The World Bank's portrayal of Lesotho as a less developed country

Stu Crawford

The World Bank is the stereotypical development institution with typical capitalist imperialist motives. As a development institution the World Bank creates a very specific image of poorer countries in order to justify its imperialist actions. As a development agency the World Bank needs to find markets for its large, standardized development packages. So the World Bank needs to find less developed countries that will be helped by aid packages to the countries national economy. Because the World Bank needs to find such countries it creates them by portraying certain poorer countries in a specific manner. Researchers for the World Bank, or other development institutions, tend to write certain things in their reports because if they didn't they would be censored or suppressed, or their writing disregarded as useless.

The World Bank's portrayal of Lesotho as a less developed country is a prime example of this. The World Bank's report defines Lesotho as less developed country because it sees Lesotho as a traditional subsistence peasant society. The World Bank stated that Lesotho was virtually untouched by modern economic development when it achieved independence in 1966. Lesotho had a traditional subsistence economy but rapid population growth resulted in more pressure on the land and forced many men to become migrant workers in the South African diamond mines.

The World Bank says that Lesotho is less developed because it has not yet been brought into the world economy. It is part of the development paradigm that the World Bank accepts that poverty is caused by underdevelopment. The poverty in Lesotho is thus a result of not being introduced to the world economy. The World Bank thinks that Lesotho has been left behind while other countries developed because of the inaction of its government. The World Bank then concludes that Lesotho has a stagnated agricultural peasant economy that only requires the right inputs to become developed.

The World Bank's portrayal of Lesotho as a less developed country is very inaccurate from an academic standpoint. The World Bank's assessment of Lesotho is based on poor economic indicators. Even the World Bank admitted that its production statistics were very unreliable, but it still went on to produce very concise reports that indicate poverty and stagnation over long period of time. The World Bank presents Lesotho as an egalitarian society of small farmers with almost no economic differentiation, with migrant labour appearing only recently is a reluctant alternative to farming for those without land because of overpopulation. This is a result of inaccurate and badly skewed statistics.

The World Bank says that Lesotho is primarily agricultural. According to the World Banks report in 1975 70% of Lesotho's GNP came from wool and mow hair, and 70% of its GDP came from agriculture. More realistic figures show that 2-3% of Lesotho's GNP came from wool and mow hair and 32.5% of its GDP came from agriculture. This represents an enormous fudging of the statistics to show that Lesotho was primarily a agricultural economy. In the World Banks own report it contradicted itself by saying that there was no industry in Lesotho while saying that 60% of the workforce was employed by industry. Also, the World Bank's portrayal of the migrant labour force as a recent occurrence is completely inaccurate. This has been happening for over a century.

Historically, Lesotho has not been the poverty ridden, underdeveloped country that the World Bank makes it out to be. The 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica stated that "The social condition of the people [of Lesotho] is higher than that of the majority of South African natives." Lesotho is by no means a traditional economy. New agriculture has been introduced, such as plough agriculture, improved livestock breeds, new cash and subsistence crops, and the cash crop of wool production. A money economy has been introduced, as has the growth of modern state administration, and a national elite. Airports, roads, schools, churches, and hospitals have been built. The World Bank's assessment of the Lesotho economy as being traditional is inaccurate.

In the World Bank's report on Lesotho, is Lesotho as a non-market, subsistence, traditional economy that needed to be changed to modern western cash economy in order to alleviate poverty. But the real transformation that has occurred in the last 100 years that has created the poverty seen in Lesotho was a transformation from an agricultural export cash economy to labour export cash economy. Lesotho has been marketing agricultural surpluses since 1840. The lack of export now is a result of lack of a lack of surplus resources, not a lack of a capitalist market. The problem in Lesotho is not that Lesotho has a subsistence economy, but rather that Lesotho is a producer of cash crops for South Africa. Lesotho is not traditional peasant society but labour exporter to its oppressor. Lesotho has been created and maintained by South Africa as a dormitory suburb to house workers.

The World Bank's depiction of Lesotho as a less developed country and the World Bank's conclusion that this is the cause of Lesotho's economic hardships is inaccurate. Academic writings show that Lesotho is not a traditional subsistence economy and has not been so for over a century. The cause of economic problems in Lesotho is the result of problems not even considered by the World Bank's classification of Lesotho as less developed. The World Bank's assessment of Lesotho as less developed has more to do with the purpose of that organization that any reality in Lesotho.