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BY MOSIDI MOKAEYA
Employing over close to 50 000 people, 80 percent of whom are women, the garment and textile sector in the tiny nation of Lesotho is an important player in the country’s economy. The same cannot be said about its counterpart in Botswana. Both Botswana and Lesotho are members of the Southern African Customs Union and the African Union.
While Botswana has nothing to show-off when it comes to textile industry, Lesotho is listed amongst the four countries – including Madagascar, Mauritius and Kenya that together accounts for over 90 percent of all USA apparel imports from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Mamoiloa Raphuthing of Lesotho National Development Corporation says Botswana can learn from her country that it is possible to create 47 700 jobs from the textile industry alone.
Raphuthing was in the capital Gaborone recently for the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) textile industry forum.
She reminisced over how Lesotho’s textile industry was once down and out like Botswana's and attributed concerted effort from government and citizens to the sectors tremendous growth.
“Our textile industry started in the 1980's when there were heavy sanctions on South Africa resulting from the apartheid regime. Firms that were situated close to Lesotho just relocated into the country and that was the beginning of our textile industry. Before then it was growing at a declining rate. The firms gave positive feedback to their counterparts who still remained in SA and more of them trickled in. From 2001 things got even better thanks to AGOA and we scored investors from China and Taiwan. Our Government has always endeavoured to create a conducive environment for the industry to thrive, the ripple effect being commendable job creation”
Remarking on what Botswana can do to up her game, Raphuthing encouraged the government to always keep cost competitiveness in check. “When it comes to raw materials, rentals, utilities and so on we are very competitive compared to other countries in the region and this is a sure way to lure investors. We also have a Value Added Tax refund scheme as well as a conducive labour environment,” she explained.
Lesotho is credited for having done well enough to earn a good profile of investors from across the world. The country’s textile industry is made up of 51 percent Taiwan firms, 31 percent from SA, 13 percent from China and 6 percent from Lesotho.
Available figures shows that the tiny mountaineers nation’s textile industry exports 50 percent of her textiles to America, 27 percent to SA and the rest to Southern African Development Community and European Union. Companies that export to America employ 67 percent of the employees in the industry, while those exporting to SA employ 22 percent and the rest are employed by those exporting to other parts of the world. In general, the textile and clothing industry’s contribution to total exports of Lesotho is pegged at 45 percent and contribution to the Gross Domestic Product is 8.9 percent.
Meanwhile in attendance at the Forum was Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) Peggy Serame who said she had taken note of all the recommendations from Lesotho. However she reminded local industry players that government will not win the battle without local businesses supporting each other. “There is only so much we can do as government but we could be better if you supported each other more. I acknowledge the challenges you have and government can set up policies and laws to your comfort. However for these will not have a lasting impact if Botswana's businesses do not support each other,” she said.