Ntšinyi: a life well lived

Ntšinyi: a life well lived

MASERU – IT was the brutal manner in which she was fired that left Lebohang Ntšinyi deeply aggrieved and offended.
Ntšinyi, who turns 71 on July 29, and was Lesotho’s ambassador to China, was recalled in March this year. Her contract was due to end in May next year.
She says her letter of recall, although expected in diplomatic circles, was blunt and was in “very bad taste”.
Her biggest grievance was that despite serving Lesotho loyally abroad as a diplomat for years, the letter gave an impression to the Chinese government that she was almost a “criminal” who had to be hounded out.

“I could have been escorted to the airport by the police,” she says. “The situation had become untenable.”
Ntšinyi says she wished the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane “would be more civil in dealing with other human beings”.
“I know I did my best for my country when I was in Beijing and all I wished was that they could do things more decently.”

She says even though she remains a member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), “I was serving as a Mosotho and as an ambassador for Lesotho”.
Her recall from China was a new low in what had generally been an exciting journey, first in the civil service, then in government and then finally in the diplomatic arena.
But is she bitter at the manner of her dismissal?

“No,” she says. “I have seen worse things in life.”
“I did what I thought was best for my country and at the same time enjoyed my life to the full. God has blessed me so much. I have few regrets in life.”
Not surprisingly, that was not the first time that Ntsinyi had been fired in her long political career.

In 2010, Ntšinyi was booted out of Cabinet by the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili at the height of a bitter factional battle for the control of the then ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy(LCD) party. Ntšinyi was the party’s deputy secretary general and was fighting in Mothetjoa Metsing’s corner in the battle to succeed Mosisili.
Ntšinyi says she paid the price for being seen as too close to Metsing.

But after serving in China for five years, Ntšinyi appears determined to learn and adopt some of Beijing’s “secrets to success”.
“China has 1.3 billion people and there is no reason why China is feeding Lesotho. Instead of China feeding us, why don’t we ask the Chinese to help us become producers and not just consumers?”
Ntšinyi wants to see closer co-operation with China to stimulate economic growth in Lesotho.
That should be possible with the right political leadership in Lesotho, she says.

She argues that the reason why Lesotho has lagged behind in terms of economic development is because we have had a “leadership that has not been receptive to new suggestions and ideas”.
“Look at Ethiopia and Rwanda. Rwanda has just come out of a genocide, but look at where it is now?”
Unless there is a political will, Lesotho will remain in the mire, she says.

Ntšinyi wants the current political leadership to bequeath to future generations a functional country.
“We have to leave a legacy for these children; that is a functioning, well developed country. Our children deserve a better Lesotho and if we think this is a better Lesotho, we are deceiving ourselves.”
For Ntšinyi, the key to economic development lies in developing and growing the private sector.
“We have to grow the private sector,” she says. “We need a serious private sector not a private sector that is angling for tenders from the government.”
While she has nothing but praise for the Chinese model, Ntšinyi is not advocating for a wholesale endorsement of every Chinese “investor” to Lesotho.
She only wants “serious investors” to come to Lesotho.

The Chinese who come to open up small businesses like supermarkets should not be allowed into the country, she says.
“We want these big Chinese companies to invest in Lesotho and stop those who want to open cafes,” she says.
“They must invest in big projects such as hotels, roads and ICT. Our people can be in partnership with the Chinese companies.”
That partnership with the Chinese would be critical to address the issue of youth unemployment.

“We have youths who are educated but are unemployed. That combination is a disaster waiting to happen,” she says.
The biggest lesson she has learnt over the last six decades she has been in politics is that politicians must be responsive to the needs of the people.
That is why she thinks there is an urgent need to develop the private sector “so that no one can clamour to go into the public service”.
“Everyone wants to share that small cake.”

Apart from fixing the private sector, Ntšinyi also wants a radical shake-up of Lesotho’s education system. It should produce future employers and not employees.
Critics say the education system has remained colonial in nature in that it still produces “teachers, civil servants and administrators” who will not threaten the status quo.
Ntšinyi wants a system that produces graduates who have the right set of skills and who can become self-employed.
“How many lawyers and graduates in counselling can we continue to produce? And when we produce 5 000 of those kids, what can they do?”
“We need to change the educational system and see how they can fit into the mainstream.”

The government will also need to assist with capital to fund incubation industries, she says.
Recently, National University of Lesotho students have been coming up with new innovative ideas, the government should be assisting them with capital to bring these ideas to reality. This is how many other developed countries started.

We must invest and encourage new ideas, after all Microsoft started as an idea, she says.
Ntšinyi says she has done her part and “is not looking for a job”.
But if she had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, whom she says was an excellent foreign affairs minister under Mosisili, she would tell him “exactly the same things I am talking about”.

“I am not looking for a job but my concern is that this country has to develop. We are in a rut and we have to get out of this,” she says.
Ntšinyi, who served under Mosisili as tourism minister, says the former premier did his best for the country by introducing innovative programmes that sceptics thought would never work in Lesotho.

She speaks of the free primary school programme, the old age pension scheme and the free health-care programme.
“The sceptics were not sure whether Lesotho would sustain the programmes. He introduced feeding schemes for primary schools to ensure the children had at least one decent meal per day.
“He built roads in the interior and tamed the mountainous areas. He also built schools to ensure children did not walk for miles in a treacherous environment.”

Staff Reporter

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