MASERU, Lesotho – The passport is stamped U.S., but I’m unabashedly a citizen of the world, with a toehold on four continents: from New York to Hong Kong, Prague to Lesotho. As a foreign correspondent, journalism educator, Health and Development communications consultant, and father of three, I’m based in Lesotho, high in the mountains of southern Africa. As the lone Western correspondent here, I’ve covered the tiny Mountain Kingdom‘s unique political crisis for Foreign Policy, AFP, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, and others. Meanwhile, I’m also teaching Health Journalism and storytelling in one of the world’s sickliest societies. And from next-door South Africa, I’m co-producing a documentary film – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story – which explores racial healing and equal opportunity in The Rainbow Nation, twenty years later. At the same time, in Hong Kong, I’m a six-time Visiting Scholar teaching International Journalism, mostly to bright, young mainland Chinese; and in Prague, I’m Senior Trainer of a biannual course in storytelling from around the world. In fact, post-Communist Central Europe flows through my veins; that’s where I launched my own foreign-correspondent career two decades ago. Thank you for visiting my website – and for reading … Michael
Archive for the ‘Lesotho’ Category
Posted in "From East to East", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hong Kong, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Teaching, Writing, tagged Basotho, Freelance Foreign Correspondent, Freelancer, Journalism Training, Lesotho, Maseru, Parenting, Sesotho on July 3, 2015| 4 Comments »
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", "Nieman Reports", "Transitions Online", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hong Kong, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Media Missionary of Maseru, Photography, South Africa, Teaching, Writing, tagged African Health, Basotho, Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Development Journalism, Diabetes, Faculty of Health Sciences, Gender-Based Violence, Global Health, Health Journalism, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, Human Trafficking, International Development Assistance, Internews, Journalism students, Journalism Training, Kenya, Kick4Life, Knight International Journalism Fellowship, Lesotho Media, Malnutrition, MCC, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Multiple Concurrent Partners, National University of Lesotho, NUL, PEPFAR, Photos of Basotho, Photos of Lesotho, Population Services International, PSI, Pusha Love, Southern Africa, Student-Journalists, The Health Journalism Club, The Mountain Kingdom, Trailing Spouse, U.S. Embassy of Lesotho, UNICEF, USAID on May 31, 2013| 1 Comment »
[The following piece was published June 3, 2013, on The Mantle.]
MASERU, Lesotho – In November 2011, I was newly arrived in Africa, so full of hope, writing dreamily of Lesotho’s “veritable field of dreams” for journalism trainings.
Eighteen months later, rejection slaps me in the face so often, I’m ready to press charges. I’m a pauper on the streets, banging my tin-cup.
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Yes, it’s for a journalism training. But not only will it improve Basotho health, it just may save lives!
I came to Lesotho having taught journalism over the past ten years in New York, Central Europe and Hong Kong – and soon realized I was the only journalism-skills teacher in the entire “Mountain Kingdom.” I studied how to help a tiny nation of 1.8 million, clustered in hamlets among the tallest peaks of southern Africa. Not to teach any kind of journalism, but specifically, health journalism.
The list of what ails the Basotho of Lesotho is depressingly long. They suffer the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection – an unfathomable 23 percent among the most sexually active, ages 15-49. Malnutrition has hit 40 percent, as two-fifths of the children under age 5 endure stunting of the brain and body. Then there’s TB. Diabetes. Breast cancer. Cervical cancer. And so on. Everywhere you look, bad news.
Meanwhile, it’s darn near impossible to find a decent example of explanatory journalism, to inform and educate society on simply how to cope with all this. Which is unsurprising, since Lesotho lacks any real journalism education or professional training. Among reporters and editors here, “The blind are leading the blind.” (Though, this is not their fault, as I’ve written in a related post.)
Though I’d landed in Africa with no contacts whatsoever – as a dutiful “trailing spouse” following my wife’s career in international development – so optimistic was I about my freelancing prospects that I boldly launched a new feature for my website, and immodestly named it The Media Missionary of Maseru.
Posted in "From East to East", "Postcard", Blogging, Central Europe, Democracy, Dictatorship, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Writing, tagged Alcoholics, Alcoholism, Budapest Broadway, Cafe Culture, Cafes, Coffeehouse Culture, Eotvos Lorand, Extremism, Far-Right Parties, Graffiti, Habsburg Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, Habsburgian, Hungarian Broadway, Lake Balaton, Mitteleuropa, Nagymezo utca, Pew Global Attitudes Project, Politics, Romkocsma, Spray-Paint Vandalism, Vandalism on September 7, 2012| Leave a Comment »
BUDAPEST, Hungary – I’d fallen out of love. This summer, I wanted so badly for that passion to reignite. No, I’m not referring to my marriage, but to the grand old city of Budapest.
