Lesotho must do more to attract investment: Ralebitso

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Bereng Mpaki

LESOTHO must define its national identity and reposition itself as an internationally attractive brand before it can claim its share of the international marketplace.

This was said by Vodacom Lesotho managing director, Mohale Ralebitso, at a panel discussion this week to commemorate Lesotho’s 55th independence anniversary.

Lesotho’s post-independence history has been blighted by political instability, corruption and a host of social ills such as high murder rates which have prevented the country from attracting significant foreign direct investment to enable it to realise its development potential.

This year’s independence celebrations were commemorated against the background of serious concerns that the economy could suffer serious damage if the country is forced to pay off £50 million (M856 million) damages to Frazer Solar. The damages are for the government’s alleged breach of a 2018 contract the German company claims to have entered into with the previous Thomas Thabane-led government for the supply of solar water heating systems, solar generated electricity, LED lights and solar lanterns over four years. The government is fighting the damages award by a South African arbitrator in the local and South African high courts.

Mr Ralebitso and other discussants alluded to these problems during this week’s discussion, on the country’s development prospects, in Maseru. The live discussion which was organised by Brand Africa Lesotho Chapter. According to its website, Brand Africa is an international African organisation “which seeks to inspire an urgent brand-led African renaissance”.

Others on the roundtable discussion were Brand Africa founder and chairperson, Thebe Ikalafeng, Lesotho Times editor, Herbert Moyo, independent journalist Nthakoana Ngatane and Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) Investment Climate Reforms Manager, Reboneng Makoa. The discussions revolved around what must be done to build the Lesotho brand to market the country as an investment destination.

In his contribution, Mr Ralebitso said Lesotho should leverage its tourism potential and culture to build its brand.

He said Lesotho must also tackle corruption and social ills such as the high murder rates which had catapulted the country to first position for the highest homicide rates in Africa and sixth in the world.

He said there was not much to show for the country’s 55 years of independence as Lesotho remained largely dependent on other countries, particularly South Africa.

He alluded to the fact that some territories which had belonged to Lesotho in the 19th century had now become part of South Africa.

“There is nothing independent about Lesotho,” Mr Ralebitso said.

“We are a case study on dependency. How do you build a brand when more than half of your asset base is disconnected from you? We have a lot of work to do to build our national brand,” he said.

Mr Ralebitso also pledged M20 000 towards the creation of a fund to assist youth start-ups in the country.

This after the youthful funder of Leseli Hub, Ntsukunyane Matete, had bemoaned the lack of funding for youth initiatives. Leseli Hub is into the outdoor advertising business.

Mr Matete, who was in the audience, had said that many youths had vibrant business ideas and had established companies which had collapsed due to lack or limited funding.

Mr Ralebitso also challenged locals to either start their own ventures or buy foreign entities like Aranda Textiles that were capitalising on Lesotho’s heritage by manufacturing and selling the world-famous Basotho blanket.

He said India had already shown the way by taking over well-known western motor vehicle brands like Jaguar and Land Rover.

On his part, Mr Ikalafeng said Africans had not used their independence to grow their own internationally recognised brands.

“We are a continent marked mostly by poverty, hunger, poor health and violence. It is devastating that after close to 60 years of the so-called independence, we are still struggling to show what we can do with our independence.

“Independence has not been good for us as we have become lazy waiting for the government to look after us instead of creating jobs.

“The biggest problem in Africa is corruption in public offices. It is also becoming rampant in the private sector. Corruption has slowed down development in Africa,” Mr Ikalafeng said.

The situation was worsened by Africans’ hatred of indigenous brands, he said.

On his part, Mr Makoa said there was need to revise the country’s fiscal policies to attract foreign direct investment.

Mr Moyo highlighted the negative impact of social ills on the country’s potential as an investment destination.

He said in as much as the media wanted to highlight positive stories, it could not camouflage or pay lip service to serious human rights abuses, political instability and the rampant murders currently bedevilling the country.

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