It is a trite fact that our economy was already in the doldrums before the COVID-19 pandemic. The 4x4 government had seen to that. A government that mopped up whatever reserves we had with alarming speed! A government that perfected,
Aug. 7, 2020
4 min read
How Do We Adjust Lesotho’s Economy to a Post-COVID-19 Reality? Part 1
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” - STARVED: Hungry Basotho queue up for food parcels
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“it is now our turn to eat.” I am not telling Basotho anything that they do not know. I am emphasizing this as an introduction to this input because it is important for us not to develop amnesia now that we find ourselves in this COVID-19 reality. We need to remember the recent, pre-COVID-19 scenario and its economic discontents so that we can avoid repeating the same mistakes and importing the same toxicities into this new reality. That we, in fact, will, is a given because we have not taken the time to reflect as a nation how we got here. Self-help 101 dictates that we acknowledge dysfunctions within ourselves, within our families, within our communities and within this nation so that we can start rolling back maladaptive behaviours. Corruption, nepotism, state clientelism, government wastage and lack of accountability to the taxpaying public, a bloated public service that is not delivering basic services, ineffective and compromised public institutions and lack of commitment from the executive are just some of the dysfunctions that we are faithfully carrying over into the post-COVID-19 dispensation. And that is our downfall as an economy. But, be that as it may, how would one constructively engage on the question on deck? How do we adjust as different economic sectors to a post-COVID-19 reality?
I will take just one key sector of our economy, the tourism and hospitality sector. It has been decimated by COVID-19 due to global, regional, and national travel restrictions. Mpilo Boutique Hotel, a breath of fresh air to this sector, is currently not operating. The Avani Hotels are facing similar challenges, and news reports have indicated that this hotel group is considering (or has already implemented) layoffs in order to adjust to drastically reduced revenues and profit margins. Our smaller establishments, such as guesthouses and bed and breakfasts are barely surviving. All these establishments now have to rely on internal tourists moving from district to district within Lesotho and the volumes we are speaking of cannot possibly replace revenues generated from external tourism.
How does this sector adjust without shedding a massive number of jobs and depriving our fiscus of much-needed revenue? Job losses in this sector would spell death for our ever-contracting domestic economy. Not only would our economy suffer further, but the social impacts, in a country already reeling from gross social inequities and inequalities, do not bear thinking. An OECD report titled, ‘Tourism Policy Responses To The Coronavirus (COVID-19)’ broadly proposes, “lifting travel restrictions, restoring traveller confidence and rethinking the tourism sector for the future.” The OECD obviously serves mainly Western economies which have advanced and nimble tourism sectors, so the question remains, what would ‘lifting travel
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restrictions’ and ‘restoring traveller confidence’ mean for an economy such as ours whose healthcare sector is what I call, The-Mohau-OaMolimo-Healthcare-System? Why would anyone want to voluntarily visit Lesotho in a post-COVID-19 scenario? What tangible assurances, in terms of our healthcare infrastructure, would we offer such a visitor? If they were to contract this, or any other, virus, would we be ready with a quality healthcare response? Not with government and Tšepong at it again. Not with staff at Maseru Private Hospital informing the public that they fear for their lives because the occupational safety and health measures are currently not satisfactory. Our primary healthcare clinics do not cut the COVID-19 response mustard. I would not travel to a country that is not in a position to offer me quality healthcare, never mind its own citizens and residents.
The nice fact for the OECD countries is that domestic tourism accounts for 75% of their tourism economy according to the above report. If I am Italian, I would be more trusting of the measures adopted by the German government to bolster tourism and healthcare infrastructure in a bid to restore ‘traveller confidence’ post-COVID-19 and far less trusting of the Lesotho government. I will therefore happily spend my Euro’s in Berlin than travel to Lesotho as a tourist…I mean, what out-of-this-world experience, only found in Lesotho, would be compelling me to travel that far?
So, my initial instinct would be, let us kiss the comparatively few international tourists, that Lesotho had had the privilege of hosting before COVID-19 shook us out of our complacency, goodbye. Our best bet is domestic tourism, and to some extent, visitors from the SADC region. What profile of SADC visitor would we be targeting and convincing to come to Lesotho? What is our unique selling proposition? Remember, our SADC brothers and sisters will also be looking to keep their citizens and residents in their own backyards.