2015: An Opportunity for Lesotho to Move Forward

OpEd published in Public Eye on January 16, 2015.

By: Matthew T. Harrington, United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Even though this is late in an election year, there is no way we can go forward except together and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs. We cannot stand still or slip backwards. We must go forward now together.  With these remarks, Gerald Ford became President of the United States in August 1974 following a decade of war in Vietnam and two years of internal political turmoil.  Today, as Lesotho emerges from its own political turmoil and too many of the Basotho people’s urgent needs go unmet; President Ford’s sage counsel can apply to Lesotho as well.

After a difficult 2014, Basotho have a choice:  they can dwell on the past, or they can choose to move forward – to develop and progress.  As I talk to Basotho, themes repeat themselves.  Basotho, like people everywhere, want good jobs, high-quality health care, education for their children, and security in their homes and on the streets.  Not once has anyone in Lesotho said to me that they want to focus on the political divisions and conflicts of 2014.  On the contrary, they very clearly want the country to move beyond them. I am convinced that most Basotho want to move forward — toward a secure, healthy, and prosperous future.

I see encouraging signs that Lesotho is ready to move forward, particularly the signing of the Electoral Pledge and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Lesotho Defense Force and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service. The Electoral Pledge commits political parties to help create a climate conducive to peaceful and credible elections in February 2015.  The Memorandum of Understanding calls on the army and the police service to take specified steps to improve their collaboration.  Peaceful and credible elections are critical to establishing accountable government and effective rule of law, both essential factors in the country’s development, long-term stability, and economic growth.

To show our commitment to helping Lesotho hold a peaceful, credible election, the U.S. Embassy, in partnership with the United Nations Development Program, is supporting the efforts of the Independent Electoral Commission to educate voters.  I encourage Basotho in every corner of this Mountain Kingdom to listen carefully to what the candidates have to say and to cast a vote on February 28.  It is also important to remember that democracy is about more than elections.  Democracy involves the hard work of holding the government accountable every day, of insisting that ministers, parliamentarians, and all government employees serve the people.  In a flourishing democracy, citizens demand that their government, regardless of party, respect the rule of law and be accountable to the people, and that the police and army remain, at all times, firmly under civilian control.

The United States is eager to continue deepening our partnership with the Basotho people to strengthen Lesotho’s democracy, build Lesotho’s economy, and support Lesotho in its fight against HIV/AIDS.  Under the first Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC), the United States invested $363 million (M4.065 billion) to build or rehabilitate 138 health clinics, improve sanitation for 25,000 people by building improved ventilated latrines, and provide water to 125,000 people via support for the Metolong Dam project.  In December, the MCC Board identified Lesotho as a strong performer eligible to continue to compete for a second Compact.

Under the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States government has provided more than $225 million in bilateral support to help Lesotho combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Thanks to that investment, 49,000 pregnant HIV positive women have received prophylaxis so their children are born disease-free;  974,000 Basotho have received testing and counseling services; and  118,000 Basotho living with HIV have gained access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy.  We are also working to promote innovative prevention strategies such as Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC) and are expanding our pediatric programing to better protect Lesotho’s children.

Since 1966, more than 2,300 energetic, idealistic Americans have lived and worked in Basotho communities as Peace Corps volunteers.  Currently 92 Peace Corps volunteers serve in all ten districts of Lesotho.  Additionally more than 500 Basotho have gone to the United States on U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.

On the economic front, thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Lesotho is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest supplier of textiles to the United States.  That is an impressive accomplishment, given Lesotho’s size, and it has generated tens of thousands of jobs here.

We are clearly accomplishing a great deal together, and we hope to expand trade, increase development, and build on the longstanding friendship between our two countries in 2015 and beyond.

Lesotho’s development — and the continued success of our bilateral partnership — depends on the ability of Lesotho’s leaders to move forward together to build a government that has the confidence of all Basotho.  Achievement of these goals also requires the commitment of all Basotho to be determined advocates for broad-based, accountable institutions dedicated to meeting the people’s needs.

As President Obama emphasized so memorably in his first address in sub-Saharan Africa, ordinary citizens have the power to effect positive change in their societies: “You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people.  You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world.  You can conquer disease, end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that.  Yes you can.  Because in this moment, history is on the move.”