Lessons from Lesotho

What a tiny African country can teach Wales and the world

By Dr. Carl Iwan Clowes

March 1985 – a sight to behold as the Lesotho Ambassador and the High Commission staff from London, clad in their national dress of Basotho blanket and traditional hat, climbed the steps of the Welsh Office in Cathays Park.

They were there for a ceremony to mark the launch of the unique link between our two countries. As they stepped into the main hall they were greeted by a choir from Ysgol y Wern followed by a short welcome in Sesotho from Bishop Graham Chadwick.

The scene, full of colour, was already vibrant when the Basotho responded in the traditional rhythm of African song.

The Lesotho delegation during their 1985 visit to Wales. (Photo courtesy of the author)

The civil servants, who had left their offices to welcome the guests from the balcony, burst into spontaneous applause, an emotional response which rang through the corridors of power. The Welsh Office hadn’t seen anything like this before!

Thirty five years on, many thousands of teaching and health personnel, children, politicians and cultural organisations in both countries have gained from the experience of our link. It was always the ambition to ensure this was an equitable relationship built on understanding and friendship between our peoples.

Challenging as this has been, the aspiration for equity remains and the profound personal experiences gained by both the Basotho and the people of Wales are testimony to that. In 2014 a Memorandum of Understanding between the Governments of Lesotho and Wales was signed reaffirming the importance of the relationship.

Lesotho was a Protectorate overseen by Westminster from 1868 until it gained full independence in 1966. The political journey in the interim has not been smooth. Military coups, both real, attempted or just whispered have been far too frequent and uncomfortable coalitions have been many but Lesotho has now taken a significant step forward on the world stage from which Wales could well learn.

History

In 2017, the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Lesotho participated in the negotiation of the treaty at the U.N. and voted in favour of its adoption.  Lesotho signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in September 2019, and subsequently ratified it in June 2020.

Lesotho has promoted universal adherence to the treaty. It was a co-sponsor of a UN General Assembly resolution in 2019 that called upon all states to sign, ratify, or accede to the treaty “at the earliest possible date”.

The landmark treaty, which comprehensively outlaws the worst weapons of mass destruction and establishes a framework to eliminate them, will enter into legal force once 50 countries have ratified it.  At the time of writing six more nations are required. Small it may be, but Lesotho has taken the lead in many ways and in 1996 it was a party to the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba, which established Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free continent.

Unfortunately, the UK government has refused to participate in talks and has not signed the TPNW.

Although beset by poverty and intermittent strife, Lesotho is brimming with creativity and innovative projects, as Iara Lee’s new film shows.

To the contrary, MPs at Westminster voted in 2016 in favour of building four submarines for a new nuclear weapons system to replace the current Trident. Britain’s nuclear deterrent is made up of four nuclear submarines each of which can carry up to eight missiles which, in turn, can carry up to five nuclear warheads, all around eight times as destructive as the bomb which flattened Hiroshima in 1945. Is this really the kind of post-Covid society we want or need? And all this at an initial cost of £31bn., twice the annual budget for all Wales in 2020/21.  Is this a priority for the limited resources we now have?

On which side of history does Wales wish to sit?

Destination

As a sovereign state and a Member of the U.N. Lesotho, with a population of 2.1 million, can clearly exert its influence more readily than Wales, in spite of us having a somewhat larger population. That is not to say we are without the power or wherewithal to influence.

ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. It was awarded “for its work drawing attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons”.

Any non-government organization is eligible to become an ICAN partner organization.

  • Have NGOs in Wales considered adding their weight?
  • Over 100 cities worldwide have spoken out against their governments and supported the ‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ – how about Welsh cities joining the fray?
  • When will our Senedd add its voice to the International lobby and urge the Westminster Government to change direction and turn its back on the development of yet more nuclear weapons of mass destruction?

Nuclear weapon programmes divert tens of billions of pounds every year from health care, education, disaster relief, and vital infrastructure. The preamble to the TPNW expresses concern at “the waste of economic and human resources” on such programmes. By ratifying the treaty, Lesotho has helped strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of nuclear weapons by any nation.

Lesotho has shown us the destination. Anybody out there who can read a compass?

Dr. Carl Iwan Clowes, OBE, is an anti-nuclear campaigner, health consultant and official consulate in Wales for Lesotho.

Headline photo, Lesotho, by Angelo Moleele on Unsplash

This article first appeared on Nation Cymru, and is republished with kind permission of the author. All photos courtesy of Dr. Carl Iwan Clowes.

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