Eight weeks later, I’m delighted to report: the embers still smolder. The elegant architecture. The vibrant café culture. The festive night life. Feels like 1997 again!
Budapest is in my blood. I’m a Hungarian-American who launched a career here as a freelance foreign correspondent, back in 1994. I enjoyed the best years of my youth in the city, from age 24 to 30. My father was born here. My wife, too. My three kids spend large doses of time here – and speak the tricky language as well as natives.
Yet the politics of the place have often mortified me, during the two decades of transition from cruel Communist dictatorship to rapacious capitalist democracy. As the atmosphere descended into one of the most noxious in all of Europe, with hatred and depression sucking up oxygen, the capital, too, grew uglier: graffiti scarred the urban landscape; so many shops, boarded and abandoned; pee-stained alcoholics crashed out on benches along once-regal, Habsburgian boulevards.
We now live in Lesotho, in the hardscrabble mountains of southern Africa. In the tiny capital, Maseru, the three or four cafes, three or four restaurants, just don’t compare to Central Europe. As a frigid winter approached, I flew my kids – more an evacuation, really – up to the summer steaminess of Hungary. They’ve spent weeks reconnecting with their grandparents along the family-friendly, fried-fish-peddling shores of Lake Balaton.
Meanwhile, I’ve flown solo in Budapest much of the time, with the luxury – during hot days and breezy nights – to mill about the old stomping grounds of my free and footloose years of early adulthood.
My conclusion: both city authorities and denizens show signs of resilience.
Posted in "Global Post", "Postcard", Africa, Democracy, Dictatorship, Hong Kong, Lesotho, Photography, South Africa, tagged Basotho, Democracy in Africa, Disillusionment, Free and Fair Election, Moshoeshoe, Pakalitha Mosisili, Peaceful Elections, Sesotho Language, Thaba Bosiu, Tom Thabane on June 7, 2012| Leave a Comment »
A tiny mountain nation’s peaceful election and transfer of power is a lesson for all of southern Africa.
THABA BOSIU, Lesotho — It was election day in Lesotho, and after almost three hours of standing in line, Rosina Moiloa had nearly reached the doorway of the threadbare school that doubled as the polling station in this village. But Rosina, a first-time voter, wasn’t griping about the wait.
The textile worker earns $140 per month, but spends nearly half that on the 30-minute taxi commute to her T-shirt factory in the capital, Maseru. In a country of 1.8 million, where half live in poverty and three-quarters lack electricity, she craves affordable educational opportunities for her two children.
So in the latest test of democracy in Africa, Rosina, 42, withstood the early-winter chill in the “Mountain Kingdom” of Lesotho, to reject the 14-year reign of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
“We’ve been told that one vote can change a nation,” she proclaimed, with hands stuffed in her coat pockets for warmth, as other queuing villagers nodded. “I want to see if this is true.”
The May 26 balloting was hailed by political observers as one of the most transparent elections southern Africa has ever seen. Moreover Lesotho appears to have achieved a relatively smooth power transfer. The election resulted in the country’s first opposition victory and the formation of a coalition government. There were no accusations of vote-tampering. There was calm in the streets. And it appears that Mosisili will step down peacefully this week.
In a corner of the globe with little tradition of compromise and power-sharing, the election challenges notions about the dire fate of democracy in Africa and reminds me that many of the oft-derided “Western values” are in fact universal values. What society wouldn’t want to hold its leaders accountable for their words and deeds?
Posted in "Christian Science Monitor", Africa, Democracy, Dictatorship, HIV/AIDS, Lesotho, Photography, South Africa, United Nations, tagged Bakili Muluzi, Basotho, British Protectorate, Coalition Government, Compromise, Elections, Electricity, European Union, Hans Duynhouwer, Laurent Gbagbo, Malawi, Maseru, Mountain Kingdom, Nqosa Mahao, Pakalitha Mosisili, Poverty, Power-Sharing, Skiing, South African Invasion 1998, Southern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Thaba Bosiu, Tom Thabane, University of the Witwatersrand, Violence, Vote Fraud on June 1, 2012| 2 Comments »
After a number of setbacks, with disputed elections leading to civil war, the African kingdom of Lesotho holds an election that boots the incumbent. A coalition government is in the works.
By Michael J. Jordan, Correspondent / June 1, 2012
MASERU, Lesotho – Lesotho – the tiny mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa, with the best (ok, only) skiing in Africa, and one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates – is getting recognition for something else: carrying out a peaceful election with a likely transfer of power.
