Lesotho farmers protest against Chinese wool deal

Maseru (Lesotho) (AFP) –


Several thousand farmers in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho marched to parliament on Friday to protest against regulations forcing them to sell their wool and mohair to a Chinese broker.

Wool and mohair are key exports for farmers in Lesotho, but the government of the small southern Africa nation signed a monopoly deal last year with a Chinese broker who is accused of failing to pay for goods.

The protest won the support of some members of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's All Basotho Convention party, most opposition parties and Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, the king's brother.

About 30,000 farmers in Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa, rely on wool and mohair exports.

"We will not sell our wool and mohair to the Chinese, we would rather burn it," Mokoenihi Thinyane, chairman of the National Wool and Mohair Growers Association, told protesters in the capital Maseru.

The day before the march, the government suspended the monopoly deal for three months to allow farmers to sell globally.

Spokesman for the opposition parties Selibe Mochoboroane said "we will fight this war by legal means and if we don't win, we will resort to other means."

The farmers held written messages that read "Thabane stop killing poor Basotho (Lesotho citizens)" and "ministers, hands off our wool and mohair".

For decades, farmers sold wool from sheep and mohair from goats through BKB, a South African broker.

Many have refused to deal with the Chinese broker, while others complain they have been left unpaid after handing over their stocks.

China's growing presence is a sensitive topic across Africa, with critics accusing the Asian powerhouse of dominating markets and undermining democracy and sovereignty around the continent.