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Where we may be wrong

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The proper use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the betterment of society is an idea that is little understood by the larger part of the population of Lesotho though many encounter its products on a daily basis; from the use of the telephone, the mobile (cell) phone, the internet, and other messaging systems that electronically transmit vital communication electronically over large distances or globally.

Many are content with the making of a call to a relative or business acquaintance in some other part of the country or the world, but most of those who use the technology never bother to understand the basic components or aspects of the mode of communication that keeps them in touch with the immediate and far parts of the world.
Whether for the making of the private call or for the purpose of broadcasting a message on the various social media platforms, those who use the internet actually do not bother to give care to the content they send or receive on the available telecommunication platforms. This is because many users of telecommunication products and services in Lesotho just use them without question.

For a long time, one as a user of the services and products provided by the leading telecommunications companies in the county often thinks they have every right to say whatever they feel they should without regard to the sensitivity of the information they relay to the general public on the different social media platforms.

Until one was made aware of the fact that some of the products available were there to work fairly for everyone, the customer or user that just bursts out about any issue without prior regard to the sensitivity of what they are relaying stands to misinform the citizenry and mislead them.
Telecommunication technology establishes links between various individuals and serves their interests in a myriad of aspects, that is, the telecommunications company acts as the middleman whose services are largely provided on a prepaid basis, excepting a small portion of the customer base that get their services on a contractual basis.

That a large portion is paying in advance for the services they get logically means they deserve good service from the companies rendering such a service or selling given telecommunications products. If the customers think careless speak equals their money’s worth, then it is a disservice to the service provider whose sole aim is to provide adequate infrastructure to enable communication between individuals and institutional authorities.
A 1990 ITU (International Telecommunication Union) study of telecommunications and development, The Missing Link, concluded that:

Telecommunications can increase the efficiency of economic, commercial, and administrative activities, improve the effectiveness of social and emergency services and distribute the social, cultural and economic benefits of the process of development more equitably throughout the country…

This quote clearly presents the significance of telecommunications in development and, one could assume that the bodies concerned with implementing infrastructures related to communication do consider such issues as the satisfaction of the customer that uses telecommunication products.

To one’s disappointment, it is usually the careless customer that does not have any sense or concern for the rights of other customers who use the services of the providers. An example one can make is the increasing amount of false news on the internet that has seen a steady increase in the last 10 years in more progressive countries and is steadily increasing in the developing world.

If one connects to the net using their dongle, tablet, or PC, one should ensure that what they do or say on the web does not do a disservice to other users on the World Wide Web. The downloading or uploading of material means that the user should more often than less do so with the rights of other users in mind.

One should always be aware of the new reality that even minors can now gain access to such simple things as video files on the web and that those things they come across on the web have a direct influence on their developing characters.
It leaves one frustrated by the fact that the necessary basics that are needed to ensure harmonious living in society are not given due consideration by many of our social media users.

I personally feel cheated by the fact that more often than less, some the users of the social media platforms do not seem to give prior care with the use of their words and the content that they upload for consumption by other users. The problem is not that we do not use the platforms most of time, the problem is that the element of respect seems nonexistent in that type of user that sometimes distributes pornographic content or sensitive information without consideration to its effect on social harmony.

It has occurred on many occasions that I come across inappropriate content when I conduct research and this ends up proving irrelevant to my research because such content literally floods the internet. Personal research has revealed that many of the people conducting research on the net face the same problems of coming across inappropriate and irrelevant content shared by inconsiderate users.

Many have complained but the best they get is a polite answer, or being forced to haul their machines to the customer care centre for inquiries on the type of content they find when surfing the net on the phone, because the poor service providers do not know how to deal with brigand users.
This is common, one may say, but the question remains; how can we progress and match the rest of the world when we have poor understanding the proper use of telecommunications services? Many of those countries we want to match are light years ahead because their internet or social media users have healthy habits, and the countries’ economies thus progress.

At the rate at which our telecommunication services users are progressing in terms of understanding on the use of communication platforms, even those cavemen from the stone age will soon be ahead of us.

A paper I recently read states:
The Central Bank of Lesotho’s March 2009 Report of the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), Information and Communications Technology (ICT) activities and products have been found to be fundamental catalysts of economic growth and development.

Economic growth and development is not a one way street; there are two players in it: the consumer (customer) and the service provider (producer). If one of the two parties does not practice fairly and leaves the other dissatisfied, then economic growth and development suffer because one of the two does not operate at required levels.
Simply put, if I as a customer do not use a service provided appropriately, then it defeats the intention of the provider which is to furnish me with the platform which I need for communication.

