IF there is one big lesson that former ambassador Nkopane Monyane’s foray into world diplomacy taught him, it is that no-one must ever enter into negotiations on the basis of fuzzy philosophical considerations which are far removed from practical realities.
It is from the basis of self-interest that Mr Monyane says Lesotho must approach the negotiations at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit (which took place in Beijing, China this week).
From 2013 to 2016, Mr Monyane was placed in Geneva, Switzerland as Lesotho’s ambassador to the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Swiss Confederation.
“The bulk of the work was in the intense negotiations at the WTO on trade and economic issues,” Mr Monyane recalled in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times.
It was this experience that taught him that the theatre of international relations should be used to aggressively push a country or countries’ self-interests.
“Negotiations must be informed by self-interest and as impoverished African countries, we cannot be seen to be negotiating on the basis of third world solidarity with our fellow least developed countries from Asia especially in instances where their interests are not necessarily the same as ours,” Mr Monyane says.
“We should only be guided by our interests as African countries and not by anything else. Our interests should inform how we approach the World Trade Organisation (WTO), FOCAC and any other negotiations.”
Now the principal secretary in the Ministry of Police, Mr Monyane remains a diplomat and he closely follows all international relations and negotiations with a keen interest in seeing that Lesotho and its fellow African countries’ interest are catered for. He is a founding member of both the Commonwealth Africa Trade Negotiators Network and the SADC Trade Negotiators Network. The UNDP has invited him as a panellist in the forthcoming 2018 African Economic Conference themed “Regional and Continental Intergration for Africa’s Development”.
This week, Lesotho was represented at the FOCAC summit in Beijing, China by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, cabinet ministers and other high-ranking government officials.
Speaking ahead of the FOCAC summit, Mr Monyane said it was his wish to see Lesotho and other African countries push for tangible investments by the Chinese in the productive sectors which would lay the foundation for sustainable economic growth.
Many observers have pointed that while China has been a major investor in Africa, some of the investments are made on the basis of Chinese considerations in its hegemonic battle with the United States and other western countries. The observers say that such investments ultimately benefit China and do little if anything to alleviate the poverty and suffering of the Africans masses.
In is in this respect that Mr Monyane advises that “while the FOCAC arrangement takes the bigger picture of the solidarity of the African people and the Chinese, we should not lose sight of our interests”.
“We should be negotiating for Chinese investments in capital and infrastructure projects which would lay the groundwork for solid economic development anchored on industrialisation and enhance services production.
“China has invested a lot in Lesotho. What we have gained are these nice administrative structures like the parliament, the museums but not productive infrastructure save for some factory shells.
“Look at the Ethiopia-Djibouti corridor including the roads and railways that were built in those countries by China. Those are the kind of investments that we should seek as they enable productive capacity. Negotiations should be based on our interests and we don’t have to be apologetic about that and feel we are losing out on our solidarity.
“Here the Chinese have invested a lot building the state library, parliament and the convention centre. Those projects are fine but they are more political projects and they give much more of a publicity to China than they have any economic value for us.
“They (Chinese) will suggest the form of assistance they want to give us and if we just accept and do not come up with proposals for infrastructure projects that benefit us, it is then that there will be credence to claims by some that we are not in charge of our destiny and we are being recolonised,” Mr Monyane said.
He said he had learnt such valuable lessons about international relations during his time in Geneva. He said it took so much diplomacy on his part to make fellow African countries understand that African interests were not necessarily the same as those of fellow least developed countries (LDCs) from other parts of the world.
“I was the coordinator for the African countries at the WTO in Geneva from 2013 to 2016 and my task went beyond just looking out for Lesotho’s interests but those of fellow African countries. It was clear to me that African countries’ trade interests at the WTO negotiations were not necessarily the same as those of fellow least LDCs from other parts of the world.
“Countries such as Bangladesh pushed us to support their demands for duty-free quotas and other trade preferences with the United States. But this was not in our interests because as African countries we already had such preferences and supporting them would only undermine our own position as these countries would be better placed to completely dominate the market as they were already world leaders in the textile sector even without the trade preferences.”
He said it was a marathon process to get the representatives of the African countries to understand that they needed to look out for their interests instead of being taken in by the talk of mutual solidarity among LDCs.
“This solidarity was for the benefit of the likes of Bangladesh who do not have such duty-free preferences and quotas with the US for example. Bangladesh is already a market leader in the US for garments and now they want to outpace us even more by getting those duty-free preferences and quotas just because they are counted among the least developed countries.
“They talk solidarity of the least developed countries to make us bridesmaids to get them into a marriage with the US and that is going to be to our great disadvantage. They are already making us feel the pinch of their other competitive advantages like the availability of resources in the form of fabric. The fact that they are not compliant with any labour rules and they are producing cheaply makes them already ahead. What more if they get the duty-free preferences? We will be dead if that happens and we would have participated in destroying ourselves. In the same manner that we shot ourselves in the foot in supporting the end of the MFA in 2004 with resultant loss of jobs which we have yet to recover from.”
Mr Monyane also spoke on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement that was signed by several African countries in March this year. He said the CFTA should be used in developing the value chain in Africa and promoting intra-African trade.
“We signed the CFTA and we should look at it as an instrument of promoting collaboration among African countries instead of being competition.
“The CFTA can also be used to develop the African value chain. For instance, Lesotho is already a leader in the textile manufacturing sector and South Africa is already in the distribution and retail sector.
Instead of distributing fake Asian products, South Africa should then distribute African products from countries such as Lesotho under the CFTA. The CFTA should make intra-African trade much more meaningful, so that African take advantage of their own market, as well as making extra-African trade much more competitive.
“Our competition in the garments industry as Africans comes from Bangladesh, Vietnam and other Asian countries. They get their quality cotton from Africa. It goes to India where they stockpile it and sell to the other Asian countries to make fabric. And we go and order fabric from them.
“They beat us in terms of the time to market because our fabric will take 28 to 32 days to get to Durban. If for example, we have an order which takes 14 days to manufacture, by the time the fabric gets here, the manufacturer in Bangladesh would have supplied the same order twice. By the time you start manufacturing here in Lesotho the Bangladeshis would be supplying more orders,” Mr Monyane said.
He said the CFTA should enable Lesotho to acquire the cotton directly from Benin, Zimbabwe and other African countries.
“That will allow us to turn the cotton into fabric fast enough to supply our factories and thus compete favourably with Bangladesh and other Asian countries when it comes to supplying the European and US markets with garments.”
And while he would rather speak on economic issues rather than his current portfolio as the principal secretary in the Police ministry, Mr Monyane is however, aware of the nexus between stability and socio-economic development.
Lesotho has embarked on the process of implementing constitutional, security sector, governance and media reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.
These reforms are seen as key to realizing stability after the instability that plagued the country in recent years and retarded economic development.
“My ministry is a key player in these reforms and the security agencies (army, police, intelligence and prison services) have been engaging to find the best ways of addressing challenges in the security sector,” Mr Monyane said. He said a lot of progress had been achieved with the help of the police component of the SADC standby force in terms of training the police in their conduct of investigations, their roles vis-a-a-vis other security organs as well as their relations with civilians.
SADC gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have fully implemented the constitutional and security sector reforms. But for Mr Monyane, the most important issue rather than rushing to meet deadlines, is to ensure that the reforms are all-encompassing and fully implemented to ensure lasting peace and stability without which it would be impossible to attain socio-economic development.