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US maintains SADC stance

 

US Ambassador Matthew Harrington
US Ambassador Matthew Harrington

Staff Reporters

UNITED States (US) Ambassador Matthew Harrington says Lesotho would only continue to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) after taking “concrete actions” that address concerns about “impunity and the rule of law” as well as implementing recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry.

Eligibility for both AGOA and the MCC benefits is based on countries’ respect for the rule of law and Ambassador Harrington highlighted the importance of Lesotho collaborating with SADC in implementing the recommendations aimed at resolving the country’s security and political challenges.

SADC commissioned Botswana judge Justice Phumaphi to lead a team of legal and security experts in probing Lesotho’s instability following the fatal shooting of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015. Lt-Gen Mahao was killed by his colleagues allegedly while resisting arrest on suspicion he was the leader of a group of soldiers plotting a mutiny against the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) command. Twenty-three LDF members arrested in the army operation which took place between May and June 2015 are now facing mutiny charges before the Court Martial.

After the SADC inquiry held from 31 August to 23 October 2015, the commissioners made a set of recommendations to the Lesotho government they hoped would bring the feuding parties together if implemented.

Among the recommendations was the removal of army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli to restore the nation’s trust in the LDF, criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao which should lead to prosecution, constitutional reforms, the suspension of LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason while investigations into the allegations proceed in line with international best practice, as well as amnesty for the 23 suspected mutineers.

Speaking at a banquet to mark America’s 240th independence anniversary in Maseru on Thursday, Ambassador Harrington acknowledged the longstanding relationship between Lesotho and the US while also highlighting the importance of law and order.

“Two-hundred-and-forty years ago in the summer swelter of Philadelphia, a band of patriots who had grown tired of the abuses of a foreign government declared independence from the British Empire and gave birth to a new nation.  As an Ambassador of the United States of America, I am honoured to celebrate that brave declaration with you here today,” Ambassador Harrington said.

“One-hundred-and-ninety years later, the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho secured its independence from that same British Empire. The United States promptly recognised the government of His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II, beginning a warm and close partnership that has now lasted 50 years.”

However, the ambassador said this is not where similarities between the two nations end.

“It is tempting to think that is where the similarities end, between a kingdom in the sky and a nation bordered by two oceans. But we are not so different; there is much more that we have in common.  In both our countries, the democratic tradition runs deep.  Lesotho may not have had a formal democratic constitution until it approached independence. Who, though, could doubt that King Moshoeshoe I, who brought together his advisors on the pitso grounds of Thaba-Bosiu and was governed by the Sesotho proverb ‘A chief is a chief by the people’ could have happily compared theories of democratic governance with Thomas Jefferson?  Jefferson, our third president, wrote in our Declaration of Independence that ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’

Jefferson, like King Moshoeshoe, offered his countrymen the vision of a free nation, Ambassador Harrington said.

But in America as in Lesotho, “the blessing of visionary founding fathers” is not enough to sustain a nation, he added.

“In each generation, nations like ours will struggle from time to time to live up to our founding ideals.  It is easy for us to think, with the benefit of 240 years of hindsight, that the success of the American endeavor was inevitable, but nothing could be further from the truth.

“Today, our leaders rely on the American people to keep them true to our fundamental ideals. We also expect the international community to hold us to our own high standards.

“To preserve our ideals, the US will continue to be vigilant. Lesotho must also be vigilant in order to remain true to the first King Moshoeshoe’s ideals of peace, consultation, and a government that is both accountable to the people and responsive to their needs. And just as the US welcomes the advice and friendship of Lesotho, we hope Lesotho will do the same while, as we have for 50 years, we continue to stand by your side as you face your own challenges and remain vigilant in defense of your founding principles.

“SADC too has been and continues to be a strong partner for Lesotho.  As we all know, SADC played a critical role in facilitating the 2015 election. And when Lesotho asked for help after the tragic killing of General Mahao one year ago, SADC answered that call. It established a Commission of Inquiry to get to the bottom of his tragic death and the context that enabled it.

