/ 3 October 2006

Lesotho unfurls new ‘peace’ flag to mark independence

The tiny Southern African kingdom of Lesotho celebrates its 40th anniversary of independence from Britain on Wednesday by unveiling a new flag to replace a martial one introduced after a 1986 coup.

Deputy Prime Minister Lesao Lehohla said the flag — whose unveiling will cap national celebrations — showed ”a nation at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbours”.

The new flag has three colours: blue for rain, white symbolising peace and green indicating prosperity.

It will also sport a cone-shaped hat, worn by the country’s indigenous Basotho people.

The present flag was designed by a military government after a 1986 coup. It sports the same colours but also portrays a shield, a knobkerrie and spears.

With a population of roughly 1,8-million, landlocked Lesotho gained independence from Britain on October 4 1966 after almost a century.

Since the late 19th century, Lesotho has been a major provider of migrant labour to South Africa’s giant mining industry.

This led to neglect of Lesotho’s agricultural resources and the subsequent downsizing of South Africa’s mining industry has exacerbated unemployment in a country completely surrounded by South Africa.

The independence celebrations began on Monday in the capital Maseru with King Letsie III planting trees at the foot of the statue of the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I.

The monarch was a figurehead in Lesotho until the military junta which staged the 1986 coup gave the then king Moshoeshoe II executive powers. But a year later, the king fell out of favour with the military and went into exile. His son was installed as

King Letsie III.

In 1994, Letsie III staged a coup with the help of the military to demand his father’s re-instatement.

A year later his father was re-installed but died in a car crash the following year, only to be succeeded by Letsie III again.

Lesotho has been wracked by acute poverty, with a per capita GDP of $402. About 29% of the adult population is HIV-positive and the country has more than 100 000 orphans, most of whom lost their parents to HIV/Aids.

HIV/Aids kills nearly 70 people each day in the country.

However, on the political front Lesotho has emerged from a period of unrest. General elections in 2002 were peaceful and led to a 10-party Parliament.

Lesotho’s textiles industry accounts for nearly 20% of its GDP and nearly half of its formally employed workforce. Nearly all its textiles are exported with 90% or more going to the United States market in 2004.

But the sector has been hit by products from low-cost Asian subsidiaries and uncertainty over continued duty-free access to the giant US market.

Lesotho is meanwhile not eligible for debt waivers under a World Bank-International Monetary Fund initiative for the world’s most indebted nations as its debt portion, while deemed large, is seen to be sustainable by the world’s eight top industrialised nations, or G8.

But Irish rocker and U2 frontman Bono is lobbying for debt relief for Lesotho.

”The fact that Lesotho has not received debt cancellation is scandalous. Lesotho is being punished for the discipline showed in paying back its debt and we are really going to campaign against this,” he said in Lesotho recently. – Sapa-AFP