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Kudos for Lesotho

News that Lesotho is among the few African countries that are eligible to apply for another Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)compact is propitious for the country’s small and largely donor-driven economy.

The MCC’s board of directors selected Lesotho as eligible to develop a proposal for a new compact after a US$362.5 million (more than M3 billion) compact wound up in September.

Lesotho was selected together with five other African countries to continue developing compacts, while two other countries were chosen to continue developing threshold programmes at the MCC’s quarterly meeting last week in Washington.

The board selected Lesotho because it has consistently demonstrated a clear commitment to democratic governance and sound policies.

A new compact offers Lesotho the opportunity to have a significant impact on reducing poverty and creating economic growth in the country.

Even more heartening, of course, is the fact that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s government has the prerogative to decide which projects to prioritise.

While the nation has a lot of Basotho to thank, including officials in the previous government, for such a proud, clean governance record, we feel Sophia Mohapi whose distinguished service at the helm of MCC is well documented, deserves special mention.

Through Mohapi’s leadership, Lesotho has consistently demonstrated a clear commitment to democratic governance and sound policies in implementing MCC-funded programmes.

Granted, there were some hiccups, particularly given the current court battles among contractors and sub-contractors to some of the compact’s projects.

However, on the whole this was a job well done. The bigger picture is clear; there were great strides made in modernising part of the country’s road network.

In addition, the five-year compact that ended in September helped to expand water supply for household and industrial use, strengthened the country’s health care system and removed barriers to foreign and local private sector investment.

Through the compact, MCC also supported the passage of landmark legislation that empowered Basotho women by ending the second-class status of married women and granting spouses equal rights. Without the benevolence the MCC demonstrated, most of these developmental projects would have remained a pipe dream for many more years to come, if not for another whole generation.

But that along with Lesotho, only Ghana, Liberia, Morocco, Niger and Tanzania were eligible to continue development of their respective compact proposals is sad for a continent in dire need of funding for millions of ideas to take off into tangible projects.

Many dependency theorists and armchair critics can argue that aid is not a benevolence and it’s not development-oriented but, the question is: For the countless, capital-starved ideas to take African nations forward, what other practical options do these countries have?

Continuing to mourn about past imperial injustices will not help. Instead, pragmatism without dogmatic adherence to populist theories can take nations forward.

In fact, in most cases across the continent, the greatest enemy is graft; the pervasive self-inflicted vice.

If anybody were to quantify how much, in monetary terms African countries have received from donors globally since the independence era, there is no doubt the staggering figures would be quite sobering.

It’s true a lot of aid is tied to this or other conditionality but the bottom-line is: What have the leaders done with the money they have received?

Can all of it be properly accounted for or, in fact, some greedy individuals on the continent have simply taken donor money and moved up the social ladder from rags to riches?

Many Pan African thinkers are of the view that whatever the continent gets in aid is a drop in the ocean compared to what the continent lost, or is losing to the same donor countries through unequal trade and other historical injustices.

This may very well be so but not only is Africa unable to turn the clock back, but it is urgently true that the present leadership should demonstrate that they can at least be trusted with that “little” money first. We believe transparency in implementing donor-funded projects is a starting point for less developed countries like Lesotho.

The stories of hunger amidst plenty are amply demonstrated in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, arguably the most natural-resource rich on the continent but where corrupt warlords perpetuate strife for generations, just to guarantee their continued looting of minerals without hindrance.

In the end it is the ordinary poor who continue to bear the brunt of megalomaniac greed by a few individuals.

The story of how the oil riches of Nigeria have become that country’s curse because of corruption is well-documented, so we need not even go there.

Yet, in this era development for many nations is shifting away from natural resources alone to knowledge-based capital.

Little wonder countries like Japan, without so much of natural resources to write home about but with a highly skilled population and a no-nonsense work culture continue to guarantee a high quality of life for their citizens.


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