“Let me say two things here. First, the United States strongly supports SADC’s engagement in helping Lesotho address its challenges. Second, we believe the Commission led by Justice Phumaphi did very important work that uncovered key details about the terrible events of June 25 last year, and identified some of the root causes of what happened. We agree with SADC that implementation of the Commission’s recommendations would help Lesotho move beyond a period of difficulty and strengthen democratic institutions and rule of law, and it is our hope that government will embrace that path forward.  That is a message I shared with SADC Executive-Secretary Stergomena Tax, when I met with her in Botswana last week.”

The ambassador pledged America’s support for Lesotho in developing the economy and improving the lives of her people.

“Looking back over the past year, while Lesotho has faced many challenges, it has also made meaningful progress on issues that are at the core of our partnership, perhaps most prominently in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“After His Majesty, King Letsie III, dedicated a significant portion of his Speech from the Throne to the HIV challenge in Lesotho, the government reestablished the National AIDS Commission – also known as the NAC — in December.  We look to the NAC to hold accountable all those involved in the fight against the epidemic, to eliminate duplicative programming and to ensure that the substantial resources devoted to this effort are having a real impact.

“The NAC should hold all of us — the government of Lesotho and its partners — to clear identifiable targets so that we can start measuring our progress in months rather than years.

“In a second important development, Lesotho demonstrated impressive leadership in becoming the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt the ‘Test and Treat’ approach to HIV/AIDS.

“Under ‘Test and Treat’, anyone who tests positive for HIV can begin treatment immediately, instead of having to wait until his/her CD4 cell count drops below a certain level.   This new approach will ensure that larger numbers of HIV-positive Basotho are able to live longer, healthier lives, and it will decrease transmission rates as well, because anti-retroviral treatment reduces the level of the virus in the blood.”

But despite this progress, Ambassador Harrington said Lesotho still faces major challenges to achieve the Sustainable Development goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

“Lesotho has one of the highest rates of new infections in the world, and only about 40% of HIV-positive Basotho are on lifesaving treatment,” he said.

“To get ahead of this epidemic, to prevent it from spiraling out of control, Lesotho will need to double the number of people on treatment by 2020.   Make no mistake; that goal, doubling in three years what has taken 10 years to achieve, is incredibly ambitious.

“Please know though that as Basotho confront this epidemic, you will continue to have a determined and collaborative partner in the United States.  Through PEPFAR, the United States has committed more than $265 million to this struggle in Lesotho since 2007, and is committing an additional $51 million for the coming year.   The focus of PEPFAR’s efforts is to get as many people tested and on treatment as possible.  Specifically, our goal in the next two years is to get 80% of HIV-positive Basotho on treatment, in the five districts where the disease burden is the heaviest.   That will not be easy, but I believe it is possible with energetic and visionary political leadership, with good data, with effective use of health workers’ time and energy, and with close coordination among all the key partners involved in this struggle.”

On AGOA, Ambassador Harrington said the legislation’s importance to Lesotho cannot be overemphasised.

“Another place where our support for the Basotho people and our commitment to Lesotho’s development has been clear is trade. Thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act or AGOA, which provides trade preferences to African nations that meet criteria related to free markets and rule of law, Lesotho is the second largest supplier of textiles to the US in sub-Saharan Africa,” the ambassador said.

“AGOA is responsible for the creation of nearly 40,000 jobs in Lesotho.  Those jobs also support an estimated 110 000 family members as well as countless vendors, taxi and bus drivers, and others who provide services to the factories and their employees.  I want to commend the government’s efforts to expand Lesotho’s production into more of the 7,000 product lines that enjoy duty free entry into the US under AGOA.”

But Ambassador Harrington warned eligibility for AGOA was based on a certain criteria, which Lesotho should meet. The US government earlier this year renewed Lesotho’s eligibility for trade preferences under AGOA for 2016.

However, the Americans also expressed “serious concerns” about the government’s alleged failure to adhere to AGOA governance criteria, saying they would monitor the implementation of the Phumaphi Commission recommendations ahead of the next eligibility review process.

