FUNDAMENTAL SOLUTIONS FOR UNDERLYING CAUSESI have been thinking about what is happening in Lesotho, and wondering about possible solutions to the famine, to the AIDS scourge, and to the drought. I remain convinced that a comeback is within our means as Basotho, albeit with a lot of internatonal help. I think we're on the right track, because even before the present humanitarian disaster the government had already embarked on a poverty reducing campaign. Poverty is Lesotho's biggest enemy. Poor people don't buy condoms, and poor people tend to have lots of children for other reasons, such as old-age pension. Many children are a guarantee that aged parents will have someone to take care of them. And poor people tend to drink a lot in a bid to drown out their sorrows. And poor people tend to slow down development because many programs are oriented toward helping them while they themselves do not contribute to filling the coffers of such programs. And poor people will not spend time fighting soil erosion; they will spend time looking for food. And poor people do not protect trees, they burn them for fuel, and they burn the veldt because they want it to turn green asap so they can graze their livestock. Say what you will, poverty is our number one super-duper enemy. And all roads to a long-term solution will have to start there.
Some government planners anticipate a policy that encourages people to vacate marginal or unproductive land, with the possible end of food assistance as one inducement to relocation.
If I understand well, they wanna block the food pipe so that the people concerned will have to move to more fertile land that can actually grow something. In short, they wanna starve some sense into them. But aren’t there other, less apocalyptic methods of getting people to relocate? When the Katse dam was being built, people were encouraged to move through a system of incentives and bonuses. Many were dissatisfied with the compensation that was dispensed, but compensation there was and whipping there was not. I think it is rather easy for some to be hoighty-toighty in giving advice about the fate of shepherds and mountain people, but I pray that it is not what is happening here.
"Before the drought, five years ago, most of the country didn’t need food aid, and we concentrated on the mountainous north. If weather patterns normalise, the lowlands will continue raising food. But in the mountains, chronic food shortages will continue," said WFP’s Moshoi.
"The [Maluti] mountains are beautiful, but every winter it freezes, and there is a food crisis," said Chisepo. "I ask, 'Why don’t they come down?' Just because they have a few animals, and there is some grazing, they are endangering their lives."
They are not going to come down easily. These are ancestral lands, and many of these folks wouldn’t know what to do if they ever moved from there. They need training, in order for them to work afterwards, and they need compensation in other forms, such as land elsewhere, housing, and the like. We’re talking about mountain people, and we’re trying to transform them overnight into city-slickers.
Lesotho’s profitable participation in the US trade initiative, the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), has brought tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, a rapid expansion of Maseru’s industrial area, and new industrial parks in Mafeteng (west), Quthing (southeast) and other districts.
Well and good. Those jobs have partially made up for revenue that used to come from digging for gold and diamonds in South Africa, but that has since stopped coming because of layoffs. I suppose the situation would have been worse than it is, had there been no AGOA. I have put myself in the government’s shoes and I understand where they’re coming from. That does not mean, however, that AGOA is all milk and honey and we should shut up. Quite the contrary. Now is the opportunity for us to cry out louder and complain about deplorable working conditions and abnormally low wages and about any ill-treatment our saviours might be tempted to mete out. We have the right to do so and I’m sure the Lesotho government will be behind us on this one. So, people, let it all hang out, with both the good and the bad. Hey, the spotlight’s on us!