Lesotho has made gains in poverty reduction over the last decade. However, poverty remains higher than in the neighbouring countries. About half, or 49.7 percent of our population lives below the national poverty and about one quarter (24.1 percent) lives in extreme poverty. Lesotho national poverty rate is measured at the national poverty line of about M650 per adult equivalent per month. In absolute terms, this translates to about a million people (994,000) living below the poverty line and about half a million (484,000) living in extreme poverty. These are the most recent estimates.
Within the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) and neighboring countries, Lesothoâ€™s poverty rate is among the highest. Poverty is due to factors outside of individualâ€™s control, including the districts where individuals grow up, serious health problems, and environmental shocks, among others.
Unemployment is one of the most important contributors to poverty. The facts are that half of the working-age population in Lesotho is not participating in the labour market, does not have a job nor is looking for one, with young people being disproportionally affected by joblessness.
Employment statistics have worsened in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.
Despite strides made by Lesothoâ€™s international partners such as the European Union (EU) to help Lesotho improve the lives of its poorest and most marginalized citizens through creating a sustainable, just, and equitable society in all aspects of life, poverty persists.
Newsday reporter Mohloai Mpesi (MM) sat down with the Head of the European Union Delegation to the Kingdom of Lesotho, Paola Amadei, to discuss poverty; its causes, and its impacts on society.
MM: Thank you for accepting our request for this interview. We understand that the EU has made several efforts to help Lesotho in the fight against poverty but it obstinately persists. What do you think are the root causes of poverty in Lesotho and what can be done to eradicate it?
PA: Thank you for this interview, I think the majority of the population still relies on subsistence agriculture and it is affected by climate change. So agriculture by definition has always been subject to weather conditions even now when climate change is transforming patterns with soil erosion linked to climate change reducing the available arable land. The coping mechanisms that existed in the past are not as effective as they used to be and I am thinking in particular there are possibilities for Basotho to cross the border and find job opportunities in South Africa as there is still a very large number of Basotho working in South Africa.
However, Covid-19 has reduced a lot of job opportunities in South Africa and unemployment is affecting negatively the capacity of Basotho to find an occupation and provide for their families back home. On the other side, there is climate change affecting which is affecting productivity. There are lesser opportunities for work abroad leading to lesser remittances of Basotho working in South Africa. Being unable to work in South Africa legally also exposes Basotho to exploitation and they are not able to get salaries that allow them to support their families.
MM: Do you think the textile industry is helping to reduce poverty and what do you think can be done to boost the industry?
Looking at the textile and garment industry which has been one of the main providers of jobs and opportunities for Basotho and particularly for women it has been affected by Covd-19 pandemic and other elements.
For instance, the fact that Proper Labour Standards are not applied, Gender Based Violence (GBV) is the problem in this industry implies that some customers are not anymore willing to buy products coming from Lesotho because they might be exposed to criticism that they support industries that do not protect the rights of workers and in particular female workers.
We have seen as well there is still a lot of concentration on export in the diamond industry, indeed the European Union first imported diamonds from Lesotho last year. The trade balance between the EU and Lesotho showed a surplus of EUR 300 million in favour of Lesotho.
So the diamond industry and the export provide a lot of employment and wealth to the country, at the same time, we would like to see also the development of other industries.
So for that reason, the EU is supporting a new programme to help Lesotho have better access to the regional market and the EU market. We have identified two particular specific sectors; one relates to herbs, spices, and medicinal products which include the cannabis industry.
I think they can open up more opportunities including in the rural areas where these kinds of opportunities have been more elusive.
MM: You may be aware that cases of murder continue to be a problem for Lesotho. What is the EUâ€™s reaction to this?
PA: We are as concerned as Basotho are about this situation. We hope that measures taken by the government and security forces will be effective in reducing violence and in prosecuting criminals.
We know and very much regret and deplore the killing of one journalist two weeks ago and we understand that this killing was linked to his activity and his reporting, so this represents an additional element of concern if the media in its role of being a watchdog is affected and subjected to threats and these threats culminate in such tragic events. This means one of the key elements of a healthy democratic society is missing.
Since 2016, there was no such grave attack against the press in the country. I think the last time there was such an attack was against the editor of Lesotho Times (Lloyd Mutungamiri). Fortunately, he managed to survive and one would have hoped that this would not repeat itself. It is a matter of concern.
We see that there has been a suspension of the authorisation of new gun licenses and we see that there are also measures taken to check on the existing gun licenses. The presence of so many guns in the country is also an element that can fuel additional violence and brutality.
We realise that there has been additional stop-and-search operation and I think one key element is for security forces to develop a relationship of trust with the people of Lesotho so that there is cooperation in identifying criminals and apprehending them so that they can face justice.