Uncertainty over US trade deal sees 20,000 protest in Lesotho

Peaceful Assembly

In early December, an estimated 20,000 workers staged a demonstration to safeguard Lesotho's inclusion in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade agreement with the United States of America. The act allows for the exportation of duty-free products to the US, and has fuelled rapid growth in Lesotho's textiles industry, which currently supports an estimated 40,000 jobs. The AGOA status has been in danger since the 2014 coup and recently proposed changes to legislation have further imperilled Lesotho's inclusion in the programme. In order to continue being an AGOA beneficiary, states must be able to demonstrate a commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. During the demonstration, which was not disrupted by the authorities, workers urged the government to observe these tenets so as to save the country's AGOA status and the attendant jobs. While protesters' fears were allayed when US authorities indicated that Lesotho could retain its AGOA status in late December, questions still remain over whether Lesotho will improve its commitment to democracy, civic freedoms and the rule of law. 

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the authorities in Lesotho frequently disrupt peaceful gatherings such as this one. Local analysts note that the exercise of this protest should not be viewed as a change in policy towards peaceful assemblies, but rather the result of the authorities being distracted by other pressing concerns, most notably a revolt by some members of the government.