(The nation is yet to experience the first Diaspora Homecoming)

By Thandiwe Kubere

MASERU- The previous week gave light to the launch of the nation’s very first Diaspora homecoming event which is expected to take place at Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village on December this year. The homecoming event is supported by the government of Lesotho and IOM UN Migration.

The African Union defines the African Diaspora as “Consisting of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality, who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.” In a similar spirit the Lesotho diaspora policy defines diaspora as People who are originally from Lesotho but are living outside the country, along with any person willing to preserve and embrace Lesotho’s heritage, and contribute to its development.

The Diaspora is well positioned to take advantage of new business opportunities in countries where they reside as well as the countries where they originate, and they are willing to invest due to their intrinsic personal connection with the country of origin.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Hon. Lejone Mpotjoana declared that the day marks the launch of the nation’s journey and long wish of hosting a gathering for Basotho who live internationally, which is called Basotho Diaspora Homecoming Event. The event will be from 20-22 December 2023 to embrace the diaspora, not only as enablers of development, but also as an integral part the system that should never be forgotten. The first day’s stream is on investment and tourism activities, the second day’s stream is on provision of consular services to the diaspora (IDs, Passports etc.) and the last day’s stream will be on touring to identify areas around Thaba-Bosiu.

Explaining the significance of the event, Hon. Mpotjoane said, “We all know that there is no place like home, because of its warmth and that is where one experiences love in its truest form. Home is where the heart is. It is a norm for us as well to consider Basotho who live out of our borders to find better means of survival as family. They also have every right to share their views on matters affecting the nation and that of governance, as well as to play a role towards improving the current state of the country’s economy within their means”. Adding with the saying “Mosotho o re khomo boela haeno o holile.”

He further emphasized that, Basotho who live internationally are more than welcome to share their knowledge, experiences and expertise, as well as to invest in the country so as to foster job creation in order to mitigate the visibly high rate of unemployment and improve the country’s economy.

“In our quest to improving our international cooperation and economic diplomacy, we have identified Diaspora Direct Investment (DDI) and Specialized Skills as an enabling resource for national development as well as the source for external financing. To harness and leverage human and economic capitals, we have developed a Diaspora Policy to provide the policy framework towards diaspora engagement, including raising awareness about the investment opportunities available in Lesotho.

He further accentuated that the issue of seeking employment opportunities from international organisations and negotiating Bilateral Labour Agreements with other countries for exporting, is of paramount importance to the ministry for addressing the raging unemployment rate, especially for the youth. He declared that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, is working closely with other relevant Ministries and Agencies to thrash-out the issue of work permits which has been longstanding for over years.

The amendment of the Constitution to allow Dual Citizenship was regarded as a ground-breaking effort for building the necessary foundation and motivation towards Diaspora engagement. The Diaspora Directorate has also been established and is entrusted with coordinating activities between the Government, other Stakeholders and the Diaspora Community on a daily basis.

Another significant milestone in this journey, is the mainstreaming of Diaspora and migration into the NSDP as an acknowledgement that, migration can contribute meaningfully to national development, both at the country of origin and the country of destination respectively.

“It would be remiss of me to not mention remittances and their impact on national economy. The international remittances constitute a significant source of income for Lesotho’s economy, and they account for a significant share of country’s GDP which was 20% in 2021. These remittances are used for sustaining the means of livelihoods for many Basotho families for buying; agricultural seeds, fertilizers, insecticides, payment of school fees and uniforms, health services and daily food.

Lesotho is therefore ranked the highest recipient of remittances in the SADC Region and one of the top 10, most remittance-dependent countries in the world. Considering the importance of remittances, we have encouraged the Central Bank of Lesotho to develop a strategy to ensure that, remittances are sent to the recipients timely, safely and with cheap transaction costs for promoting financial inclusion of more migrants, especially in rural areas of the country.

He therefore remarked that the Government of Lesotho seeks the nation’s support for working towards the success of this sacrosanct national event.

The International Organization for Migration Chief of Mission Lesotho declared that migration has a positive impact to the origin and host countries. While migrants/Diaspora members contribute to the skills shortage and innovative business ideas and energy to their host countries. They also contribute to their countries of origin through transfer of skills, supporting their families through sending remittance, promoting the culture, tourism and trade of their countries of origin. They can also be instrumental to promote investment in their countries of origin.

An example was cited that according to the World Bank, personal remittances of 22.54% of GDP was reported in 2022, while others estimate that informal channels could also comprise an almost equal amount. Even though remittances are private funds mainly sent to family consumption, they contribute to the well-being of the individual family members. The IOM UN believes that some Diaspora members either have investments while others have strong potential and interest to contribute to the development of Lesotho in different ways. In this regard, IOM expressed its excitement to be closely associated with this important event which has a strategic objective to increased Diaspora participation in the development of their motherland.

The IOM implements a wide-range of Diaspora engagement programmes at global level, which includes the areas of Diaspora surveys; policy and institutional capacity building; outreach; skills and knowledge transfer programmes; as well as remittance programmes, which include research; partnership to lower remittance transfer costs and increasing development impact; and financial literacy as well as diaspora investment. The holistic approach to diaspora engagement spearheaded by IOM has contributed to the development and poverty reduction of the home and host countries of Diaspora.

The PS of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Thabang Lekhela, said the purpose of the launch was to explore ways and means on how to improve Lesotho’s Diaspora participation towards national development, and how best the envisaged Diaspora Homecoming Event in December 2023, can be organized. “Our Diaspora is an extension of economies, and when the government recognises them, they are always willing to contribute to the development”, he said. The resources or capitals of Diaspora populations that flow across borders are immensely varied and range from specialized skills, knowledge, cultural ideas, remittances, trade and investment relations. These capitals can benefit a variety of stakeholders in both the countries of origin and destination respectively.

The Government of Lesotho was therefore congratulated for taking this path and making this launch of the Home Coming Event a reality.