Cablegate: Lesotho Celebrates 40 Years of Independence

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1. (SBU) Summary: Amidst a rush of enthusiastic patriotism and
against the backdrop of a new national flag, Lesotho celebrated
the 40th anniversary of its independence during three days of
celebrations that culminated on October 4. The ceremonies were
attended by a number of foreign dignitaries--including the
Presidents of Botswana and Sierra Leone, as well as former
Zambian President Kaunda--and provided a high level of
visibility for senior GOL officials who will stand for
reelection next year. Although Lesotho faces challenges in the
coming months to increase transparency in the political process
and improve dialogue and power-sharing, the successful
commemoration of 40 years of independence gave renewed hope to
the Basotho people for a stable future, including aspirations
for peaceful national elections in 2007. End Summary.

A Three-Day Party

2. (U) Lesotho celebrated its 40th anniversary of independence
with a three-day celebration October 2-4. A variety of foreign
dignitaries attended officials events, including Botswana
President Festus Mogae; Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan
Kabbah; South Africa Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka;
the Prime Ministers of Tanzania, Namibia, Mozambique, and
Swaziland; and former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, among
others. Events included a tree planting ceremony at the statue
of King Moshoeshoe I, royal horse races, a youth festival, and a
lunch conference hosted by the Prime Minister to launch a
Lesotho "Vision 2020" development plan. The Ambassador, Chargi,
P/DEP (Public Diplomacy, Economic, and Political) Officer, and
Consul represented the USG at various official functions,
including main ceremonies at the Setsoto National Stadium and a
State Banquet hosted by King Letsie III at the Royal Palace.

3. (SBU) At midnight on October 3, a ceremonial military
formation conducted an official flag-raising ceremony to mark
the inauguration of the new national flag (reftel). The event,
complete with a military brass band, fireworks, and an oratory
from King Letsie III, was enthusiastically received by an
audience of approximately 1,000. Representatives of Maseru- and
Pretoria-based diplomatic missions were present despite
near-freezing temperatures. The only naysayer in the crowd was
an older gentleman who stood, saluted, and shed a tear as the
old flag was lowered. He later explained to the P/DEP Officer
that he had designed the retired Lesotho flag.

A Gathering of "Liberation Solidarity"
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4. (U) During introductions to the official independence
ceremonies on October 4, the GOL Government Secretary recognized
visiting ambassadors from Cuba, the Czech Republic, Malawi, and
the UK. Botswana's President Mogae spoke on behalf of the
distinguished visitors, stating that all countries invited
represented "brothers" among the frontline states who had
supported Lesotho during the apartheid era, and that the present
gathering was one of African "liberation solidarity." In his
remarks, King Letsie III acknowledged historical
accomplishments, but focused on the need to move forward in the
fight against HIV/AIDS. With the new Lesotho flag on display,
the monarch foresaw a new beginning for his kingdom. Local
popular musicians, with a heavy emphasis on accordian acts,
whipped up the crowd between speeches.

Sir Kenneth Kaunda and Friends
--------------------------------------------- --

5. (U) On the evening of October 4, King Letsie III hosted a
State Banquet to close the Independence Day celebrations. The
King expressed gratitude to leaders throughout the region who
had stood by Lesotho during its "arduous 40-year journey to
achieve economic and political development." He paid special
tribute to former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, whom the
King knighted as "Commander of Most Courteous Order of Lesotho,"
the country's highest award, for Kaunda's "service to Zambia,
Lesotho, and the region in the fight against colonialism,
apartheid, poverty, and HIV/AIDS." The King also awarded high
honors to David Ambrose (former lecturer at the National
University of Lesotho), Sephiri Motanyane (Deputy Speaker of the
National Assembly), Meshu Mokitimi (Lesotho Congress for
Democracy member), and N. Sidzamba (the late Headmaster of
Lesotho High School).

6. (SBU) King Letsie also expressed gratitude for the presence
of Sierra Leone President Kabbah, asking the audience in jest
why "the leader of a small, remote West African country would
come all the way to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho for dinner."
The King explained the mystery, noting that Kabbah had served

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in Maseru as UNDP resident representative in the early 1970s,
once inviting the future King, then a young prince, to dinner.
Note: Charge spoke privately with Kabbah, a former acquaintance
during the latter's exile in Guinea following the 1997 Freetown
military coup. Kabbah, who was relaxed and appeared to be in
excellent health, said he had been lonely in the years since his
wife's premature death (following Kabbah's post-coup restoration
to the Presidency), but expressed confidence about the political
situation in Sierra Leone and optimism for the future. End

Comment: An Encouraging Sign for Stability
--------------------------------------------- -------------------

7. (SBU) On the heels of Lesotho's successful hosting in August
of the SADC summit and assumption of the SADC chair, a
mishap-free Independence Day celebration presented a positive,
stable image of the nation to the region. During his
presentation to the "Vision 2020" launching event, Ministry of
Finance Principal Secretary Dr. Moeketsi Majoro made the case
that Lesotho's economic development and prosperity were
primarily an offshoot of continued political stability.
Although Lesotho faces challenges in the coming months to
increase transparency in the political process and improve
dialogue and power-sharing, the successful commemoration of 40
years of independence gave renewed hope to the Besotho people
for a stable future, including aspirations for peaceful national
elections in 2007. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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