Unions and social movements march in Maseru for a return to the rule of law

Unions and social movements march in Maseru for a return to the rule of law

An estimated 20,000 workers have taken part in demonstrations in Lesotho in a bid to end political instability that threatens the southern African nation's duty free access to the US through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The demonstrators are calling on the government to restore democracy and the rule of law after a coup in 2014. The US has already threatened Lesotho's access to AGOA if this does not happen, and the regional co-operations body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has also set out recommendations to restore political stability.

However, the government has so far failed to implement SADC recommendations.

Lesotho exports $250m worth of garments for US companies like Levi's and Walmart every year, but its access to AGOA is under threat since a key requirement of the pact is a commitment to political stability, democracy and human rights.

Events of 2014 coup has thrown the country into turmoil, according to the IndustriAll Global Union.

After President Thabane suspended parliament to avoid a confidence vote, elements within the armed forces staged a coup. The president fled into exile and army commander Mahao was assassinated. A number of army officers were imprisoned and allegedly tortured.

SADC recommends that the current army commander Kamoli resign, and that a criminal investigation into the death of Mahao is opened. Lesotho should also make structural and constitution changes to limit military interference in government, it says.

Unions, including IndustriAll affiliate the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), the Lesotho Council of NGOs, and the Lentsoe La Sechaba social movement are all calling on the government to adopt the recommendations and save the deal.

Three other countries – Senegal, Madagascar and Swaziland – have lost access to AGOA for failing to comply with requirements for political stability and rule of law, although Madagascar's beneficiary status was reinstalled two years ago.

Last year, the US Congress voted to renew AGOA until 2025, and the unions are calling on government to prepare an industrial development strategy for when this period ends.

"Lesotho's workers, and particularly women workers, need AGOA. We call on the government to restore the rule of law, adopt the SADC guidelines and save the deal," says IndustriAll assistant general secretary Atle Høie.

"The Lesotho government cannot be permitted to destroy progress made over the last years for these workers and the garment industry in the country. The international community must put pressure on the government to abide by the commitments in AGOA, which has made the industry and its workers prosper."

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