MASERU – LESOTHO does not face any imminent external military threat and must therefore demilitarise, a political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho has said.
Dr Tlohang Letsie said Lesotho must instead channel funds being used to prop up the army to strengthen policing.
He was speaking at a round-table discussion for political parties organised by the Education for Peace Education (DPE) last Thursday.
The statement will likely provoke a sharp rebuke from the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili which has in the past defended the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
Mosisili has in the past dismissed as misguided calls by the opposition to disband the army.
Letsie said there are two roles of the military, the primary and the secondary role.
The primary role of the army is to protect a country from external aggression and to project power abroad in defence of its territory.
The secondary role is for internal order — that is — disaster management, national pride, providing a source of employment and international peace-keeping.
Letsie said even where the LDF had a chance to defend the country from enemy forces, it failed dismally in the past.
He cited the December 9, 1982 attack on Maseru by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) with the Lesotho army “doing nothing to stop the invasion”.
“The Boers came in and freely walked in our country and the army did nothing,” Letsie said.
About 30 African National Congress (ANC) refugees and 12 locals were killed during the raid.
Three years later in 1985 terrorists held pilgrims hostage during the visit of Pope John Paul II and the Lesotho army had no expertise to free the hostages until the SANDF came to their rescue.
Letsie said in 2009 mercenaries entered the country, stole an armoured car from the LDF barracks before attacking Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili at his State House residence.
The army only managed to chase and kill some of the mercenaries after their plan to assassinate Mosisili flopped.
All of the escaped mercenaries were arrested in South Africa after successfully outperforming the LDF soldiers who reacted to the attack at the State House.
“They (the mercenaries) did what they could in the presence of the military,” Letsie said.
Letsie said it is apparent that Lesotho will have a tough time defending the country if the SANDF were to invade the country.
He said it is better for Lesotho to demilitarise and focus on policing.
Letsie said Lesotho is wholly surrounded by South Africa which is militarily stronger and will not launch a conventional war against Lesotho.
“We don’t have a real fightable threat. We could be attacked by South Africa but we cannot even fight them,” Letsie said.
“When we have a serious disaster we import soldiers from South Africa, when people drown we call the South African army but we have money allocated to the army as disaster management,” he said.
Letsie also said unlike South Africa which “has deployed its military forces in different countries”, Lesotho is not engaged in international peace-keeping.
He said there are 26 countries in the world that have no army “and most of them are in Latin America and some islands”.
“Most are even bigger in population and size than Lesotho. Nineteen of these countries have never had a military force while seven of them used to have but demilitarised,” Letsie said.
Letsie said in Africa, only Mauritius has no military force.
The Gambia demilitarised its army but later restored it.
He said generally all of the countries that do not have an army have a higher standard of living and are even more peaceful than those that are militarised.
Letsie also said it is costly to run the LDF compared to armies of other countries.
He said Lesotho blows five percent of its annual budget towards the military.
“I should be showing figures in this instance but the military refused to give me (the relevant documents),” he said.
Letsie said according to his research, the LDF uses two percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually while South Africa uses 1.1 percent.
Ethiopia is one of the countries that is growing economically and it only allocated two percent of its GDP to the army.
He said if the LDF could be demilitarised this could help the country have peace and be economically stable.
“Money that is used for military expenditure can enable the country to grow economically. This money can be used in projects that could enhance the economy,” Letsie said.
Letsie said in most cases the Lesotho army ends up doing the police’s job because the country does not have a job for the soldiers.
“We cannot overlook their help to the police but their roles are undefined. Their engagement to public order is that they should be seen to be relevant. There is no work at all,” he said.
“There is a serious overlap with the police. It was mentioned in the Phumaphi Report that the roles of the police and army are undefined.”
“Once you make the army to (do the police’s job) the public becomes the enemy of the state,” he said.
Letsie said the issue of demilitarisation is not new.
He says former Prime Minister Dr Ntsu Mokhehle wrote Chief Emeka Anyauku, the then Commonwealth secretary general, inviting the Club to help Lesotho demilitarise but that failed.
He said Mokhehle later wrote to the then South African president FW de Klerk to help but that too was not successful.
In 1994 a delegation of SADC led by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe concluded that a small country like Lesotho does not need an army.
In 1995 a commission of inquiry chaired by Bishop Paul Khoarai of the Catholic Church also agreed that the country does not need the army.
In 1998 Mosisili invited SADC to intervene and disarm the military and people died in the process.
