TUCKED somewhere in the inside pages of local newspapers was a story about Lesotho’s HIV prevalence rate increasing from 23 to 25 percent.
In another time such a story would have been given more prominence. Panic would have set in and vociferous calls would have been made for the government to step-up its fight against the disease.
But times have changed and so have attitudes towards the disease. In a way there is an indifference to the disease. Radio stations mentioned the increase in passing while other newspapers ignored it altogether.
HIV statistics no longer startle the people and those in power. That is thanks to life-prolonging medication that has removed the stigma of HIV being an instant “death sentence”.
Health Minister Dr Molotsi Monyamane, for instance, was calm about the figures, preferring to look at them as a sign that fewer people are dying of HIV related diseases. His logic is simple: antiretroviral medication has allowed infected people to live longer so the prevalence looks high.
But that doesn’t mean Lesotho is winning the battle against the disease. If anything, it shows that this is a long-drawn battle. It is therefore imperative for Lesotho to take stock of its strategies in the fight against HIV.
Let’s start with the prevention. Statistics show that more than 60 percent of youths in Southern Africa are ignorant about HIV. That alone should shock the government into action because it is that generation that is most affected. Prevention at that level helps us cut the prevalence rate and cut new infections.
This is particularly urgent in Lesotho where there are 100 new infections every day, the bulk of which are among teenagers. That young people are ignorant is a sign that our campaigns have not been well-targeted.
There is the issue of condoms which government has tried to distribute widely for free. Research has however shown that it is not enough to load people with condoms they don’t know how to use properly. Those who are on treatment must be encouraged to use condoms.
A worrying trend which government has failed to reverse is that of people being reluctant to get tested despite several campaigns. Linked to this is that even those who have been tested don’t stay longer on their medication.
Only about 45 percent of those infected are on medication, the rest have either dropped out or have not started.
It’s the same trend among pregnant women who have tested positive. It’s either they don’t know their status and those that know are not on medication.
Blame that on ignorance and lack of health centres. All this does not illustrate that we have failed to tame the scourge. Rather it just means we have to do things differently. The starting point though is to admit that we are not doing so well and realising that this fight does not belong to the government alone. Then we have to use our money wisely.
The issue of HIV/AIDS goes beyond issues of knowledge and effective communication campaigns. It is also an issue of poverty.
Unless we deal with structural issues that lie at the heart of society such as poverty alleviation we would struggle to tame the rising infections among our youths.
We need a cultural shift on how we view sex and how we talk to our children about sex. Sex is not sinful as long as it is practised in the proper context.
Purge of was long overdue
THIS week, the Sam Matekane-led government embarked on a massive exercise to purge the civil service of individuals who were un-procedurally recruited under the previous administration.
The Ministry of Communications has already booted out 70 temporary workers.
A further 3 593 workers at the Ministry of Public Service are also facing a similar fate after they were unlawfully appointed into the civil service.
About 6 000 workers are likely to be affected by the clean-up exercise.
While the repercussions at the personal level will be devastating, we would like to believe that this exercise was long overdue as it gives the government a chance to clean up a civil service that had become beholden to narrow political interests.
Successive governments in Lesotho had for years been forced to fend off allegations that they were in the business of dishing out jobs to their cronies on the basis of political affiliation, a charge they feebly denied.
Such nepotistic practices resulted in the government flooding the civil service with their cronies who in most cases were hopelessly unqualified for the jobs.
This was one of the major grievances among Basotho for years. It caused much frustration for Basotho.
It is against this basis that we think an exercise to clean up the civil service of political appointees was long overdue.
Predictably, the opposition is not happy with the Matekane-led government’s push to fire the workers. That was to be expected.
We would like to argue that the opposition must accept part of the blame for creating the mess in the first place. It would be an act of duplicity to deny culpability when they were at the centre of the mess for years.
The opposition needs to accept that mistakes were made so that they can become part of the process in seeking cogent proposals on how this can now be fixed.
The government must now demonstrate that it is committed to a truly clean, transparent process in fixing the mess.
This would be good for Lesotho.
In its zeal to clean up the civil service, the government must ensure that this purge does not create chaos and halt developmental projects that were already in full swing.
It must ensure that there is continuity.
It is obvious that the civil servants who are being booted will need to be replaced. These jobs will need to be advertised in a clear, transparent process to give every Mosotho a fair chance for a crack at the jobs.
It would be sad were the government to seek to purge the civil servants only to create vacancies for their own Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) supporters. We hope the government will not fall into this trap.
If that is done, that would be tragic. This should be a government for all Basotho
The Matekane-led government came into power on the basis that it would do better than the previous regimes that were in charge. They set the bar higher for themselves and so they must deliver.
It is our hope that the government will extend this exercise to clean up the civil service of all ghost workers. A lean, clean civil service will certainly better for the interests of Basotho.
We also note with satisfaction that the government has begun floating adverts inviting qualified Basotho to start applying for the posts of Principal Secretaries.
That process must be free of political contamination.
It’s time to go, chief!
ELSEWHERE in this issue we carry a story of a looming power struggle in the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD) led by veteran politician Monyane Moleleki.
After a decade at the helm of the party, Moleleki could for the first time have to overcome a challenge for the leadership of the party from his own deputy Professor Ntoi Rapapa.
