‘Lesotho should learn from Ireland’s Recovery’
IT would be foolhardy for anyone to under-estimate Lesotho’s new ambassador to Ireland, S’khulumi Ntsoale, on account of the tears that stream freely down his cheeks as he sits across from this reporter in a Maseru restaurant.
The former trade and industry minister is not averse to showing his emotions and he evidently does not subscribe to the old expression that men do not cry.
His tears should however not be mistaken for any weakness because the 63 year-old is a man on a mission and his mission is to use his diplomatic posting to ensure that Lesotho learns from the Irish experience to develop its own economy.
He is committed to changing what he views as a culture of dependency among most Basotho to that of hard-working people who can become self-reliant in all aspects of life.
Mr Ntsoale only cried because he had just taken this reporter down the stairway of memory lane into his childhood and the story of early learning days is one that involuntarily sparks the deluge of tears.
“This is rather too emotional for me and I get carried away by my emotions,” Mr Ntsoale explains.
“I would not be where I am today if my grandfather had not chased after on his horse every morning for a month to ensure that I got to school.
“He always made sure to hand me over to my teacher. This was after he and my mother had discovered that I bunked classes to herd livestock because there was more food in the veld than at school.”
Mr Ntsoale, who was appointed ambassador to Ireland in March this year, is a prayerful man. By his own admission, he will certainly need more prayers when he assumes his new role this week.
He will attempt to convince the Irish government to re-open an embassy in Lesotho.
The Irish embassy closed its doors in 2014 forty years after first opening it in Maseru in 1975.
After the closure of the Maseru embassy, the official Irish aid programme, Irish Aid, relocated and is now being administrated from Pretoria in South Africa.
Irish Aid has worked with various partners to improve health and education services in the most remote parts of Lesotho as well as helping to increase food production and reduce malnutrition.
“I am a good negotiator and I will use those skills to persuade the Irish government to set up an embassy in Lesotho because we need their cooperation in developing this country,” Mr Ntsoale said.
The former Mabote legislator said he also hoped to draw on the experiences of the 2008 Irish economic meltdown to plot the growth of Lesotho.
After years of crisis, austerity, and wage cuts, Ireland’s economy grew by seven percent in 2015 and this faster than China. Twenty five years ago, Ireland was the poorest country in northern Europe but by the eve of the financial crisis, it was one of the richest.
Mr Ntsoale said Lesotho should learn from the Irish economic and political instability to resolve its own challenges. He said there was an urgent need to work towards the improvement of the local political dispensation in order to implement lessons learnt from countries like Ireland.
The Master’s degree holder in Education from the University of Bath (England) said he learnt that the electorate had a serious dependency syndrome that has prevented this country from flourishing.
The father of three was a minister during Dr Thabane’s coalition government and he says he was attacked by his Mabote constituents for introducing income generation projects instead of issuing handouts.
“I tried my best to improve my constituency in the limited time (before the collapse of the first coalition government). But it was a bumpy road because my political ideology and that of my constituency committee members were at odds probably due to our different political backgrounds.
“I learnt during that period that our people are happier to receive donations instead of being taught how to sustain their own lives. Basotho are highly dependent on donations and this is a game I had not read well and so I was given a rude awakening,” Mr Ntsoale said.
During his tenure in Mabote, Mr Ntsoale bought and planted 200 trees fruit trees, supported a mushroom project, fed pensioners and collaborated with the Ministry of Health to run free diabetic tests for the pensioners.
During his time in government, Mr Ntsoale achieved heroic status by leading a three-member African ministers’ team to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) negotiations with the United States.
He however, said the experience was not all rosy because “the African ministers dumped the AGOA issue on him to silence him for pestering them to discuss how the continent would renegotiate with the USA for the renewal of the agreement.
He further said his time as a minister was marred by unrealistic demands from ABC party members who demanded favours in tenders and employment. He believes that his refusal to bow down to such demands eventually cost him the Mabote constituency.
His failure to return to parliament in the aftermath of the 2015 elections did not dampened his spirits or frustrate his plans to work for the development of the country.
He joined his wife, Bontle Mokotso, in her potato farming project.
“Lesotho is an excellent country for potato production and I hope to use my new job to assist local farmers secure an overseas market to improve this sector.”
Mr Ntsoale credits Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) leader, Moeketse Malebo, for his academic, professional and political development.
“After graduating from the then National Training Teachers’ College (NTTC in the early 1980s), I secured a teaching job at Life Secondary School. That same year, Ntate Malebo approached my school principal and asked that I only conduct morning lessons as he wanted me to assist in the establishment of Sefika High School.
“A year later, Ntate Malebo came back and asked that I be transferred to Sefika High School not only as a permanent teacher but as principal. I was only 27 years old at the time and two years later, I received a scholarship to study at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
“Two months into my studies at NUL, Ntate Malebo secured a scholarship for me to study at the Newcastle University in England. I would later return to Newcastle where I studied for a degree in education and I was elected as African Student Association president.”
It was there at Newcastle where he honed his political skills as part of the African Student Association which spoke out against the Apartheid which was then the official policy in South Africa.
Before his high profile political roles, Mr Ntsoale held numerous positions in the education sector, including that of Primary School Inspector and National Curriculum Dissemination Coordinator.
He took early retirement from the public service in 2006 and helped form the Lesotho Public Service Staff Association (LEPSA).