Wales-Lesotho Twinning Comes of Age
01 August 2006

Dolen Cymru (the Wales-Lesotho Link) was launched in 1985, sustained on the Welsh side by a voluntary national committee.

Twenty-one years after it was launched, the world’s first nation-to-nation twinning is moving up a gear, reports Paul Williams.

When Dolen Cymru (the Wales-Lesotho Link) was launched in 1985 (see FAC April 1988), Wales had no representative assembly of its own and no immediate prospect of one. Over the years the unique country-to-country link with the Kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa was sustained on the Welsh side by a voluntary national committee. This drew on the goodwill of individuals, organisations and institutions throughout Wales and did its best, when dealing with the Lesotho Government, to ‘speak for Wales’.

In 1999, devolution came to Wales and the National Assembly opened its doors. Two years later, Dafydd Wigley, then Assembly Member for Carnarfon, paid tribute to the work of Dolen Cymru over the past 16 years. ‘Your work has shown the way in the voluntary sector of what can be done to help Wales play its part in the wider world,’ he said. ‘You are much more than a movement. You have succeeded in creating connections with people in so many fields.’ Now, he said, the National Assembly should take the lead.

His conviction is beginning to be realised. In 2002 the Education Department of the Assembly Government gave a three-year grant to enable Dolen Cymru to appoint a full-time Director and maintain an office in Cardiff. ‘This funding will help build on the links already established between Wales and Lesotho,’ said Education Minister Jane Davidson. ‘I very much hope they will flourish further. It will benefit teaching and learning in both countries.’

Last year the grant was extended for a further three years and this time included a substantial sum to fund a teacher placement programme in Lesotho schools. The scheme enables Welsh teachers to spend six months in schools in Lesotho, doing classroom teaching and also passing on best teacher practice. It stands alongside regular shorter exchanges between teachers from the 100 schools in Wales and Lesotho which have established links with each other.

Last April Jane Davidson, accompanied by her private secretary and an official from the Practitioner Department of her Ministry, went to see how the first batch of six teachers was getting on. While in Lesotho she had two meetings with the Lesotho Minister of Education, whom she had entertained in Cardiff earlier in the year. Reflecting on the visit, she said she had been encouraged by ‘the very positive response to the teacher programme from the Welsh teachers, their host schools and the district education authorities in which they were based. We learned that the three newly qualified teachers in particular found that their personal confidence had grown significantly. Some of the teachers expressed an interest in staying longer.’ She added that she was ‘keen to ensure that the Wales-Lesotho Link forms an important part of the Assembly Government’s international agenda’.

In 2002 the National Assembly invited a group of three Senators and one official from Lesotho’s Upper House to visit Wales to study the workings of the Assembly. This was followed in 2003 by an invitation to two MPs, an official from the Lesotho Electoral Commission and a radio journalist to observe the Assembly elections. Wales and Lesotho have similar voting systems, including an element of proportional representation. ‘The opportunity to see how other political parties campaign has been a valuable insight for us,’ said Dominic Motikoe, one of the MPs. ‘We were impressed by the way voluntary groups and trade unions were able to play an important part by questioning the policies of the political parties.’

Then last October two Welsh Assembly members and an official visited Lesotho and returned eager for the National Assembly to become more involved in the link and to do more for Lesotho. ‘The Speaker and Clerk of the National Assembly of Lesotho made it clear that they would welcome a parliamentary dimension to the link between Wales and Lesotho,’ they reported. ‘We advocate that a cross-party group on Lesotho be established in the National Assembly and that the Welsh Assembly Government makes Lesotho a focus for its international development strategy.’

If this is done, the 21-year old link—the world’s first-ever nation-to-nation twinning—will move into a new gear. With the Scottish Parliament having decided to focus its international development effort on Malawi because of historic links, perhaps a trend is being set for more small nation-to-nation links. Their great advantage is the considerably increased involvement of their people, institutions and communities in concern for the welfare of the global village.

Paul Williams was secretary of the Wales-Lesotho Link from 1985 to 2004.