|April 11, 2002
Emphasis on conflict resolution in run-up to election
With Lesotho's elections set for 25 May the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) is focusing on conflict resolution initiatives to avoid a
recurrence of the unrest that followed 1998's poll. The UNDP said special
emphasis would be placed on the mobilisation of political parties, NGOs,
traditional leaders, church and women's groups to "play an active role in
the electoral and democratisation processes". The UNDP itself "would remain
committed to maintaining its role as a neutral mediator and facilitate
dialogue within Lesotho", it said in a report presented at the Lesotho High
Commission in Pretoria, South Africa, on Thursday, April 11.
The country faced vast economic and social problems, and political stability
and good governance were fundamental for effectively addressing these
challenges, the UNDP said. Its report, a copy of which was obtained by IRIN,
said: "Lesotho is slowly recovering from the civil strife that followed the
disputed May 1998 elections. The protests [by those who disputed the
results] culminated in the military intervention by forces of the Southern
African Development Community (SADC) during September 1998. "Following the
restoration of law and order, a multi-party Interim Political Authority was
established to oversee preparation for the next general elections ... a new
Independent Electoral Commission has been appointed and agreements have been
reached on a new electoral model and the methodology for voter registration."
The May election will be critical to restoring some of the economic and
political stability that was lost due to the events of 1998. The country
experienced a severe drop in foreign direct investment after the unrest.
By contrast, in the decade prior to 1998, Lesotho "witnessed a remarkable
economic boom". The report said: "The economic expansion was driven mainly
by the large-scale constructions of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and
rapid growth in the exports of manufactured textiles and clothing. However,
towards the late 1990's these two growth engines slowed down."
Problems in the financial and utilities sectors were also building up and
the income brought to Lesotho from Basotho migrant miners in South Africa,
on which Lesotho is heavily dependent, continued to decline with falling
gold prices and increased mechanisation in the industrial sector.
But it was the civil unrest that followed the elections of 1998 that dealt a
severe blow to the economy, which went into its first outright recession in
more than 20 years.
Over the past two years economic activity has been resuming slowly. Lesotho
still has an unemployment rate of around 40 percent, and the country is
ranked 127 out of 174 countries on the Global Human Development Index.
Lesotho once boasted the highest rates of life expectancy in the Southern
"However, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is rapidly reversing these achievements.
According to some estimates, more than one third of the adult population is
HIV-positive, with disproportionately high rates among younger women," the
The UNDP said it intended to support Lesotho's democratic processes,
"including preparations for the holding of democratic elections,
mainstreaming of gender concerns, transparent and accountable governance,
and strengthened national capacities for peaceful management and resolution
of conflict". (IRIN)