After 1998 Mosisili sent the then foreign affairs minister Thomas Thabane to Latin American countries that do not have armies to study how those countries managed to do so.
After independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho did not have an army. Instead, it had a Police Mobile Unit (PMU) which dealt with issues of security.
However, in the late 1970s, former Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan formed the Lesotho Para-Military Force (LPF), a predecessor to the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) to crush a military uprising by the Lesotho Liberation Army, the military wing of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP).
Montoeli Masoetsa, a former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) representative in Lesotho, said “it would benefit the country so much if it were not to have an army”.
“But we should be aware that the army is not the problem, our politicians are the problem,” Masoetsa said.
Rosa Lenea, the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) secretary general, said this was not the right time to discuss the issue of demilitarisation because “we have a lot to do, we have elections coming up and to bring up such a sensitive issue at this time is to simply confuse us and the nation”.
Retšelisitsoe Masenyetse, a member of the Alliance of Democrats (AD), said there is urgent need to reform the security sector in light of the perceptions of the public about the army.“We would have appreciated it more if the government was present to listen to this,” Masenyetse said.
“I was part of the committee that wrote the coalition agreement as a reformist government. We need politicians to apologise first to the people for polarising the army because it is their fault that it is what it is now,” he says.
“When we do get the time to deal with it we have to have sober minds because it is our parents, our brothers, our friends who work as soldiers in the LDF in this country. It is a source of employment for many of us,” he said.
LDF spokesman Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi said the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) is here based on some provisions of the constitution.
He said anyone who does not like LDF should push to first amend from the constitution.
Lesotho’s own brandy
ROMA-“Go, eat your food with rejoicing, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for already the true God has found pleasure in your works,” so says the Big Book.
Driven by that divine, Mohapi Pule has gone a step further – by coming up with a new type of brandy – to make you merry.
The brandy, Mountain Spels Brandy, will make the heart of the dying man rejoice.
“The healthy nutrients in fruits that make brandy, end up in you when you drink it,” he said.
Pule studied nutrition at the National University of Lesotho.
His brandy is made by fermenting fruits into wine. The wine is then distilled into a brandy. It carries the flavour and the aroma of the original fruits.
The story began when Pule was born in Quthing, Mphaki. He was born to a hardworking mother who brew traditional beer like no other.
“She brew beer well before I was born. She is still making it to this day,” he said.
His passion for brewing was probably “born” even before he was born. Mothers have a hidden way of passing not just their looks but their passions to their children.
As he grew up, he found that he was still intertwined with his mom’s brewing business in one way or another.
“Mostly, I am expected to fetch water for the brewing process. That, I still do to this day when I visit home,” he says.
Two decades later, Pule found himself in the Roma Valley, doing BSc in Nutrition.
“At some point, I found that I had lost purpose in life. There was not a thing that I could say, well, I was passionate about this thing or that thing.”
That situation, of course, threw him into some serious soul-searching.
It brought him back to his roots.
“During this period, I recalled that when I was younger, I used to imagine helping my mom do the packaging of the beer she was making and helping distribute it countrywide,” he said.
From a young age, the issue of subsistence business didn’t appeal to him. But that imagination came and passed. Now here he was, worried that he might not amount to anything in life.
Then, boom! An idea came!
What if he produced an alcoholic drink?
He could have thought about anything to do as a business but, lo and behold! He thought about his mother’s passion!
One of the things he loves about alcoholic beverages is that they are popular.
“I haven’t seen products as popular as alcoholic drinks,” he said.
He might be wrong or right but the reality is, the rest of the world has for generations found delight in alcoholic beverages – some to the extent of overdoing it to their injury!
“Mabele khunoana ralitlhaku thabisa lihoho. Mabele u tsoa kae e le khale re u batla re sa u thole? Ueeeena mabeeeele!” (Loosely translated beer brewed from sorghum make men happy. We’ve been looking for you from afar, you sorghum. In short, this is a praise poem for the Sesotho sorghum brew).
But then came the most difficult part. Which specific beverages should he focus on and how would he do it?
He decided that he would focus on ciders. He realised that not many people in Lesotho were making ciders.
He started experimenting at home and realized how difficult the process was. He just couldn’t get it right. To worsen matters, he also did not have the right equipment.
But like most successful innovators, he just knew that he had to start his business right away.
Pule says he then learnt about other forms of beverages: the spirits. Spirits are very high in alcohol content. Here we are talking the likes of whiskey, vodka and brandy.
