Premature Elections in Lesotho

iec2Today, the people of Lesotho are heading to the polls – two years earlier than originally planned. Lesotho has been viewed as a rather peaceful country, and as a democratic success in Africa after its 2012 elections. However, it has also had its fair share of corruption, coups d’état, and political instability.

Brief contextual history: Pakalitha Mosisili was Prime Minister of Lesotho for a 14-year stint from 1998 to 2012 as the head of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). Prior to the 2012 elections, Mosisili left LCD and formed a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC), and Metsing then became the LCD leader. Before all of this occurred, in 2006, Tom Thabane left the LCD and formed his own party, the All Basotho Convention (ABC). The important bit is that the three major parties of today are semi-opposing factions of the same party, hence all the disagreements. Mosisili leads DC, Metsing leads LCD, and Thabane leads ABC. There are several other parties, but these three are the major contenders in these elections.

“I object to intellect without discipline; I object to power without constructive purpose.”

What happened last time?: DC, led by Mosisili, won majority of votes in 2012, but a three-party coalition government was formed between the ABC, LCD, and DC, with the ABC heading the coalition. Mosisili handed power over to Thabane and things were peaceful—at least for a while.

“The means of many outweigh the means of the few. Or of the one.”

What is happening now?: After Parliament was suspended by King Letsie III, slow-heating controversy between the three parties exploded into the open when the army forcibly occupied police stations in the capitol, and an attempted coup d’état was aimed at Prime Minister Thabane. Because of this, Peace Corps took precautionary measures and consolidated all Lesotho PCVs in South Africa for a Three Week Hiatus. The two bodyguards that tipped him off and allowed him enough time to escape back in August were shot and injured a few months later, and an innocent bystander was killed. It was also rumored that there was another attempt to finish off the bodyguards while they were recovering in the hospital. There has been additional feuds between the parties (with an forming alliance between DC and LCD that is fuel to the fire). The government has been stagnated in the anticipation of these early elections and tensions are heightened for some during this time.

“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.”

What will happen next?: Tensions are high, and many post-election outcomes have been predicted, both tranquil and turbulent. Some believe the tragedies that occurred after the 1998 elections are still haunting memories for many Basotho, and that there is no chance of unrest occurring again. Most of the people I have talked to are either major supporters of ABC, or absolutely despise politics and see no light at the end of the tunnel with either of the choices—voting would inevitably only support a corrupt candidate. After the polls close tonight and the votes are counted, the hope is that peace will find its way back to Lesotho and everyone can live long and prosper.

“Without followers, evil cannot spread.”



Peanut Farming Project for Lesotho

Sam looks intimidating here carrying the machete he uses in the maize fields, but he's an affable guy.

Sam looks intimidating here carrying the machete he uses in the maize fields, but he’s an affable guy.

The Peace Corps Project Design and Management workshop is one that all PCVs will attend about six months after swearing in. My group just had our week-long workshop with our counterparts. My counterpart, Sam, and I looked forward to this workshop for many reasons: it was a vacation with delicious meals, a swimming pool, free meals, other people to hang out with, and did I mention delicious, free meals? Aside from all the food we ate and fun we had swimming, playing darts and just hanging out, we learned a lot about project design and are excited about the project we have planned to do in our community. Sam and I are the perfect team for this project, I think. He is an experienced farmer and is the go-to person if there is a question about anything agriculture-related. And I absolutely love peanut butter and I eat it almost everyday as a sandwich, with chocolate, or by the spoonful. One thing I don’t like about the peanut butter here in Lesotho is that it is expensive. A 1kg tub cost about 50 Rand. When I break down my stipend I make a little less than R80 per day. It almost cost a whole day’s income for a tub of peanut butter that will last a couple of weeks. It’s even more expensive by volume for the smaller jars. My frustration combined with Sam’s strength makes us a great duo to advocate for peanut farming in Lesotho.

The Issues:
In 2008-2013, according to UNICEF, 39% of Lesotho’s population was moderately to severely stunted due to malnutrition. Nearly 25% of the population is infected with HIV (the world’s second-highest rate), and nearly all are affected in some capacity. Although there is very few data on groundnut import to and export from Lesotho, one can see on the shelves at grocery stores that peanut products in Lesotho are unanimously imported from South Africa.

Plumpy'nut is helping alleviate malnutrition in many famished countries.

Plumpy’nut is helping alleviate malnutrition in many famished countries.

How peanuts can help:
Worldwide, UNICEF and UNAIDS are using peanut products as ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTFs) to alleviate malnutrition in youth and people living with HIV. There is a need for this, and Lesotho has a climate where peanuts could thrive – our small-scale demonstration plot proved this. These facts makes Lesotho a country where peanut farmers should be recruited, locally-made peanut products produced, and steps taken to cease the import of peanut products from outside the borders.

So, that’s what Sam and I will spend my service doing: recruiting local peanut farmers, educating people about the benefits of peanut products, and as a result combating malnutrition, strengthening the local economy, and bringing an idea that is unique to Lesotho.

