Q1. Poverty reduction is a problem every government must combat however, the struggle against poverty and hunger are particularly dire in Lesotho and achievement of the millennium development goals on cutting poverty in half and eradicating poverty remains a great challenge. How are these problems being tackled and in what way can Lesotho strong ties with Germany and with other international community members be utilised to help with these development efforts?
We face tremendous challenges in meeting the development goals, however we have made significant progress on some of them for instance in education. 11 percent of our country’s budget goes to education because we value education and our man power is the best resource so it is worth investing in people. We have one of the highest literacy rates in Africa especially amongst women with 93 percent as opposed to a 63 percent literacy rate of men. Secondly, we are one of the few country’s where education is compulsory and children have to go to school. Education is free in Lesotho for children up to the age of 11. We are on the right track with education. We face challenges in terms of HIV and brain drain because of our geographical location. Despite our concerted efforts to address this, through diversifying education and training there are still tremendous challenges. On the development aspect on issues such as water or sanitation, most of the diseases are due to water borne diseases. We have a massive water sanitation project thanks to countries like Germany and in the EU we will be able to reach 60 percent of our population in rural areas to have access to clean water within the next five years. Water is one of our greatest exports, we export to South Africa and so we have committed 7 billion euro to a project on building dams. We have a number of cooperation agreements with federal states and other lenders. We are building on having cooperation agreements in building renewable energies and the German government is willing to help us. Tourism of course, is a great opportunity for wealth creation and poverty alleviation.
Q2. How can Lesotho develop and promote its national brand abroad and further separate and distinguish itself from South Africa?
For us, we see branding as probably not the most important aspect of tourism development. The development of the product and addressing issues related to transport, accommodation and infrastructure development are of most importance. Other things related to culture will fall into place. The important things are investment. Regional integration is also important we need to work with South Africa in developing tourism. Next week we are having discussions with South Africa on regional tourism. Cooperation is important, a free trade area and free movement of people will enhance the development of the whole region.
Q3. The global financial crisis was clearly a disaster for economies around the globe as economies are so inter connected. What fiscal measures are being implemented by Lesotho to prevent and protect its economy from potential weakening?
The global economic downturn had a devastating effect on us, despite the fact that the shock came almost a year later. Our industry relies very heavily on the current industry and the preferential trade agreements that exist between us and the Euro Zone and also America. A lot of retailers in the U.S.A in which we provided gyms and t-shirts etc no longer have the money or demand to buy these anymore. About half of our factories had to close. Over a period of 6 months our biggest employer had to lay off more than 40,000 people. And also we face competition with Asian countries such as China and Bangladesh where the cost of labour is very cheap compared to Lesotho, as well as transportation and so the economics of scale come into play and we suffered hugely. We are trying to diversify our sectors such as tourism and renewable energy. We need to look at opportunities and possible niches. We have a series of incentives in order to attract foreign direct investment, corporate tax is low, access to markets and export guarantees are some of the initiatives we give to investors. Many German companies are weary of China’s involvement in Africa but at the same time these companies have more investments in China than anywhere else. We need to look at how competitive we can get to ensure that certain barriers are removed such as trying to reduce the number of days that are required to register a company.
Q4. How is Lesotho pursuing its profile to be raised in the international tourism community?
We do attend big international conferences such as the ITB. We showcase what Lesotho has to offer. We have other international tourism organisation destinations that we attend and that are organised by the world tourism organisation and then in Southern Africa we take part in international tourism fairs. Most of these fairs in Africa are regional fairs, because we believe that regional marketing will benefit a country like Lesotho.
Q5. Here at the ICD we like to talk about how art, music, dance and film can bring people together and bring topics to light that we might not know about. How do you think cultural diplomacy can help give a voice to HIV Aids in Lesotho? Can cultural diplomacy help give Lesotho a voice in the world?
It is a difficult one, but yes it can. The whole area of making sure that young people especially are given the opportunity to learn about different cultures will help them to understand some of the challenges that come to face. These challenges which will lead to for instance HIV Aids due to certain cultural practices that influence a progression of HIV infections. People with knowledge and skills can help their voice in terms of negating some of the cultural practice which has to be removed to reduce the incidents of the infection of HIV Aids. We see that could be a way of helping us to talk about HIV infection. A lot of money is spent on awareness in this area.
Q6. Do you find that many Lesotho go abroad to have their cultural exchanges and bring what they can back to Lesotho?
Yes, particularly within South Africa. There is very little movement between Lesotho and outside Africa, most of the movement is within the region.
Interview conducted by Kim Cornett