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Lesotho - Africa's kingdom in the sky
February 16, 2014, 10:14 am
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Articulate and urbane, His Excellency Thabo Khasipe, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Lesotho to the State of Kuwait, has years of vast ranging experience on his young shoulders. Having served at the top-level in various private and government enterprises in Lesotho, the ambassador has a broad and in-depth knowledge on different facets of his country and its functioning, which he shared with The Times during a recent exclusive interview.

A professional economist, with a Masters in Economics from the University of Nairobi in Kenya, the ambassador began his career in the 1990s as a lecturer in the Economics Department of the National University of Lesotho. "I seem to have an affinity for new organizations and setting up things from start," said the diplomat, adding, "because, after two years of lecturing and a brief stint at the Central Bank of Lesotho, I joined the newly formed Lesotho Telecommunications Authority as Director of Strategic Planning. Two years later, I was again looking for fresh challenges and this time found it in another new institution, the Revenue Authority of Lesotho."

Starting out as Commissioner of Customs and Excise, he worked at the Revenue Authority for nearly six years, during half of which he was Deputy CEO of the organization. He then shifted to the Standard Bank of Lesotho, one of the largest commercial banks in the country, as Managing Director of its Investment Banking Division.

"Then, in 2008, a totally new career prospect opened up before me, when I was appointed by my government as Ambassador to the Republic of Egypt. From Cairo, I was also in charge of a large part of the entire Middle-East region, including Lebanon and the Gulf Cooperation Council states.  But I soon realized that this was not a very efficient process, as one could not fully represent such a large, diverse and strategically important region while sitting in Cairo. I then made a recommendation to my government to open a regional presence in the Gulf region. Luckily, the authorities in Lesotho agreed to my suggestion and I was assigned to set up our mission here."

"I arrived in Kuwait in mid-2010 and was immediately faced with the prospect of preparing for a state-visit to the country by our monarch, His Majesty King Letsie III. During the visit and in discussions with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the decision to set up the embassy was formalized, and having been accredited on a none-resident basis in 2008, I was then accredited as the first resident Ambassador of Lesotho to the State of Kuwait. This embassy was officially inaugurated in August 2010, and shortly thereafter hosted our then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili during his official visit to Kuwait in October 2010. But these relatively recent formalizing of diplomatic relations belie the long and cherished relations the two countries have had since the 1970s," said Ambassador Khasipe.

"Starting in the late 70s, Kuwait has always been very supportive of various development projects in Lesotho. The state's Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, has been providing technical assistance and financing on very concessional terms to numerous infrastructure projects across the country, including construction of our International Airport, road networks and sanitation schemes.

Most recently, in 2012, the Fund approved nearly $3 million, adding to the $4 million it had already sanctioned in 2007, for construction of the Metolong Dam on the Phuthiatsana River. With multi-lateral finance mechanism, the dam project aims to meet the increased demand for drinking and industrial water in the capital and surrounding areas."

"Positive bilateral relations on the political level between our two countries were, and continue to be, defined mainly by shared similarities, including in size and in population, as well as in the many similar challenges we face. Both nations have come to realize that we need to collaborate and cooperate in different domains so as to present a strong and unified front at international forums. This was highlighted in 1990, when Lesotho, through its representative at the United Nations, condemned in no uncertain terms the Iraqi aggression on Kuwait and unequivocally demanded the immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi troops from Kuwait soil. Our two countries also share parallel viewpoints on a number of international social and political issues, including self-determination for the Palestinian people, protection of human-rights and in the ongoing fight against terrorism," noted the envoy.

The ambassador added, "As I mentioned, high-level visits, including the state visit in February 2010 by His Majesty the King of Lesotho helped further cement the long and cordial relations between our two countries. During the follow-up visit in October 2010 by the then prime minister, the two countries drew up an agenda for the way forward and signed a Memorandum of Cooperation that set the tone for promoting bilateral trade and investment.  Since arriving in the country, one of my main priorities has been to resuscitate bilateral trade and to facilitate collaboration and cooperation between individuals and entities in the private sector. We have set up different mechanisms to examine the potential and identify opportunities for joint ventures between entrepreneurs and businesses in both countries."

Pointing to some of the economic sectors in Lesotho that enterprising Kuwaiti investors could lucratively leverage, the ambassador said, "Currently manufactured textiles are the mainstay of exports from Lesotho. We are the largest exporter of apparels to the United States in the whole sub-Saharan Africa, seizing the opportunity presented by the US Government's 'African Growth and Opportunity Act' (AGOA), which allows for duty- and quota-free exports to the US. International brands and retailers sourcing from Lesotho include, among others, Wal-Mart, Sears, and JCPenny, as well as brands such as Gap, Levi Strauss and Timberland."

"Another area for potential investment is the diamond mining sector. Some of the largest and finest diamonds in recent history have been mined from Lesotho and, on an average price per carat basis, some Lesotho mines are among the richest in the world. Also, with its abundance of water and natural springs, Lesotho could easily be transformed into a hub for bottling and exporting mineral water across the region and beyond. Kuwaiti investors can collaborate with local businesses in Lesotho to fully realize the vast opportunities and huge growth potential of various sectors of the economy."

Tourism in Lesotho, is also a fast-growing sector with immense possibilities, both as an attractive destination for tourists, as well as an investment option in various tourism infrastructure projects such as hotels, resorts and ski lodges. Yes, a ski resort in an African country might appear as an anomaly to many of your readers, but it is true that in many parts of the country we enjoy weather conditions similar to Europe during our winter season. And, given the fact that we have winters when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, there are skiers moving from Europe to ski on our slopes when it is summer over there. Besides ski slopes, the fact that we are the only country in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 meters gives us breathtaking mountainous surrounds and the unique title of having the highest lowest point on earth."

"The government has also recently passed several  business and investor-friendly laws that help promote trade and investments in the country, including tax concessions on exports and a 'single- window' clearance for business licenses, tax payments and connections to utilities. A new law also allows for foreign entities to own land in Lesotho, subject to certain conditions, so as to fully exploit and unlock the many opportunities in the country."

"Besides the trade opportunities presented by AGOA, Lesotho is also a member of several regional economic organizations, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which groups together over a dozen regional countries to form a free-trade zone, with a combined market of over 230 million people.

Additionally, Lesotho, which is landlocked within South Africa, is a member of the Rand Monetary Area (RMA). This monetary linkage of Loti, the Lesotho currency, to the South African rand, which is legal tender in our country, allows us to have a fixed exchange rate policy with the internationally recognized rand.

This takes out worries that potential investors might have regarding foreign-exchange risks, currency fluctuations and its implications on their investments in the country," clarified Ambassador Khasipe.

He added, "Along with macro-economic stability, Lesotho has enjoyed political stability through its rather unique proportional electoral system that guarantees seats in the National Assembly for members of different opposition parties. This ensures everyone has a stake in peaceful governance of the country and has resulted in the current government being formed by a coalition of three parties, which is quite rare among African states."

Saying that he was happy to be in this land of peace and tranquility, the ambassador appreciated the hospitality of Kuwait and warmth of its friendly people. He added that Lesotho genuinely appreciates and is grateful to Kuwait for its generosity, as revealed during the recent African Arab Summit held in Kuwait, when His Highness the Amir pledged $2 billion in loans and infrastructure investment for the African continent.

Concluding on a congratulatory note, Ambassador Khasipe said, "On behalf of the people and government of Lesotho, I would like to offer congratulations to the leadership, government and people of Kuwait on the upcoming celebrations of National and Liberation Days and the eighth anniversary of His Highness the Amir's accession to power.

- Times kuwait Report

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