Professor Rapapa, who was seen as fiercely loyal to his political mentor, has accepted nomination from his own constituency to stand for elections as party leader.
This is unprecedented in the AD, a party whose bland type of politics was one of always deferring to the leader.
We understand there is now fierce jostling behind the scenes for the leadership of the AD.
While others might see this as democracy in action, we feel there is a sense of anxiety and desperation by challengers who can’t wait to see Moleleki’s back.
It is understandable that Moleleki fears that this could lead to a bitter split, weakening a party that has never really taken off the ground despite its promises that it was ready to govern over six years ago.
The AD was thumped in last October’s general elections, winning two contested seats in Rapapa’s Moselemane and in Malibamatšo constituencies.
It also picked three compensatory seats under Lesotho’s Proportional Representation (PR) system.
There could be a feeling within the AD that Moleleki has run his course and it is now time for the party to take a new route under a younger, much more dynamic leadership.
Moleleki thus finds himself at a cross-road. Will he continue to prod on, or will he now raise his hand up and hand over the baton to his trusted lieutenant?
If Moleleki decides to run again at the elective conference next month, he will have to face a real contest without being shielded by his own party. If he loses, he could be reduced to political irrelevance. That would be sad.
However, we believe the situation need not be allowed to get to this level.
At 72, Moleleki is no longer a young man. He has been in leadership positions in various political formations for over three decades. He therefore qualifies to be seen as an elder statesman in Lesotho both in terms of his age and his stunning longevity in national politics.
Moleleki has run his race and it may be time to say goodbye!
We hope that he has no appetite to run for the biggest job in the AD when the party meets to elect a new leadership next month.
Of course we have nothing against him as a person. We in fact agree that he is a charismatic, likeable man with a wicked sense of humour. Yet we agree that age is no longer in his favour and it is now time to pass the baton.
Following its dismal performance in last October’s general elections, it is clear that the AD needs a new leadership to set the party on a new trajectory. Moleleki should accept this reality.
If he does, the AD should create a role for him as an elder statesman to provide mentorship to the new generation behind the scenes.
The nascent challenges in the AD point yet again to a political leadership that overstays in power in Lesotho.
With no term limits in place, political leaders tend to hang on to power for years, leaving their parties with no legitimate internal processes to challenge the incumbents.
That is at the root of the many splits we have witnessed in Lesotho’s political parties in the last three decades, which is sad.
Breathing life into an anemic economy
FINANCE Minister Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane made the right noises when she presented her 2023/2024 budget in Parliament on Monday.
Dr Matlanyane spoke powerfully of the urgent need to focus on economic reconstruction and recovery for Lesotho after what has been an extremely bumpy ride over the last 10 years.
It is clear that the new government that was elected into office in October last year must do things differently if it is to haul Lesotho out of the doldrums.
That is why all eyes were on Dr Matlanyane to see if there would be any major departures from the usual platitudes that we had grown accustomed to during budget speeches in the past.
We must hasten to state that this budget speech sounded different both in terms of its fluidity and the absence of verbose economic jargon that does not reach the hearts and minds of ordinary Basotho.
Congratulations to those who drafted and penned the document behind the scenes.
Dr Matlanyane correctly identified the major challenges facing Lesotho and was also clear on what needs to be done to breathe life into the country’s anemic economy.
We agree with most of her diagnosis of what ails this country and the medicine that is required to cure it of its ills.
If all that Dr Matlanyane spoke of is implemented, we believe Lesotho will be able to solve 90 percent of all the issues that have held this great country back from fulfilling its dreams.
Dr Matlanyane spoke of the need to “secure inclusive and sustainable growth by focusing on food self-sufficiency through improved productivity in agriculture, aggressive industrialisation and building of value chains, rehabilitation of and building of key infrastructure that supports the private sector to thrive”.
In a nutshell, that is the key that will unlock Lesotho’s potential. We have argued in previous editorials on the urgent need to plough massive resources into the agriculture sector.
Very little has been done to revamp agriculture and resuscitate our comatose economy.
Thankfully, the Sam Matekane-led government is clear on what needs to be done. The test of course will be whether the government will plough enough resources into agriculture to ensure it becomes the engine to drive economic growth.
We now wait anxiously to see how the government implements some of the projects Dr Matlanyane alluded to in her budget speech.
Basotho are eager to see instant results. In the era of instant noodles, she has no time to waste. She must deliver.
Apart from agriculture, we believe as we have argued in previous editorials, that the tourism sector provides what could be seen as very low hanging fruits ready for the taking.
We have some of the most stunningly beautiful mountains in the world. If marketed properly, Lesotho can be a tourism “Mecca” in Africa. Sadly, that has not been done for decades.
It will require massive investment in the sector by building hotels and lodges in remote districts so that tourists can spend more dollars in the country rather than drive to Clarens in South Africa after their tour.
The current set-up is woefully inadequate.
We need a massive shake-up in the tourism sector so that it can rise from its current slumber. That will require that the government sends students to study tourism management in South Africa,
Kenya and Zimbabwe and see how things are done elsewhere. That practical training will be invaluable for Lesotho in the long run.
On the back of a stunning electoral victory, Basotho have entrusted Matekane to drive the change agenda. He only has a five-year grace period before their patience wears off.
That is why the government needs to act now.
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