got to understand from the horse’s mouth what we are all about.
LT: Why was it important for the mission to also meet with Basotho working in South Africa? What messages did you have for them?
Bohloa: Meeting with Basotho living in the diaspora was critical because we know if we can partner with them, they can help us market the country.
During the mission, we managed to establish a committee that will be responsible for mobilising other Basotho who could not attend the meetings to support our initiative.
We understand there are thousands of Basotho working in South Africa. What was important during our meeting was to open up to them on our expectations in order for them to also see the importance of investing at home.
It was good that they showed interest to invest if we helped them identify opportunities.
They do not have to necessarily return home, unless they want to, but we strongly feel they have a place in the economic spectrum and together we can build the Lesotho we will all be proud of; a Lesotho that we would all like to see in 10 years’ time, for instance.
LT: Where is your next stop and what will be your thrust this time, based on the lessons learnt during the Sandton meetings?
Bohloa: For now, we are looking at KwaZulu-Natal. We would like to strengthen our efforts in marketing the targeted sectors and include those we had previously overlooked.
We learnt a lot from Sandton, particularly on how, on our part, we should focus on infrastructure development.
LT: What infrastructure development are you looking at in particular?
Bohloa: We have a lot of prime land in all districts of our country and we are looking at improving the aesthetics of the capital city and all the nine district towns.
This can add value to the towns and create investment-opportunities. Property development and management are one of our passions and we would like to invest more in this area. We would like to create and develop new modern spaces and facilities from where investors can operate from comfortably.
LT: Do you think you have prepared local communities well enough for the wave of business partnerships you are expecting from this promotion drive?
Bohloa: We will soon hold a local business forum to inform various stakeholders on this investment promotion drive and what it can mean.
We would like them to be prepared. The initial dialogue will determine other interventions that can follow. However, at the heart of our work is the promotion of local partnerships and also with foreign investors. We would like to see a win-win situation.
We would also like to see local entrepreneurs participating in various business sectors, mining and construction, for example, while we facilitate foreign investors to come in as partners.
This is why, over the past few years, local schemes that include the Private Sector Competitiveness Project (PSCP) have been focusing on enhancing the capacity of our entrepreneurs while the government, through the same project, introduced new business reforms to make it easy to establish and run a business in Lesotho.
These are reforms put in place to promote business partnerships and also encourage Basotho to start their own businesses.
Of course, our concern and that of the government is to ensure the sustainability of such businesses, hence efforts that saw us introducing the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme to ease access to finance.
We are also working at other mechanisms that would also facilitate the hand-holding of young entrepreneurs and enhance the sustainability of their businesses.
We would like local businesses to lead this investment and partnership drive.