Lesotho Council of NGOs was highly encouraged by donors who overdimensioned it to serve as an umbrella organisation for all the NGOs of the country
01 / 1999
The Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN)was created to bring together different organisations all over the country and to give them an opportunity to meet and eventually work together in similar fields of activities. Seven commissions were articulating the various activities. LCN has 150 members amongst the 250 NGOs that are registered in the country. Two third are based in the capital city of Maseru.
The council publishes a quarterly newsletter that reports on members’ activities. It also provides secretarial facilities for poor organisations that cannot afford to have their own staff.. As NGOs are not all well known by the donor community, it is also used as a liaison organ between both actors. Unfortunately, members’ contributions do not cover administration costs. This led LCN to rely a lot on donors’ contributions essentially Danish and Irish.
In 1997, donors pulled out and the council had to fire 4/5 of its permament staff. All NGOs face the same context due to the departure of many donors from Lesotho to South Africa who is now much more interesting for them. Since that time, new staff are temporarily hired when a specific project presented by LCN manages to be externally sponsored as it happened for the vote education programme before the last year general election.
In this changing context, many NGOs whose administrative and executive functions were done by full time hired staff tend to disappear at the profit of Community Based Organisations who mostly rely on their own members. This is also due to the increase of men unemployment rate who cannot go anymore to South African mines to make money and bring it back to their family in Lesotho. More and more unemployed people formed their group to venture into income generating activities. They are very different from the NGOs whose objectives were more related to human rights advocacy, social services or environmental education.
Furthermore, donors now give priority to income generating activities rather than other kinds of purposes. However, the legislation in Lesotho is still very vague and all organisations are registered under the same act that specifies that an organisation must be non-profit making. This is a very funny contradiction where donors encouraged community based organisations who are supposed to make no profit to run income generating activities. LCN has taken the initiative, through various workshops, to revisit the act and establish a more friendly framework for NGOs and CBOs depending on their orientation. Recent political turmoil has postponed the initiative until further time.
Unlike South Africa, the civil society and particularly NGOs have very little influence on the political power and even on the Members of Parliament.
LCN has had an impact on democracy and human rights programmes when it organized platforms to make people meet. LCN lobbied intensively to obtain the formation of an independent electoral commission.
LCN host a credit centre financed by UNIDO whose role is to provide small loans to small groups who are affiliated to LCN and who decide to launch income generating activities to improve their economical status. This centre is managed independently from LCN directly under the donor’s responsibility.
LCN also happened to mobilise and coordinate aids during natural disasters as drought at a time when NGOs were at the frontlines. In other sectors as health, environment, forestry, advocacy for compensation, LCN often collaborates with the government through ad-hoc memoranda of understanding.
LCN never had any direct links with EU delegation. Some of its members benefitted of a financial assistance from the micro-project unit and they never heard any complaint about it.
This structure, fully fledged from outside by the donors, hardly survives to their departure. The worst is that nobody seems really affected by this situation. The place is still well equipped with computers and photocopy machines. There are no more any senior staff but a documentalist and an officer posted in another organisation. Institutionnal building and empowerment of the civil society are not just projects nor programmes that can fit the donors’ project designed framework.
The two members of staff are competent professionals but one cannot rely on them to revive a long term process.
Contact : Lesotho Council of NGOs - Pbag A445, Maseru 100 - LESOTHO - Tel: 266 325798 - Fax: 266 310412.
[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]
Interview with RELEBOHILE, Senyane; VAN TONDER, Ben