“It is important to note that there is an annual review process for AGOA eligibility.  What that means is in order to benefit from AGOA’s trade preferences, countries must adhere to certain eligibility requirements established by the US Congress. These criteria include a commitment to political pluralism, human and worker rights, the rule of law, a market-based economy, and elimination of barriers to US trade and investment.

“Lesotho is eligible for AGOA trade benefits this year.  For Lesotho to remain eligible in 2017, the US government will be looking for concrete actions that address concerns about impunity and the rule of law.   Full implementation of the SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations would be a welcome signal of resolve on these critical issues.”

He also spoke about the MCC which has helped boost Lesotho’s healthcare and water-supply systems.  

“Another sign of our commitment to Lesotho was, of course, the $363 million Millennium Challenge Compact which focused on health, water, and private sector development. Evidence of this successful collaboration between our two countries is visible everywhere.  The 138 clinics across the country, the 10,000 latrines in villages nationwide, 14 renovated outpatient departments in hospitals, and the Metolong Dam, which helped prevent this terrible drought from becoming a catastrophe.   These are all remarkable examples of what we can accomplish together.  And it is my fervent hope that Lesotho will take the necessary steps to restore its eligibility for a second compact, so that we can achieve so much more.”

Ambassador Harrington also noted exchange programmes between Lesotho and the US, and the American government’s support of drought relief efforts in Lesotho.

He added: “I would like to conclude today by recalling something Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech to the African Union in 2014.

“(He said)This is clearly a moment of opportunity for all Africans.  It is also a moment of decision, because it’s the decisions that are made or the decisions that are deferred that will ultimately determine whether Africa mines the continent’s greatest natural resource of all, which is not platinum, it’s not gold, it’s not oil, it is the talent of its people… The nations in Africa, like nations all over the world, are strongest when citizens have a say, when citizens’ voices can be a part of the political process, when they have a stake in their nation’s success.”

“In Lesotho, this is indeed a moment of decision and opportunity, of consequence and hope.  Today, as we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America and fifty years of friendship between our two countries, I hope the next half century will see our partnership grow and deepen as we work together to fight the burdens of poverty and the scourge of AIDS, and to strengthen and expand the connections between our two societies.”

In his remarks, Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister Tlohang Sekhamane commended the American government for standing by Lesotho.

“Despite the turbulence and uncertainty of the world financial and economic situation, the United States of America has not cut back on its development assistance to Lesotho,” Mr Sekhamane said.

Mr Sekhamane also spoke about the significance of AGOA and the MCC to Lesotho.

“The signing of the Millennium Challenge Account, through which Lesotho received a US$ 363 million grant from the American government, and the entry into force of the compact in 2008, is another example of the level of partnership and longstanding friendship between our two countries,” Mr Sekhamane said.

“We all need to remember that the compact has been a major contribution to the developmental efforts of Lesotho, in particular those aimed at the improvement of our water supply for industrial and domestic use, the strengthening of the healthcare system in  Lesotho, as well as Private Sector Development.”

Mr Sekhamane further said Lesotho has benefited immensely from AGOA since 2000.

“This program that offers trade preferences and business opportunities to sub-Saharan countries, including Lesotho, has enjoyed bipartisan support in the US congress,” Mr Sekhamane said.

“The extension of this programme, in 2004, by the administration of President George Bush, undoubtedly, demonstrated its importance to job-creation, poverty reduction and economic development in Africa.

“It is against this  background that we have a strong reason to believe that the new administration, that will emerge after the November presidential elections, will, in fact, proceed and improve the already laid foundations, especially after the longest ever 10 years reauthorization in June 2015. Through this piece of legislation, we have been able to attract foreign direct investment, including the setting up of a denim fabric mill at a cost of $120 million.”

Mr Sekhamane further explained that the government shared the US’ sentiments regarding the engagement of SADC in helping to resolve the country’s challenges.

“I can assure you, Your Excellency, that the Lesotho government is fully committed to the deepening of democracy and entrenchment of the rule of law. Constitutional and security sector reforms, identified by the Phumaphi Commission, will be carried out as promised,” the minister said.

 

 

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