Like its flawless diamonds, the precious jewel that is Lesotho is set within a breathtaking landscape of panoramic vistas, dramatic rock faces, waterfalls and lyrical, undulating plains. Its distinctive geographical position – encircled by the Republic of South Africa – is a product of its captivating history.
Over that history, we share indelible ties with Canada, notably through Canadian NGOs working tirelessly across Lesotho, particularly within the health sector. Lesotho’s relations with Canada are most enduring within the ecumenical fraternity, dating well before our independence in 1966. Prior to 1992, when Lesotho ceased to be a focus country for Canadian development assistance, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) undertook many programs across all sectors, public and private. Canadian aid dollars have enriched the lives of countless ordinary Basotho in Lesotho’s rural villages and peri-urban areas, the effects of which resonate to this day.
Lesotho is a Least Developed country of approximately 1.8 million, facing the nexus of the HIV and AIDS pandemic (with a prevalence rate of 23.3 percent). Despite the challenges brought about by the scourge of HIV and AIDS, as well as chronic droughts, Lesotho has gone through several development milestones that have ushered in a new era in its economic and socio-political environment.
These milestones have greatly influenced Lesotho’s relations with her immediate neighbors and the larger international community. Donor and investor confidence has been restored and strengthened and Lesotho now plays a key role in the Southern African Development Community, notably in its political cohesiveness; in February 2009, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was elected First Vice Chair of the African Union, demonstrating Lesotho’s valued role on the African continent.
Since 1992, Lesotho’s relations with Canada have existed primarily within the multilateral system where mutual support on a myriad of issues of international concern has sustained our friendship. Lesotho and Canada enjoy collaborative exchanges as members of the United Nations and the Commonwealth. It is in the multilateral system too where most of Canada’s Official Development Assistance to Africa lies.
Canada has contributed significantly to the development of Lesotho across many sectors, through robust projects in low-cost housing, rural water supply and capacity building in fiscal management and agriculture. Canada, through CIDA funded scholarships, has played a profound role in human capital development where many Lesotho citizens benefited from studies in Canada’s colleges and universities – including the current prime minister, some Cabinet ministers and senior government officials.
Today, despite the absence of an official Canadian presence in Lesotho, Canadian NGOs and other civil society organizations still play an active and significant role, partnering with the government and other civil society organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the resultant social challenges. Organizations such as HelpLesotho, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Ontario Hospitals Association, SOLID, Community to Community, Positively Africa and the Mennonite Central Committee have etched paths across the mountain terrain, reaching even the remotest villages with unwavering passion and solidarity. We are eternally grateful for their contribution and their continued dedication.
As we continue to court the Canadian government, we grow ever more conscious of the issues of absorptive capacity and donor apathy, salient concerns that permeate many matters of the global development agenda. It is perhaps because of these very issues that Canada’s development assistance has retreated from Lesotho to be channeled through multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Discourse on African political change argues the absence of democracy, the rule of law and rampant corruption as catalysts for the lack of absorptive capacity as well as donor apathy, and this is certainly recognized.
Lesotho appreciates Canada’s Aid Effectiveness Agenda, which strives to be more focused towards the tangible impact of Canadian aid dollars. However, when observing the enduring impact of Canadian aid in Lesotho, as well as our giant leaps in reinforcing the pillars of democracy and intolerance to corruption, one would desire a more conditional approach to Canadian ODA beyond its 20 development countries and in line with its key development priorities.
We believe that Lesotho’s current experience with other donor countries, such as the United States, can inform Canada’s ODA policy on Africa beyond the multilateral system. It is gratifying to note that Canada has honoured its G8 commitment to double aid to Africa in 2009. We recognize that Canadians are unified in their desire for the improvement of the quality of lives of Africans, and this is certainly the aim of this increased Canadian aid commitment.
However, such improvements can truly be attained through enhanced bilateral engagement. It is here where issues of capacity building can be strengthened to ensure absorptive capacity. Such bilateral engagement is critical to guarantee the sustainability of the advancements made in areas that Canada considers its key priorities: democracy, the rule of law, governance, and gender equality.
Lesotho has, over the years, demonstrated a strong commitment to policies that promote political and economic freedom. The sustainable use of natural resources, the control of corruption and the respect for civil liberties and the rule of law are also proven achievements, as measured by indicators of the World Bank, IMF, Freedom House, WHO, UNESCO, Heritage Foundation and many others – Lesotho epitomizes the rapidly changing face of Africa.
Attesting to these remarkable strides, on July 23, 2007, Lesotho signed a compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation of the United States. This development grant is aimed at reducing poverty and further supporting economic growth. By 2013, the compact will benefit the majority of Lesotho’s population due to its broad geographic scope and multi-sector focus.
Canada and the U.S. share similar aid priorities and similar challenges channelling development assistance through multilateral organizations. However, American aid dollars are making a significant improvement to the lives of ordinary people by strengthening this assistance through bilateral programs such as those of the MCC. In a small country that has invested in the structures of democracy, governance and its own people, bilateral programs yield tangible results, accelerating development on the ground and the attainment of Millennium Development Goals.
Lesotho sees its economic growth increasing in coming years due to diamond mining and a proposed new phase to the Lesotho Highlands Water project, although escalating food prices still are a serious concern. Lesotho is now benefiting from several new diamond mines, the first of which, LetÅ¡eng Diamond Mine, reopened in 2004 on the site of an already abandoned mine. A new Lowlands water project is also being developed and would boost growth, particularly in agriculture with the resuscitation of Lesotho’s popular asparagus cultivar and other cash crops.
It is important to note the significance of the 10-year absence of the Lesotho High Commission in Ottawa from 1996 to April 2006. This was a period of profound socio-political improvement. Amongst others, initiatives such as universal primary education and groundbreaking programs such as the HIV/AIDS campaign, “Know Your Status,” have improved the lives of ordinary Basotho, though many challenges still lie ahead. Lesotho’s socio-economic and political landscape continues to fl