New US Ambassador Brewer speaks out in first interview
- “MCC Compact II will empower women and youths,
- “Law enforcement agencies lack capacity to conduct credible investigations,
- “FBI has helped digitise 70 000 criminals’ fingerprints in Lesotho”.
TWO months after she succeeded Ms Rebecca Gonzales as the United States (US) Ambassador to Lesotho, career diplomat, Maria Brewer, this week sat down with Lesotho Times Editor Herbert Moyo and Deputy Editor Silence Charumbira for her first newspaper interview.
Below are excerpts of the interview wherein Ms Brewer speaks candidly about US-Lesotho relations, including the soon-to-be implemented lucrative Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact II as well as FBI cooperation with Lesotho’s security agencies.
LT: You are coming in during a crucial time in many respects. Firstly, we have the second MCC compact which will be signed next month. How significant will the second compact be?
Ambassador Brewer: All three projects under the second MCC compact represent a tremendous investment in the people of Lesotho, and in women and youth in particular as well as support for underdeveloped rural communities. The health systems strengthening project aims to address institutional weaknesses to improve primary health care.
The market-driven irrigated horticulture project will increase rural incomes through development of the horticulture sector and address key water, land, and food security issues in Lesotho. The business environment and technical assistance project has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs through new business creation in addition to public-private development.
LT: There have been complaints in some quarters that when the projects have been implemented, they are not well managed to ensure sustainability. What is your response to such views?
Ambassador Brewer: The decision to negotiate a second MCC compact agreement has not been taken lightly. The compact represents a huge investment by the United States Government and the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho. As such, the second compact’s projects have been designed with sustainability in mind. Both governments, in addition to the many local stakeholders who have been a part of the compact development process, are deeply committed to ensuring the compact’s success and sustainability.
The MCC and Lesotho Millennium Development Agency (LMDA) drew upon the experience of the previous compact, projects implemented by the Government and local partners, and MCC experience in other countries in similar sectors when designing these projects. The LMDA is an example of the Government’s commitment to sustainability having been created to complete and sustain the previous compact investments.
LT: What are the lessons learnt from the first compact and what must be improved in the second compact to ensure sustainability?
Ambassador Brewer: I think one of the most important items needed to ensure sustainability is adequate accountability between government and the people. As mentioned above, each of the compact’s activities have been designed to encourage sustainability after extensive research and consultation.
Broad stakeholder buy-in for the compact will further help ensure its benefits will be experienced long after the five-year implementation period. As an example, the compact projects are investing heavily in human capacity development, institutional reforms, and data transparency to build long term accountability between different stakeholders.
LT: There is a general sentiment that while the US has demanded that Lesotho takes decisive action against vices like human trafficking, rape and gender-based violence among others, little has been done to actually address these issues. Can we then say, as some argue, that the US is becoming softer on Lesotho or are you genuinely happy with how the government has dealt with these issues?
Ambassador Brewer: As you note, the United States Government has consistently stressed the importance of meaningful trafficking in persons (TIP) investigations, including those involving high-ranking officials, and the importance of meaningful action against gender-based violence. We have also supported programming to advance efforts in each of these areas, including through initiatives funded by the International Organisation for Migration and USAID. We continue to emphasize the importance of additional efforts, but also acknowledge progress that has been made.
Specifically in relation to TIP, the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho increased stakeholder coordination on TIP investigations and prosecutions; identified anti-trafficking and smuggling unit focal points for Lesotho’s districts; increased support for shelter and protective services for victims; allocated funds for TIP-related activities and victim protection; finalised and implemented guidelines for victim identification and referral; and increased its TIP-specific training and sensitisation efforts over the past year. We continue to urge additional actions to convict traffickers, including complicit officials.
LT: There have been rampant killings to the extent that according to the World Population Review, Lesotho is now top-ranked in Africa for homicides and sixth in the world. How best can this scourge be tackled? Do you think there is enough political will to tackle these rampant murders?
Ambassador Brewer: One of the United States’ greatest opportunities for enhanced partnership with Lesotho is through security and law enforcement cooperation. To support ongoing US efforts to build law enforcement capacity to conduct credible investigations, we signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Minister of Police and Public Safety late last year to assist in building more professional, capable, and accountable security services and to help address the high crime rate in the country. A number of Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho officials have stressed their desire to combat violent crime, and we stand ready to assist on this issue.
LT: There are widespread perceptions that the police are either unwilling or incompetent to tackle the killings and other crimes. As a country whose Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is working with the LMPS and other security agencies, what gaps have you identified in the policing work in Lesotho and how best can these be addressed?
Ambassador Brewer: Lesotho’s growing partnership with the FBI is an example of how the Government seeks to close the capability gaps among law enforcement personnel. One of the main gaps we have observed is the capacity of law enforcement to conduct credible investigations.
Prior to the FBI’s first visit to Lesotho last year, the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho’s fingerprint records were not digitised, which made it difficult for officers to identify criminals. At the request of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the FBI scanned and digitised nearly 70 000 criminal fingerprint records to begin the first phase of creating a national database system.
