How A Foreign Investor Rattled A Tiny African Economy
Bloomberg Businessweek|September 23, 2019
Guohui Shi secured a monopoly on Lesotho’s primary export, then stopped paying producers
Antony Sguazzin and Mathabiso Ralengau, with Sarah Chen

Mohlalefi Moteane runs his wool and mohair brokerage out of his veterinary practice, housed in a small building on a dirt road in Maseru, the ramshackle capital of Lesotho. When a young Chinese businessman visited in 2012 asking to join the business, Moteane turned him away. He saw no need for taking on a partner he didn’t know.

Six years later the same businessman, Guohui Shi, and his Lesotho Wool Centre were awarded a monopoly over the wool and mohair trade in the Southern African mountain kingdom, meaning that Moteane and other small brokers would have to shut down. Since then, thousands of farmers have had to wait a year or more to be paid by Shi’s brokerage; some say they’ve been underpaid, and others say they haven’t been paid at all. Approximately 75% of Lesotho’s population lives in rural areas and relies on wool and mohair for income. Some herders have been forced to eat their flocks to survive.

At $67 million, Lesotho’s wool industryâ—‹ Guohui Shi secured a monopoly on Lesotho’s primary export, then stopped paying producers is small but significant for the impoverished nation. It dates back to the 1850s, when migrant workers returned to Lesotho from South Africa, which encompasses the tiny country, with Merino sheep. Today, Lesotho is the world’s second-biggest mohair supplier; it controlled 17% of the global supply in 2017. The sheep are an ever-present sight, as are Angora goats, whose soft coats are used to make mohair. Herds graze on the roadside in Maseru, and shearers set up makeshift stalls on the sidewalk, where farmers bring their flocks.

Aside from wool and mohair, Lesotho has little in the way of industry. There are a few Chinese-owned textile plants, and the state exports water to South Africa. Per capita gross domestic product is about $1,200, but farmers can earn just $265 per year.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

How to Survive A Bubble

No one can be sure if markets are too high—but your emotions probably are

7 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

PELOTON WANTS TO BE MORE THAN A PANDEMIC FAD

In March, a couple of weeks after sweeping stay-at-home orders had brought much of the U.S. to a halt, William Lynch says he realized Peloton Interactive Inc. would fare really well in the year of the pandemic.

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

HELP IS ON THE WAY But the world still needs a shot in the arm!

The economic outlook is starting to brighten just about everywhere you look

8 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Drugstores To the Rescue

Pharmacy chains aim to boost the vaccine rollout—and their bottom lines

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

China Tightens Its Grip on Fintech

In late 2020, as Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co. prepared for a $35 billion initial public offering, many outside China wondered if the country’s financial technology giants were becoming a global competitive threat to U.S. and European banks and payments companies. Ant’s Alipay app, used for everything from hailing cabs to investing, had already rewired financial services in the world’s second-largest economy. There was just one problem: Inside China, policymakers were growing uneasy about the sudden dominance of their homegrown superstars.

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

China Comes For Its Tech Giants

The Chinese government’s crackdown on the country’s largest technology companies has raised fears that the industry could be paralyzed or cast into disarray as the economy enters a delicate moment. But one contingent within the tech sector is privately cheering on a broad set of anti-monopoly edicts: startups and their investors.

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Charging DUES, Making DO

Phil and Erin Lockwood never imagined their family would be traveling more during the coronavirus pandemic. But since joining the vacation club Inspirato last September, the parents of three have swapped one annual trip to a Disney theme park for villa rentals in Cabo San Lucas and Costa Rica.

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Back-to-Work Blues?

Tech boomed during the pandemic. It may not last

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

ASIA'S BATTERY GIANTS GO GLOBAL

Leaders of the electric-car era are moving to cement their dominance

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 25, 2021

Test All of Minnesota? You Betcha

Minnesota is setting an example for other states and the federal government. If anyone is interested

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
January 18, 2021