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The key is to decentralise

by Lesotho Times
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SINCE independence in 1966 the city of Maseru has experienced tremendous growth.

This has been due, among other things, to rural-urban migration.

Thousands of Basotho have been drawn by the bright lights of the city.

Most of these people have settled in the city permanently.

The biggest challenge facing the migrants has been their integration into the greater social, economic and political community including the development of their political attitudes in the city.

Their perception of democracy and the government of the day have shaped their political behavior.

This has had a huge impact on their activities as citizens.

In this article I wish to examine how the economic circumstances of the immigrants have shaped their political attitude and consciousness.

There is a perception that the Maseru City Council has dismally failed to develop Maseru into a modern, cosmopolitan city.

The rise of the informal sector along Kingsway Street is proof of this failure, say critics.

They argue that uncontrolled migration is putting a strain on the city’s resources. It is also creating environmental challenges in places like the Thetsane industrial site.

Support for the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) particularly in Maseru has been on the decline for years.

In the last elections held in 2007 residents of Maseru preferred to vote for the opposition giving the ruling party a bloody nose at the polls.

Residents blame the ruling party and the government for failing to right the numerous ills they see in the city.

They say the LCD has failed to keep its electoral promises.

Developments in Maseru have brought their own problems. Neither the government nor the Maseru City Council appears to have any clue as to how to deal with the new challenges.

None have taken any measures to address the rapid urbanisation of the city which has put enormous pressure on services such as health, education, sanitation and housing.

The number of migrants flocking into Maseru is exerting a huge strain on the little available resources.

One can look at the growing demand for health services at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, the country’s biggest referral hospital.

One can also look at the hundreds of people who mill around the Thetsane industrial site every day looking for work.

Maseru also has a serious accommodation crisis.

Most houses are in a sorry state. Some do not have basic amenities like tap water or decent toilets.

But tenants still pay through the nose. Any newcomers to the city are at the mercy of greedy landlords.

It has been shown that when people find a place they call home it becomes very difficult to remove them from there.

We have seen the Maseru council struggle for years to remove baitsokuli (street vendors).

In my opinion I think we need a multi-sector approach to deal with this problem in Maseru.

In the meantime, the government should actively consider developing other urban centres like Hlotse and Mafeteng.

These small towns should be seen as alternative urban centres with potential to create more jobs for Basotho.

Decentralisation is the key in dealing with the myriad of problems facing the capital Maseru.

In Swaziland, the government did change focus from the capital Mbabane to Manzini.

In Malawi the same strategy saw the government shift its attention from Zomba to Lilongwe with Blantyre remaining as the commercial capital.

Perhaps a similar strategy could work here in Lesotho.

The first part could see the government widening the road that connects Mafeteng with Maseru. This could offer the government an opportunity to start investing in the southern districts.

The private sector should spearhead the process of growth by setting up businesses in other districts instead of focusing on Maseru alone.

We want urban development through-out all the districts.

We want to see clear policies that address these challenges.

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