“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