We followed that activity with a two-week, FBI-led biometric investigation training course completed just a few weeks ago. We plan to expand this and related partnerships between the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the FBI.
LT: The US has a long-standing cooperation with Lesotho’s security agencies and these same security agencies are the subject of reforms. While it is a matter for Basotho to ultimately decide the exact nature of the reforms, nonetheless, as a development partner and as a country with a rich democratic heritage stretching back to 4 July 1776, what experiences and what advice would you give regarding how a reformed security sector ought to be?
Ambassador Brewer: The United States Government’s experience with security sector reform suggests that integrating defence, development, legislative, and diplomatic resources, tools, and objectives into a comprehensive package maximizes the effectiveness and sustainability of security sector reforms. We applaud the strides made by the Lesotho Defence Force to stay out of politics and encourage its leadership to maintain course.
LT: There is a school of thought that given Lesotho’s unique position as a country completely within South Africa, pretty much like the Vatican and Italy, Lesotho does not even need an army. Does Lesotho need an army or is its position in the belly of South Africa enough to ward off external threats?
Ambassador Brewer: This question should be directed to the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho. Close coordination, common objectives, well-practiced tactics, and accountability are key to establishing and enhancing any nation’s security environment.
LT: The national reforms process had initially been earmarked to be completed by May 2019, but the process has been perennially delayed. As a development partner, have you engaged the government, the National Reforms Authority and other stakeholders to find out what the impediments are?
Ambassador Brewer: These reforms are important to Lesotho’s ability to build a strong and sustainable foundation for achieving its development and governance objectives. In the two months I have been in Lesotho, I have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with other development partners and reforms process stakeholders. We hope Lesotho will continue to make progress to adopt and then implement these important national reforms.
LT: How best do you think the reforms process should be approached and sped up?
Ambassador Brewer: With the omnibus bill heading to the National Assembly this week, the process appears to be moving forward. We hope that members of parliament continue to focus on issues of national interest, including adopting key reforms, and election related laws are prioritised as the country prepares for elections this fall.
LT: The US is a leading development partner of many African countries, Lesotho and Zimbabwe included. There was a recent vote on whether or not to suspend Russia should be kept in the United Nations Human Rights Council. Ninety-three countries voted in favour of suspending Russia and 24 voted against. Fifty-eight, abstained from voting. From an international relations perspective, would you be able to shed light on how such serious differences between the US and its development partners like Zimbabwe affect their relations?
There is a school of thought that when you maintain neutrality, you are favouring the aggressor. Yet we have Zimbabwe voted in favour of Russia and Lesotho abstained from voting. What do you make of it?
Ambassador Brewer: With regard to US — Zimbabwe relations, I would defer to our Embassy in Harare. More generally, the United States is engaged in diplomatic efforts around the world to shine a bright light on Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, unjustified, and brutal invasion of Ukraine. We cannot stand quiet. We must all stand up for what is right.
As a member state in the Human Rights Council, the U.S. considers it important to maintain the highest standards on human rights. Russia’s actions in Ukraine clearly demonstrate it has utterly failed to do so by engaging in a brutal, unprovoked, and premeditated war against its neighbour, Ukraine.
On March 23 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that based on information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. The UN’s commitment to upholding the Charter and promoting respect for international humanitarian law by suspending Russia was the right thing to do.
LT: Lesotho is one of those countries that benefit from AGOA and the MCC. Please provide the latest figures i.e., the value of trade between the two countries for 2021.
Ambassador Brewer: In 2021, US$333, 7 million worth of goods were exported to the US under AGOA. Lesotho is ranked number two in terms of value of goods exported and number three in terms of the volume of goods exported under AGOA.
While there is still a lot of room for growth, this amount of trade is a great achievement. AGOA has created over 45 000 jobs in the textiles industry since its inception, even as the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the sector recently.
LT: Who is the balance of trade in favour of between the US and Lesotho?
Ambassador Brewer: Based on data from the Office of the US Trade Representative, the United States has a goods trade deficit of US$330, 4 million with Lesotho. The US exports US$3, 2 million worth of goods to Lesotho.
LT: What were the main items of trade i.e., Lesotho’s exports to the US and Lesotho’s imports from the US?
Ambassador Brewer: Lesotho currently exports textiles and garments to the United States. Lesotho’s main imports from the United States include machinery and optical and medical instruments.
LT: Lesotho is a beneficiary of AGOA and we have previously heard that there are 6400 product lines but it is only focused on one, the textiles. From your knowledge of Lesotho, which other products do you think the country can take advantage of and how best can Lesotho position itself to take advantage of these?
Ambassador Brewer: Lesotho has the potential to export handicrafts, bottled water, canned food, fruits and vegetables, wool, mohair products, and leather products to the United States under AGOA. I am hopeful Lesotho will take advantage of additional product lines for export under AGOA, and I also hope to see more Basotho-owned businesses take advantage of this export opportunity. We stand ready to connect interested businesses and entrepreneurs with our USAID Trade Hub partners to discuss this opportunity forward.