In the end it negatively affects me as the customer and hampers the provider’s ability to improve services because they have to focus on dealing with rogue elements spreading misinformation instead of adding other useful services.
There are productive activities that one can engage in on the web to bring in needed money, but the lead preoccupation for a certain section of society seems to be the spreading of false news and inappropriate material on the available media platforms. The service providers try hard to improve on the products they sell to the consumers, but honestly speaking, the reality of the rogue social-media customer leads to hampering the provider to deliver the quality they promise.
It is a view I share with a small number at the moment, but it can be silenced only if the character of the user becomes a main concern for the service providers in the telecommunications sector. The deeds of these individuals should be met with harsher measures than it is being done at this point in time.

Africa is largely made up of consumer economies as writers including Chika Onyeani (author of The Capitalist Nigger) show in their observations. The continent does not produce what it consumes because most of the products consumed on the market come into the economy as imports from other parts of the world.

This poses a problem because the standards set in relation to the quality of the goods imported are not those of the consumer but the producer. The African consumer does not understand the quality of the goods, does not understand their appropriate use, and therefore ends up misusing them.
This is without question one of the reasons why we spend hard-earned cash on commodities we do not understand. This does not apply only to what we eat, the same habit applies when it comes to social media websites that are being inappropriately used by consumers that do not understand their basic purpose. Chika Onyeani presents the argument that:

The blame game has become a permanent part of our lives to the exclusion of any other solution that could be more viable in solving our problems. It has become the most productive part of our lives, because without it the African cannot really point to much that they are in charge of producing. It is better to blame others than to confront the truth of our being responsible for whatever has happened to us as an African race.

Indeed, we feign ignorance when what we distribute on social media negatively affects others, because we have made a habit of making excuses when we have to own up to our errors of judgement and character. Some of those that spread inappropriate content on social media often claim their accounts were hacked, but the question remains: do they ever report unusual activity on their accounts?

The likely answer in many cases is a clear ‘No’. There are many basic truths about the history of political violence in Africa, many of them are the direct result of colonisation, but the truth of the matter is that a large part of Africa was long ago liberated from the clutches of colonisation; or was it?
I think not because our individual behavioural patterns and character attest to an irresponsible type of regressive attitude that is hinged on rebelling against progress even if it stands to benefit us at the end of the day.

Reliant upon the Good Samaritans for daily living, the African man and woman have somehow lost the simple understanding that taking responsibility is what will actually free them. We should be able to take responsibility for our deeds, and from this sense we shall be able to progress as a continent.

We must be able to effectively use those platforms afforded to us by being responsible instead of using them to prove who the bigger native is.
Some states got their freedom from colonialism more than 50 years ago, but the influence or the influences of colonialism are still in a lot of ways marring the path to the true progress of Africa as a continent. Colonialism is still to blame for the endless civil wars, political instability, and social unrest in Africa.

To one that bothers to ask the simple question; is colonialism really to blame for Africa’s current problems, or, is it just a scapegoat and a lame excuse for poor self-governance and democratic political competence?
The answers to these questions are many, varied and very diverse in their exploration of the true source of Africa’s problems apparently started by ‘colonialism’, I choose to differ in opinion for, many of the political or social problems have their roots in the simple fact that Africa seems to suffer from chronic amnesia, especially in cases where respect and acknowledgement of responsibility are due.

Africa is a continent that does not accept its errors, and this leads to the repetition of the same errors to the point where they hamper the progress of the continent.
Dennis Brutus once penned these words:
the deafening clamor of their prayers
to a deity made in the image of their prejudice
which drowns the voice of conscience,
is mirrored our predicament
but on a social, massive, organized scale
which magnifies enormously
as the private dehabille of love
becomes obscene in orgies.

His words, aimed at Apartheid, are sadly relevant when it comes to this new form of professional Apartheid where some individuals are considered less than their fellows, even where such individuals infringe on the rights of others. Social media websites have become churches where tweets, posts, and uploads have become the daily mantra a significant portion of society follow.

The only problem is that they have led to the proliferation of personal speculation even on issues where such speculation could prove to be harmful to the larger society. We find it even in the midst of the current COVID-19 epidemic, and it could lead to results that are drastic for the rest of our human society.

We need to change our mindset with regard to the way we interact on social media platforms if we are to see to the progress of this world. We are definitely wrong if laymen will be allowed to present their speculations on health matters that could at the end of the day lead to increased cases and deaths from the virus. Watch your words on these social media platforms.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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