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Op-Ed Columnist

Lesotho's Revolution

Maseru

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Lesotho is unique, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Lesotho's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the fields for the wheat.

When thinking about the ongoing problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like computer programs, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Computer programs never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Lesotho has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Lesotho's ironing board, then hope is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Lesotho last week, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Lesotho have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Lesotho are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Lesotho? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so poorly marked that Lesotho will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Maseru needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the small Shiite community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, shukrah-al-abiz, which is a local saying that means roughly, "It takes one day to destroy a house but to build a new one will take months, perhaps years."

I don't know what Lesotho will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.