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Transforming the structure of our economy

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AT some point every political columnist finds himself facing the danger of endlessly ranting about the ills of a country without offering solutions.
That is because it is much easier to identify problems than finding solutions.
Over the past few months I have found myself complaining about corruption, maladministration, poverty, famine, poor leadership and disasters.
This week I want to suggest a possible way to fix this mess.
I do so as an observer, not an expert.
I am going to focus on reforming the structure of our economy.
“Then I said to them, You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Those words are from Nehemiah 2:17.

Nehemiah was making a clarion call to his people to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
The wall of Jerusalem was broken down when Judah was destroyed in BC 586. The temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel in BC 516 but the wall remained in ruins for 140 years.
The Israelites had tried to build the wall but enemies broke and burned it several times. Satan had worked hard to prevent them from rebuilding it.
The wall of Jerusalem was like a shield that protected the lives and faith of the Israelites. The pride of the Israelites as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation collapsed along with it.
The glory of God among the people also collapsed but no one dared to rebuild the wall. But Nehemiah challenged his people to rebuild it. It is said that God blessed his faith, and the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt within 52 days.

The wall had remained in ruins for 140 years.
It is clear that everything is possible when we have faith.
Today, we are living in an economically troubled country.
Our leaders are vulnerable to Chinese bribes and temptations.
The roof of this nation is on the verge of caving in.
Suppose this the time we need the transformational and revival spirit of Nehemiah.
Our economy was colonially structured to rely on exports of raw materials and primary goods while importing finished goods.
The colonial masters became rich by diversifying trade within their cities and creating synergies. Holland, England, and France, developed through these rounds of diversification and industrialisation protected by government intervention.

Holland followed the process through ship-building. England started with wool, and later cotton, coming to dominate Europe’s fabric markets.
Each realised that selling finished products was more profitable than selling raw materials. To protect their industries, they used tariffs and monopolies.
It was England’s planned shift from selling raw wool to selling finished cloth that set it on the road to development.
Like all poor nations, Basotho export raw materials such as wool, water, mohair, medicinal plants and raw diamonds. Rich countries export – often to us poor countries – more complex products such as chocolate, clothes, shoes, cars, and jewels.
If we want to get rich as Basotho, we should stop exporting our resources raw and concentrate on adding value to them. Otherwise, rich countries will get the lion’s share of the value and all of the good jobs.
We should make sure that there is production of finished goods locally.

With this current trend of exporting raw materials, Lesotho will never grow their economy and create employment.
We must focus on four areas: transforming the structure of our economy, infrastructure, education and skills development. All these should be geared towards making products from our own raw materials.
We must do everything possible to take back the wealth that rightfully belongs to us as Basotho from the Chinese. Our country has been heavily dependent on the export of raw commodities because colonial master’s agents (World Bank and International Monetary Fund) made sure we continued to export raw materials only to buy them back when they are finished products.
I strongly believe that the next stages of economic growth will require much greater attention to the work of ‘adding value’ to raw products, commodities and services as a means of accelerating job creation and promoting higher profit margins and return on investment.

Basotho must know that when we add value, we retain not just the financial value in the country, but we also create jobs and businesses that pay more taxes. That is the only way we will transform our economy.
It is high time we focus our efforts on building industries, skills and technologies so they can produce our own high quality products. We must invest in the creation of small-scale industries that add value to our products, whether agricultural or mineral.
Yet this will not be easy because apart from failing to create industries we have also neglected to focus on the quality of the few products that we make.
To add value in this country, we should embrace standards and applied scientific research. We must seriously invest more in skills related to science, research, technology and innovation.
The blankets that we like so much are almost entirely made of wool (88% wool and 12% cotton).  We export wool and it comes back mixed with little cotton to create a blanket. Upon arrival here we name them moholobela, lekhokolo, serope, motlotlehi and seanamarena. It’s a shame and disgrace that blankets have become part of our everyday life, a status symbol and cultural identification yet we import them.
Our politics have lost meaning. Our economy is ailing. Come, let us rebuild this blessed country of King Moshoeshoe and we will no longer be the laughing stock of Africa.

Ramahooana Matlosa

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Conclusion

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Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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Insight

Reading, writing and the art of reflection

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There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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Insight

The Joker Returns: Part One

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Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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