After elections held this week, a majority of Basotho voters turned against the 14-year rule of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, expressing frustration with empty promises. With no party enjoying a convincing majority, five opposition parties this week cobbled together Lesotho’s first-ever coalition government and claim at least 61 seats of the 120-member parliament – with an ex-foreign minister, Tom Thabane, tabbed as the new premier.
With its straightforward process and absence of violence thus far, Lesotho gives a lesson in democracy that many other African countries — such as Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, and even nearby Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and South Africa could learn to emulate, political observers say.
“If a sitting government actually leaves office gracefully, this will be a first for southern Africa,” says Nqosa Mahao, a coalition-government expert at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, who advised the major parties here prior to the May 26 elections. “It will put Lesotho on the map for its democratic credentials – and set a tone for the rest of the region.”
Setbacks in African elections — notably the four-month civil war in Cote D’Ivoire in 2010, after the losing President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down — have recently raised questions about whether democratic culture is actually taking root on the continent. Far too many elections feature heavy vote-rigging, intimidation, and sporadic bouts of violence, rendering the final vote count questionable in the eyes of election observers. Yet the election results in Lesotho shows that some African countries can hold world-class elections, even in a country with plenty of excuses for failure, including poverty and rugged terrain.
Posted in "Christian Science Monitor", "Mantle", Africa, Democracy, HIV/AIDS, Lesotho, Photography, South Africa, United Nations, tagged Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, Ambassador Michele Bond, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Basotho Nation, Basotho Tribe, Bishop Tutu, Brookings Institution, Khotso, Lesotho Association of Journalists, Malnutrition, Marafaele Mohloboli, Michele Thoren Bond, Mountain Kingdom, Nala, Nobel Laureate, Nobel Peace Prize, Pakalitha Mosisili, Peace, Prosperity, Pula, Rain, Sesotho Language, Sesotho-Speaking Basotho, South African Invasion 1998, Sub-Saharan Africa, Thabang Moliko on April 30, 2012| 5 Comments »
Political violence has flared ahead of May 26 Lesotho elections, but Archbishop Desmond Tutu urges candidates to keep the peace and respect election results.
By Michael J. Jordan, Correspondent, Christian Science Monitor
MASERU, Lesotho – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the legendary anti-Apartheid activist and Nobel laureate, is officially retired from public life.
But he made an exception Friday for the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
Political violence in the enclave encircled by South Africa has flared up ahead of May 26 elections – an ominous sign in what one analyst calls the latest “stress test” for democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Cracks have emerged here with high-profile assassinations, rumors of a “hit squad,” and clashes at campaign rallies.
So the United Nations invited Archbishop Tutu to bolster democracy in the land, where, before launching his crusade against Apartheid next door, he served his first bishopric from 1976-78. On Friday, his “prayer meeting” extracted a pledge among political rivals to keep the peace and respect election results.
Citing the past political violence of South Africa, Tutu urged an audience that included the prime minister of Lesotho, “Please, please, please, please do not let the same happen to this stunningly beautiful land. Nothing can be so precious that it can be bought with innocent lives.”
Lesotho’s election is more than a contested vote in a remote country rarely heard from. It comes on the heels of successful elections across the continent: Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, and Zambia have recently all experienced peaceful elections. There have been a few notable blemishes: a couple of coups des états in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, and a contested election in Cote D’Ivoire in late 2010 that briefly turned into a civil war.
MASERU, Lesotho – I’ve fallen for Lesotho, that part is obvious. But you know what a miserable day looks like around here?
It’s the last Friday of the month: payday in a country of 2 million where an estimated 40 percent live beneath the international poverty line. It’s also raining meerkats and jackals upon a drought-struck land where a survivalist mountain tribe – the Sesotho-speaking Basotho – claim as a national mantra, “Khotso, Pula, Nala.” A simple request for Peace, Rain, Prosperity.
Today, at least they’re getting the rain. But it’s so torrential, I’m sure some misfortunate families are eyewitness to their precious maize crops – the thrice-a-day staple of their diet – slowly washing away. (The World Food Program is already here, helping to feed tens of thousands of families.)
I just rolled into the Pioneer Mall – just about the only place in Maseru where you can seek refuge from the rain with hot coffee or tea. And a modicum of atmosphere. Yet there’s an enormous line of working stiffs, stretched out to the middle atrium, nice and orderly. They’re wet. And unlike their jolly selves.
These are the Basotho proletariat, waiting their turn to withdraw from the ATM. But this line seems much longer than normal. As I motor past, on my way to the loo, I ask the security guard what’s up. He produces one of those irresistible Basotho smiles, and without a trace of sympathy, declares, “The machine just ran out of money!”
So these poor shlubs sense no other alternative than to just stand there – for who knows how long. Now that is a lousy day.
(As I sit here, relaxed, sipping my hot espresso…)