How would they spin this?

How would they spin this?

Poloko Khabele – If politicians were as good at governing as they are at spinning, the world would be a much better place. Don’t hold your breath though because this is unlikely to ever happen. The reason is simple. There is an inverse relationship between governing well and spinning. The worse the governance, the more spectacular the spinning.

If Lesotho’s eligibility to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) were to be withdrawn, how would our leadership spin this? This question has been doing the rounds in my head because at the next review, Lesotho’s eligibility being terminated is not unlikely.

Every year, the United States determines whether a country has met the published eligibility requirements. The US President then decides if a country’s beneficiary status is granted or withdrawn.

AGOA was signed into US law in 2000 to kick-start dynamic industrial development in sub-Saharan African countries. It offers preferential access for certain goods into the United States.

This programme has been very good for Lesotho. Last year for example, garment exports to the US were R4.2bn. This is about 39 percent of Lesotho’s 2015 exports (R10.8bn).

This has contributed to making the textile and garment industry the largest private employer in the country employing close to 5 percent of the labour force (899 100 people) i.e. 43 000 people. The majority of these employees (85 percent) are women.

So last year when the AGOA legislation was extended by a further 10 years, I was relieved because I couldn’t imagine a Lesotho without AGOA. I couldn’t imagine it because a Lesotho without AGOA would mean thousands of unemployed Basotho. Thousands of unemployed Basotho would lead to greater poverty, despair and destitution and not to the peace, stability and prosperity we so desperately require.

The June 29, 2015 extension therefore meant that sub-Saharan African countries would continue to derive benefits from this initiative (till 2025) but so long as they meet certain criteria (AGOA eligibility requirements).

To be eligible, a country has to show that it has established or is making continual progress toward establishing the following:

  • a market-based economy that protects private property rights, incorporates an open rules-based trading system, and minimises government interference in the economy through measures such as price controls, subsidies, and government ownership of economic assets;
  • the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process, a fair trial, and equal protection under the law;
  • the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment
  • a system to combat corruption and bribery, such as signing and implementing the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions; and
  • protection of internationally recognised worker rights, including the right of association, the right to organise and bargain collectively, a prohibition on the use of any form of forced or compulsory labour, a minimum age for the employment of children, and acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. (section 104 of the Act)

This is governance 101. To be eligible and to stay on as a beneficiary, a country just needs to be governed well.

The AGOA eligibility requirements are not rocket science. They require governments to deliver very little beyond basic fundamental human rights. For example, a government should as a matter of must combat corruption, ensure there is rule of law and equal protection under the law.

It boggles the mind therefore that in this day and age, you still get countries which are failing to establish or to demonstrate continual progress to establish such basic democratic tenets. Examples of such countries include Angola, Burundi, The Comoros, Congo, DRC, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

I wonder how the leaders of these countries spin their pariah status in the world to their citizens. How do they justify their leadership?

Perhaps they tell them that it is better to misgovern ourselves than to be governed well by others. I don’t know but I certainly would like to know.

To come back home, “If Lesotho’s eligibility to AGOA were to be withdrawn before 2025, how would OUR leadership justify this?” What reasons would they give? How would they spin this?

Perhaps these are wrong questions to ask. Maybe the right questions to ask are “what explanation would YOU accept? What for you would justify thousands of people losing their jobs on account of those in the leadership of this country having failed at Governance 101?”

As for me, I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I would ululate being impressed by their spinning.

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