EXASPERATED investors’ threats to dump the country over safety concerns should not be taken lightly. The government and in particular, the Lesotho Mounted Police Service should re-think its strategy and do more to protect investors from marauding criminal gangs.
As we reported in our last edition, at least 12 000 jobs are on the line in the country’s textile industry with exasperated investors threatening to quit the country over the police’s repeated failure to address their safety concerns.
The 12 000 workers are employed by two of the leading textile companies in Maseru and the figure represents about 30 percent of the 40 000 people estimated to be employed by the entire textile industry in the country. But the potential job losses could be much higher than that after fellow textile companies threatened to follow their colleagues out of the country if long-standing security concerns are not addressed to ensure their personal safety in the country.
As per the accounts of the investors who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity last week, lawlessness and impunity continue to be the order of the day in Lesotho.
Senior executives of two leading textile companies are lucky to be alive after being ambushed, carjacked, shot at and robbed of cash and other valuables in Maseru. They say this is not the first time they have been subjected to carjackings and robberies and despite reporting to the police, none of the perpetrators have ever been brought to book.
On their part, the police said they had not received reports on the latest crimes. To quote Police Spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, “We normally get complaints through the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association or the Asian association but to date we have not received any reports. However, the police stand ready to assist at all times”.
Reading into Supt Mopeli’s comments, one can surmise that the police are reactive rather than proactive when it comes to fighting crime. Worryingly, the police appear to be reactive when it comes to protecting investors. The police may not have received a report on the latest incident but what have they done about previous reports? What are they doing to prevent the attacks and carjackings? We have heard it said that prevention is better than cure. Ancient heads much wiser than our own have also told of how the Roman Emperor Nero fiddled as Rome burnt. A whole majestic and splendid empire was destroyed as a consequence of the inaction or limited response of its emperor- the very person who should have been in the forefront of saving it.
Now compare this with Soviet Union’s dictator Joseph Stalin who rallied all his troops to save Stalingrad from capture by Nazi Germany’s troops during the Second World War. Stalin had far inferior weapons and his soldiers were not at the level of Hitler’s Reich army. But it was a question of national and personal pride for Stalin who had named the city after himself. He would not allow it to fall into enemy’s hands as long as he had any breathe in his lungs. Sheer willpower on the part of Stalin’s Red Army won the battle and contributed a great deal to the eventual defeat of Hitler in 1945.
There is always something to be learnt from history. It is our submission that when something is very important to you, you give everything to protect it. You are proactive mapping out the threats and devising strategies to counter those threats rather than simply waiting until something has happened for you to act.
This is what we would like to see especially where it concerns our investors. As things stand we are experiencing great difficulty in attracting investors to our country and it stands to reason that we should protect those few already there. Protecting will ensure they stay and this will also entice others who would have been assured that their lives and investments will be safe in our country.
The textile industry is the lifeblood of the nation, employing at least 40 000 workers in direct jobs and thousands more in downstream industries.
Imagine the cataclysmic consequences that would ensue if the 12 000 jobs were lost over safety concerns. That is 30 percent of the textile jobs! Once the investors leave, it would be difficult, if not impossible to get them to return. This is because time has not stood still and ever since the investors first came to Lesotho almost three decades ago, newer more attractive investment destinations have emerged. Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola, that were in the throes of civil war in the early 1990s when the investors set up shop in Lesotho, have achieved far greater stability and the two SADC countries have their own ports which make them more attractive destinations.
We have been concerned about losing duty-free export markets in the United States and we covered so much ground to ensure the US government does not suspend us from befitting from the duty-free export of our textiles in terms of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
It is equally important to ensure we keep the investors safe otherwise there will be nothing to export if they abandon the country. We urge the government and in particular the police to be proactive and do more. We cannot allow criminals to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs for us.