200 years’ worth of Lesotho’s economic history repeating itself

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By Nicole Tau

In his new book, Commerce as Politics, Economic Historian, Sean Maliehe, analyses and documents the systematic odds that Basotho have had to overcome over the years in order to participate in their country’s economy through commerce and politics.

Lesotho’s social and political state have been consistently, negatively impacted by the country’s hostile political environment for decades, which has poignantly been a stumbling block to the country’s development.

Maliehe unpacks 200 hundred years’ worth of Lesotho’s economic history in his book set for publication in December 2020 under Berghahn Human Economy Book Series.

When asked in his opinion how far has Lesotho come economically and politically, and what does its past mean to its present, Maliehe says Lesotho is going through similar challenges faced by other African states.

He says a number of people with political and economic power play a role of considerable magnitude in determining people’s trajectories.

“Basotho continue to be marginal in the economic and political affairs that affect their lives and have suffered a lot under tyranny, more profoundly from the second half of the nineteenth century when colonialism defined “Lesotho” as a cheap labour reserve for the South African mines.

“Politicians after independence inherited various colonial legacies, continuously serving foreign interests, and their own. All governments since 1966 have followed this path in their own way. As a result, there is a historic struggle between the people and the rulers across time,” says Maliehe.

In spite of adversities faced and political and economic systems that essentially thwarted Basotho’s efforts, according to Maliehe, Basotho have not been docile and have asserted themselves through various platforms and associations such as Basutoland Progressive Association, Lekhotla la Bafo, Basotho Traders Associations, Chamber of Commerce, Maseru Regional Taxi Operators, Traders Unions and not forgetting the impact of the 2011 “Mother of All Protests.”

According to Maliehe, having been in the Human Economy Programme led by Prof. Keith Hart and Prof. John Sharp for six years since 2012, through an approach where the human economy places people first in the economy within a context of competing global interests, often too powerful, he has learned how through a collective and individual effort, Basotho have progressed and defended their interests against devastating odds, often in “pragmatic and confrontational ways”.

A National University of Lesotho and University of Pretoria alumni respectively, Maliehe holds a Masters and a PhD in History. In addition, he has held two fellowships at the University of Pretoria in the Human Economy Programme, Centre for Advancement of Scholarships and in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies accordingly.

Maliehe considers his parents as his biggest influence.

Having overcome the racially oppressive and segregating system that apartheid was, Maliehe’s Mosotho father who then worked for the Western Areas Gold Mines in Gauteng, and his Portuguese mother, had eloped to Lesotho in 1985, barely surviving capture by the apartheid authorities.

“In many ways, my siblings and I were nurtured in this spirit of defiance against dominant formations and unjust ideologies, which typically impose artificial boundaries onto society.

“The one thing they taught us that matters are to emancipate ourselves, to carve our own space in the world and develop a sense of obligation to humanity.

“For me, being a historian is one way in this path,” Maliehe told KDNews.

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