He was particularly interested in vodka. He went into one NUL laboratory and, with necessary permission, began testing a number of spirits and doing a lot of research about them.
He began saving some of the money he earned from the National Manpower Development Secretariat in the form of student allowance so he could buy equipment. Saving was not easy. The subsistence money was already not that much. Having to share it with a business was asking a little too much.
But Pule was so determined that he did it, bought equipment that allowed him to develop what he thought was “vodka”.
However, after buying the equipment he immediately realised that the equipment was to make brandy not vodka.
“Now I was forced to get into brandy by chance,” he said.
It was a mistake that he has never regretted having realised that there are very few individuals who were making brandy in Lesotho.
Pule had to throw himself fully into experiments. He read books about brandy production. He even enrolled for an online course on distillation.
In the end, he began to see some light.
“I began to feel some difference in the taste of my produce,” he said. “When I shared my produce with my lecturers, they were over the moon!”
With that encouragement, Pule began packaging his brandy and is now selling it to family and friends.
“My small equipment means that I can’t produce much. However, If I were to get bigger equipment, things would be much better.”
ROMA – ’MATUMANE Matela, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained nutritionist, is an example of how a nutritionist should think and act.
Matela makes and sells ready-to-cook vegetables out of produce from her own farm or produce she preferably buys from local farms.
“When I make a dish, as a nutritionist, I make choices that ensure a typical package is packed with nutrition,” Matela said.
Today, we examine an interesting story of the lady who is determined to ensure that you eat healthy despite your busy schedule.
It started with her experiences in life.
She describes herself as an extremely busy woman.
She likes getting things done.
As the busy amongst us will say, the busier you become, the less you watch your diet.
She couldn’t escape the trap!
“My busy schedule meant that I ended up eating junk and I was gaining weight,” she said.
With time, she came to her senses.
As a nutritionist, she recalled that the best way to preach was to preach by example.
So, was she preaching what she practised?
Clearly, she wasn’t.
She had to find an option to maintain the busy schedule and eat healthy at the same time.
The beautiful thing about nutrition is that the healthiest foods are the closest to us: fruits and vegetables.
Some scientists even claim that our bodies seem to be designed to thrive on fruits and vegetables.
“Have you ever wondered why looking at a ripe raw peach on a tree is mouth-watering but looking at a fat cow isn’t?” asked one scientist.
Well, whether we were designed for fruits and vegetables or not, the truth is that they are good for our bodies.
That’s what good science tells us.
And we somehow “know it” too if you have heard about anything called intuition.
So one day she found herself increasingly eating fruits and vegetables.
It’s easier to change a religion than a diet, they say.
So it is commendable that she changed her diet at all.
“The idea was to chop as much vegetables as possible and put them in a fridge so that in future, I will just pull them out and cook.”
She wasn’t proposing something new.
Who amongst us doesn’t enjoy the convenience of just pulling up chopped frozen vegetables and cooking?
Little did she know that what she was doing was putting her on a path to a brilliant business.
It took a post on a social media to achieve just that.
“I took a pic of the chopped and packaged vegetables and posted them on my social media account. The reaction was swift. I began getting questions like, “how much?””
It immediately dawned on her that she could be sitting on a great business idea, after all.
So she gave it a try and started selling.
To her surprise, people started buying.
In fact, “I get orders for my products almost on a daily basis.”
That is how interested people really are.
This to an extent that her business now gets up to four irregular employees, she included, when the demand is high.
She said her training in Agriculture, Home Economics and Nutrition has helped her to give a thought into what she was doing.
For instance, where possible, she grows her own crops and sells them as first preference.
She has grown spinach, butternut, green pepper, onion, herbs and beans.
She is also in the process of renting more fields to grow more vegetables.
Then she empowers Basotho producers by requesting them to supply.
Going for foreign produce is the last resort.
Look at her packages and you realise something.
The “7 colours” proverb comes alive.
Those seven colours (several colours actually) may have been designed to appeal to your eyes but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The colours of vegetables mean a lot in terms of nutrition.
Each colour gives you something different.
So, the more colours in one meal, the merrier.
To drive this home, let’s go a scientific route for a second.
Red, Blue and Purple: These vegetables contain substances that are good at reducing the risk of stroke, cancer and memory problems.
White: The likes of onion or garlic may help lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and heart disease.
Orange and Yellow: Carrots immediately come to mind.
These vegetables contain substances called carotenoids which may help improve your immune system and help to improve the health of your eyes.
Basotho, it would appear, have long known a thing or two about the relationship between carrots and eyes.