We hope to execute a “one season plan” that can be easily replicated in the future:
1. Hold a series of community demonstrations showing the various ways of incorporating peanuts into the normal diet using the nuts from our small-scale demonstration plot.
2. Grow and harvest peanuts on a larger scale with local farmers in the next season.
3. Purchase a peanut butter machine.
4. Package and produce peanut butter and other peanut products to then advocate on a larger scale in the future.

One thing I have learned is that I can never be 100% sure of what I want to do in life. Ten years ago I knew I would become a doctor. For a brief while about five years ago I just knew I would become a high school science teacher. Shortly after that, I knew I would be an epidemiologist. And about a year ago I knew I would be working with youth. Now, I have no clue what I’ll do – maybe a fusion of all of these in some way. But this uncertainty is the beauty of life, isn’t it? I freak out every now-and-again, but in the end I’d like to think that I’m only opening more paths for myself – or at the very least becoming more knowledgeable. I haven’t completely marked off any of these options despite my ambivalence, and the horizon is growing and I can travel in any direction and be contented…even if I become a peanut farmer, I guess.


A few life lessons I’ve learned

The past month has been chock-full of adventures—small and large.

Spinning. Turning. Up and down. Sideways. Cramped. Squished between people. Everyone arguing about politics and the upcoming elections. This was my ride to Thaba Tseka for a Peace Corps workshop last month. Thaba Tseka is known for its mountains—both beautiful and lush this time of year—and even with the addition of five people over capacity, no local person willing open a window for air, and being shaken around in the kombi like a fizzy drink, I still enjoyed the ride through these remote mountains. Since living here a sort of calm fatalism has settled on me in situations like this. When a collection of half-a-dozen thatch-roofed huts appear in the middle of nowhere I can’t help but wonder how these people decided to settle in this particular spot with no other living person within a hundred kilometers. Before leaving for Thaba Tseka another PCV told me there was a basketball court that we would definitely be able to play on if we wanted. I was pumped about this and have missed playing in the gym back at school. After four long games I had finally got my basketball fix after 8 months of no basketball and nearly no physical activities. I walked away feeling 20 years older, 15 pounds heavier, and having a fat blister on each foot.

Lesson learned: I won’t always be the young athletic person I thought I’d always be. Drinking quart-sized beers and eating makoenya actually do catch up to you.

The African Cup of Nations is a big event in Africa. This year I was lucky to have been able to watch it with friends – friends from several different African countries. There is Malie from Lesotho, Abdul from Tanzania, George from Congo (DRC), and Sam from Zambia. Watching the games with them was a history, cultural, and language lesson in one. Sam talked a lot about the coach for Côte d’Ivoire who won the African Cup with Zambia previously (He went on to win again this year with Côte d’Ivoire). This same coach is originally from France so George had a lot to say when anything was spoken in French. Abdul and Malie also had there cues to add learning points for me. They shared opinions on many things that I was able to get much insight from. I learned some ways that South Africa exploits Lesotho, how Zambia has a lot of copper but the DRC used its border to steal most of it, many stereotypes Africans have of each other, and cultural differences between them all.

Lesson learned: Learn as much as you can from anyone you can. Everyone’s experience is different and it’s hard to see life from those perspectives unless you take the time to.

My site is neat in the fact that the hospital receives many short-term international volunteers. Most recently, two Australian soon-to-be doctors visited Mapoteng. We didn’t meet until almost halfway through their month-long stay here. Who knew how much of a tragedy this would be in the end? Maureen, Georgia, and I were escorted by a cohort of boys down to a nearby swimming hole. We played games and cooked delicious food and desserts with my family. We had many fun nights up at the local pub. I got to celebrate Australia Day with them. We attempted to watch all eight Harry Potter movies – rarely did thirty minutes pass by before I was snoring. We visited the Katse Dam. And my family took such a liking to them, too, that we had a nice cookout for them the day they were leaving. All in all, I am so grateful that our paths in life intersected at that moment and we were able to have such great times together. You just know sometimes when someone is genuine and a great person all around. I hope someone else in South Africa or Namibia are as fortunate as me to meet them during the rest of their travels before they head back to their island home.
My favorite memory with them is from the day we arrived at Katse Dam. To save money we decided to buy fresh food on the way up and cook it once we got there. We showed up with the food and essentially nothing else. We went to a nearby village to buy aluminum for the grill and ended up settling for a giant metal bowl. We also didn’t have any charcoal so the security guards helped up collect pieces of wood from broken tables and other random things. Amid all the problems we were having, one of us left a door open and the car died and my attempt to run to a nearby village to buy cooking oil was impeded by rain. That wouldn’t stop us, though. We started our very unique looking fire made of old furniture, and Maureen attempted to smash potatoes with rocks and cut veggies with sticks. We added all our chicken, veggies and sausage to the bowl and put it on the fire. After a little while of waiting and wondering if this would work, we had a big ol’ bowl of community-style gumbo with a little added taste of ash in it. The entire situation was a hilarious travesty and we all felt accomplished in the end and we considered this a win.

Lesson learned: Georgia shared this quote with me one late night at the pub: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and small-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s corner of the world all one’s lifetime.”
—Mark Twain