Perched high above South Africa, Lesotho usually does not receive much international media attention. The little coverage it does garner often assumes readers are completely ignorant and takes great pains to emphasize dismal statistics about rates of HIV/AIDS and poverty. Of course since the last time you heard a story about Lesotho, you’ve surely forgotten how dire it is and must be reminded. In embodying banal, perfunctory reporting, some articles about Lesotho have tried to draw readers in by focusing on the recent visit to the country by the illustrious Archbishop Desmond Tutu, while others have stressed the risk of political violence during and after today’s elections. The Economist deserves special recognition for going to print with the wrong name for the political party of the incumbent Prime Minister. Kind of makes you question their expertise in intelligence. Overall, few articles have attempted to move beyond superficialities and actually delve into the complexities of the local political atmosphere and the implications of the election outcome.
Lesotho politics has been far from mundane as of late. In February of this year, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha Mosisili, formed a new political party called the Democratic Congress (DC), taking most members of parliament with him. With the formation of this new party, Mosisili effectively broke away from the party he had led for 15 years, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). In his stead, former Minister of Communications, Mothetjoa Metsing, has taken the reins of the LCD. A third major party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC), is another breakaway from the LCD led by veteran politician Tom Thabane. Following their break from LCD, the DC party’s new logo was originally to be a cross, however such allegory upset local religious groups and DC leaders eventually adopted the three-legged cooking pot instead. Further controversy was stoked when the DC party was accused of holding campaign materials owned by the LCD in 19 constituencies across the country including the capital city, Maseru and other urban areas. Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) responded with a one-week campaign ban for the DC in the 19 offending constituencies, an order that the DC party flat out ignored without consequence.
Despite the controversies, this year’s National Assembly contest has been marked by massive voter engagement with an especially strong showing for young and first time voters. Rallies, famo music performances and to a lesser extent, social media, have been used to generate support for parties and candidates. Key issues that affect the majority of Basotho include: employment, agricultural investment, union wage negotiations, access to education and labor mobility to and from South Africa. Because no party wants to resort to forming a coalition government with their rivals, competition for voters’ allegiance has been rather intense.
While each party is representing itself as the one that can best be trusted by Basotho factory workers, farmers, civil servants and students, it’s evident that other, more clandestine constituents are being courted as well. The incumbent Prime Minister Mosisili in particular has realized the value of partnerships with foreign investors, especially South Africans and Chinese. Kenny Kunene, South Africa’s infamous “Sushi King” (who also invests in mining) has reportedly been a contributor to Mosisili’s political campaign at a time when Lesotho’s diamond mines are exhuming some of the largest stones in the world. Lesotho’s mountainous highlands have long been of strategic interest to the South African government as well, with giant dams supplying essential water to the Johannesburg area for domestic and industrial use. Chinese investors, who operate many of Lesotho’s textile factories, have benefited from being able to keep wages low on Mosisili’s watch, to the vexation of Basotho factory workers. Chinese contractors have been busy with projects across Maseru. Notably, the recently opened Ying Tao restaurant in one of Lesotho’s nicer hotels, the Lesotho Sun, has quickly become a popular meeting place for Basotho elite and Chinese businessmen.
Back outside, in the hills of Lesotho’s countryside, the image of the country’s trademark woven hat, emblazoned on waving cloth of blue white and green has kept watch over the massive campaign rallies of the political parties. At each boisterous event, homage is paid to this conical woven hat and the proud statehood it represents, during the singing of Lesotho’s national anthem, “Lesotho fatse la bontata rona”.
During the first verse of the anthem, the crowds sing with great harmony, that theirs is a country more beautiful than the others, a country to be loved. There is an allusion to the country as a body that gives birth to and nurtures its children. Yet, a question remains – after the elections, which children are to prosper most from the country’s nourishment?
Lesotho fatse la bontat’a rona,
Har’a mafatse le letle ke lona.
Ke moo re hlahileng,
Ke moo re holileng,
Rea le rata.
Lesotho, land of our Fathers,
You are the most beautiful country of all.
You gave us birth,
In you we are reared
You are dear to us.