Hence the famous saying, “o jele lihoete” (they ate carrots), often applied to good sportsmen or women with symbolically “good eyesight”.
Green: Green is life. Green vegetables come packed with chlorophyll, a chemical that scientists believe can boost your immune system, eliminate fungus in your body, clean your blood, lead to healthy intestines and give you boundless energy.
As a bonus, her Home Economics background is such that she is armed with a host of recipes for each of the packages she sells.
She has great dreams for the future.
“I want to see my products decorating the shelves of big supermarkets,” she said.
A new, co-operative chain store
ROMA – ’MAKUENA Lesiea is spearheading the creation of a cooperative chain store that will sell Lesotho products only.
The store is being developed under the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub and it will be incubated by the Hub.
“Have you seen it? Basotho are producing like never before,” Lesiea said.
“However, their products are hard to see in the markets. We want to change all that.”
The store, she said, will open branches in all districts of Lesotho, starting from Maseru.
Visit any supermarket in Lesotho and check the products on the shelves.
You will be shocked to realise that, in general, just one percent of them are made in Lesotho.
The other 99 percent comes from elsewhere.
Is it because Basotho are not producing or can’t produce at all?
“Having worked directly with the NUL Innovation Hub and the Tsa Mahlale TV programme under the Hub, I have travelled the depth and breadth of Lesotho and I was amazed at the amount of work Basotho are doing,” she said.
What is the problem?
Basotho products are not given sufficient platforms to prove themselves.
“Credit where it is due, some shops are beginning to accept and sell Basotho products,” she said.
“However, they are barely making a dent because Basotho products, being at their infancy, cannot receive full attention unless by a store that is designed to give them full attention.”
Such a store doesn’t exist.
She said the idea is not to compete with any of the existing stores because “we are getting into a new territory altogether, we are addressing a different market”.
So listen to Lesiea as she presents some features of the store that will surely persuade you to join the bandwagon:
- Customer and producer confidence: The store, she said, will achieve two things.
First, when they see masses of Lesotho-made products in one place, Basotho customers will slowly grow confidence in them.
The confidence will shoot to the roof when the customers experience that many of the products made in Lesotho are already way ahead of foreign competitors in terms of quality.
Secondly, the store will give Basotho producers an assurance that their products have, at least, one store that is willing to take them, dark or blue.
More production will come from such assurance.
- Selling “everything”: The store will sell everything from fruits and vegetables to processed foodstuffs to clothing and building materials (if Thabure car will be in production by then, it will be on the shelves too).
“Suppose what we want to sell is not locally made, we will never cross the border, any border, to find its equivalence. We will encourage Basotho to produce it until they do.”
- We mean business: whereas Basotho are beginning to produce, their products are still all over the place.
You bump across them in some few willing stores, in expos and trade shows, or as being sold by individual resellers. Those are good efforts, but they are not enough. In fact, many in Lesotho have come to see producing and selling as being more of an art, a hobby, a therapy or a hustling than a business, “so we are seriously moving away from such a casual approach, we mean business this time around.”
- Ownership: So when you enter this store, you could be purchasing a product made by you in a store owned by you. What a difference!
- Reasonable standards: the store will only demand reasonable standards. As a struggling Mosotho, try taking your products to some of the local shops and you are, at worst, turned away without reason or, at best, given a long list of standards you must meet before they can take your product.
“In our case, as long as your products are reasonably of good quality, you are in. NUL Innovation Hub is already testing many Basotho products. We won’t ignore quality, but we won’t use it as a way to prevent Basotho products from growing either.”
- A cooperative chainstore: From contributing as little as M50 per month, members will use a continuous financing model to ensure that the store doesn’t just end in Maseru but reaches the ten districts of Lesotho.
Each branch will start at a medium scale in order to grow along with Basotho products. We won’t ask for investors to come from anywhere, “we will be investors ourselves.”
- An export launch pad. “We are often told to export our produce. The obvious question is, if you haven’t convinced your own people to consume your own products, how can you convince people in other lands to do so? Why should they take you seriously?”
However, the store is not meant to be a local store forever.
It will be a means by which we export our products to other countries in the future.
When we export the store to Soweto, we export it along with products from Lesotho.
Don’t say no because we have seen Chinese shops and Indian shops and, of course, South African shops, filled to the brim with Chinese products and Indian products and South African products in many countries.
“If they can do it,” Lesiea ended, “so can we.”
“Because if it is there in some of us, it is there in all of us.”
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