16 February 2018

Lesotho: Lets Work Hard for Second Compact

A delegation from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was in the country this week to hold discussions about the second compact grant for Lesotho. While this is a cause for joy, it must be tampered by the realisation that there is still a lot to be done for a final funding agreement to be reached.

The MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.

In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362.6 million (over M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.

In 2015, the MCC stalled in renewing the second compact programme over rampant human rights abuses perpetrated under former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's regime and its sidekick Tlali Kennedy Kamoli.

Discussions on renewing the compact programme are now underway following decisive measures taken by the new government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to rein in the excesses of the Mosisili regime.

If and when the money starts rolling in, there should always be that sobering reality that the compact can be suspended at any time should any sitting government embarks on any actions seen as jeopardising democracy and the rule of law.

Back in 1992, just a few months after her return to South Africa from long exile in the United States which had begun in 1965, Afro-jazz legend, Letta Mbulu, released the prescient blockbuster album Not Yet Uhuru which featured the eponymous hit single.

This was a profound warning about the premature celebrations that were sweeping across South Africa as it had become apparent that the iniquitous socio-political system of apartheid which had officially confined the country's majority black population to the status of second class citizens was on its last legs.

As we saw in South Africa, the celebrations over apartheid's impending demise in 1991 were indeed premature as Mbulu had so eloquently pointed out in her music. Uhuru in SA had to wait for a couple more years. This was because the apartheid regime subsequently fomented and supported clashes between members of the rival African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) which left thousands of people dead and ensured that they would not see the new democratic dispensation without massive bloodshed.

Letta Mbulu's advice had simply been that there were always hurdles that needed to be cleared through diligent action before people could finally take their place in the sun and celebrate.

And while here in Lesotho, there can never be any parallels with the tragedies of the magnitude that South Africa had to contend with during those heady days, it would still be wise for our political players and the country as a whole to take heed of Mbulu's advice not to engage in premature orgies of celebration before we cross the finishing line as far the second compact of the MCC is concerned. The focus must be on doing what ought to be done to unlock this aid.

The Lesotho Times was this week granted an exclusive interview with the MCC delegation which was led by, Kyeh Kim, the MCC Principal Deputy Vice President, Africa Region.

What was clear from the interview is that the MCC Board is satisfied with the work that the government has done so far with regards to putting the country on the path to the restoration of the rule of law as well as the implementation of the constitutional, security sector, media and governance reforms that are consistent with democratic societies and that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

It is for that reason that Lesotho was welcomed back into the MCC family and is now eligible for a second compact after having lost out in December 2015 owing to the intransigence and the ruinous governance of the Mosisili coalition.

The delegation is here to begin the process of negotiations and consultations that will possibly culminate in an agreement and ultimately the disbursement of the second compact which runs into hundreds of millions of American dollars.

That should be a cause for celebration but it must be a celebration which comes with a big caveat.

As reported elsewhere in this edition, there is no time for the government to rest on its laurels. As emphasized by Ms Kim and the rest of the MCC delegation, the second compact will be a process not an event.

It can and will be suspended at any point when there is evidence that government and other stakeholders are no longer walking the path of reforms and are failing to respect the rule of law. The fact remains that Lesotho is a very poor country with a GDP dwarfed by the annual revenues of a moderately rich individual like Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. We have essentially no economy to talk about. We have no private sector that generates substantial wealth for the country. Our main business is politics and more politics for our perennially squabbling politicians. We thus desperately need the American aid injection via the second compact.

The opposition has a perfect opportunity to act in the national interest by fully participating in the reforms process to ensure the country continues receiving the support it needs to achieve sustainable socio-economic development. Boycotting the reforms process is only as childish as it gets.

Yes, we are back in the MCC fold but it's not yet uhuru. It's time to defend the national interest by doing what is right to unlock this desperately needed aid injection.


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