Unpacking the historical roots of Lesotho’s political instability

Unpacking the historical roots of Lesotho’s political instability

“I regard conversion of Basuto into British subjects… as the best guarantee we can take against future disturbances (i.e. instability).” Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 25 May, 1868.[1]

The aim of this paper is not to review contributions that others have made to an understanding of what lies at the root of Lesotho’s political instability. There are several of such writings, and they consist, mainly, of journal and newspaper articles.
They exist, also, in varying degrees of scholarly merit. Among the more serious contributions to this matter have been writings of the economist James H. Cobbe, who has looked at the broader issue of the economic and, therefore, political, viability of the Lesotho state. Writing specifically about inability of Lesotho’s economy to keep citizens within the country, in 2004, Cobbe wrote:

It is difficult to envisage a set of policies that could change Lesotho’s status from what it now is: a relatively impoverished peripheral appendage to South Africa from which the more talented, skilled, industrious, or desperate will increasingly migrate to more prosperous places in South Africa.

The subject has also attracted charlatanic ‘analysis’ intended to pass as scholarship. A typical example of this is a journal article by Zibani Maundeni, published in 2010.[2] To explain political instability in Lesotho, the author has accepted colonial characterisations of the ‘native’—Basotho, in this case—as rebellious, and, in a very military fashion, he has described Basotho as lacking ‘discipline’ and ‘loyalty’.

In Maundeni’s paper, the hitherto noble and laudable Africans’ acts of resistance to colonial rule have become abomination. The phrase ‘political culture’ has been used, in the article, to hide the author’s inability to identify and analyse precisely what lies at the root of political instability in Lesotho.
So, according to Maundeni, rebelliousness, indiscipline, disloyalty, and ‘hatred’ of Christianity constitute ‘Basotho’s political culture’. Specifically, “(r)ebellion became entrenched in Sotho political culture.
Christianity and missionaries who preached peace became more marginalised . . . ” because “(Basotho) principal chiefs favoured violence . . . ” (p. 131) “(U)ncompromising was part of the Sotho traditional and modern political culture.”(p. 132) We are supposed to understand that, this is why political instability is persistent in Lesotho. In short, the History of the paper is bad; and its analysis is extremely poor.
It should be clarified, at the outset, that, this paper neither questions nor discusses Basotho’s nationhood. Issues of viable statehood and nationality are quite capable of being separated.

Thus, although a people’s possession of territory is one of the requirements for nationhood—the others being a common mother-tongue, similar historical experience, and common values—historians and political scientists know that there have been cases, in human history, when nations, nationhood and nationalism have existed without a country.

The British colonised Basotho and their territory precisely because of the political instability that was in-built in the circumstances in which Basotho were expected to live after they lost a large part of their territory under conditions of settler colonialism.
Against the background of losses of large tracts of territory to the Free State from the 1830s, in years immediately preceding establishment of colonial rule, Basotho’s attempts at a decent and sustainable living could not succeed without causing ‘inter-territorial, regional, or international’ political instability in a form of disruption of colonial boundaries.
It is this, partly—the need to establish ‘international, or regional’ political stability for the benefit of colonial commerce—that drove the British to colonise Lesotho, in the late 1860s.

By that time, the territory left to Basotho was of such quality and size that, Basotho’s violations of colonial borders, and the political instability these violations led to, could only be stopped by restoration of territory, or colonisation.
The British opted for the latter and, during years under colonial rule, used a combination of force, on the one hand, and availability of opportunities for economic dependence which acted as ‘safety-valves’—a Customs Union and income therefrom, migrant labour, and so on and so forth—on the other.

In the post-colonial era, for some time, inter-territorial political stability continued sustained by safety-valves of economic dependence and international aid. In time, however, access to migrant labour declined; income from the Customs Union fell; and international aid also dwindled. Consequently, forms of nineteenth century inter-territorial political instability—intense activity at the borders, both legal and illegal—returned.
Unlike in the nineteenth century, however, illegal boundary disruptions have not led to wars because of the security capabilities of Lesotho’s neighbour. Within the country, the conditions under which Basotho and their territory were colonised debased struggles for power in ways that led to political instability.

This became possible not only because of the weakness of state institutions, in general, but also because of the weakness, in particular, of institutions—parliament, judiciary, etc.—which ought to act as checks and sources of political stability.

Historical roots of Lesotho’s political instability
A reading of historical sources suggests that, British colonisation of Lesotho and Basotho was influenced by commercial and strategic concerns as well as compassion, or philanthropy. For a period of over twenty years prior to Lesotho’s colonisation, Basotho lost large tracts of land to the Free State via conquests, treaties and other means.
By the 1860s, territory left to Basotho was so small and so marginal that they had to violate colonial boundaries in order to live. These violations became a source of inter-territorial instability as Free Staters had to chase Basotho out of their territory; this led to conflicts that increased in intensity until they reached levels of the 1865-1867 war. In these conflicts, the Free Staters pursued an apparently contradictory agenda of exterminating Basotho, on the one hand, and conscripting them as labour, on the other.
From a point of view of British commerce in the region, colonial officials felt that these conflicts, and the political instability they caused, were inimical to British colonial commerce.
Two options availed themselves to the British as ways of achieving that stability. One was to allow the Free State total and final victory over Basotho and hope political stability would be thus established.
The other was to colonise Basotho and their territory, and bring British world-power status and influence to bear on prospects of political stability in the Mohokare valley.
The British chose the second option for two reasons, mainly. The first reason was that, the British were in some kind of competition for commercial and political supremacy with Boer Republics of the Free State and the Transvaal, and the British feared that Free State’s control over Basotho and the rest of their territory would bring benefits of a strategic nature to the Free State in that competition.
Political instability occasioned by conflicts between Basotho and Free State Boers was inimical to British commerce and to long-term British domination of commerce and politics in the region, and it had to be stopped.

As Wodehouse put it in his attempt to convince a reluctant British government to agree to his plan to colonise Lesotho, if the instability could be stopped, Basotho and the Boers would stop attacking one another, and “(o)ur commerce will no longer be ruined by their quarrels.”
From a strategic point of view, the British were determined that the Boers should not gain access to a seaport, as this would undermine British monopoly of international trade in the region, and present the Boers with opportunities to acquire arms independent of the British.
It was the view of colonial officials that Free State’s conquest of the rest of Basotho territory had to be stopped because it would enhance chances of the Free State’s access to a seaport at Port St John’s.

The second reason for choosing the option of colonisation was sheer human—humanitarian, even—reactions that can be summed-up as philanthropy.
From the very beginning, the extent to which Free State Boers showed themselves to covet, and sought to seize, Basotho’s land persuaded the missionaries that Free State wanted to exterminate Basotho.
Thus, as early as 1842, the missionary Rev. Dr John Philip warned representatives of the British government in southern Africa that, if they did not intervene timeously, soon the Free State Boers “ . . . shall have exterminated tribes (who live under Moshesh’s protection) and got possession of the country and horses of Moshesh.”

The ferocity with which the Free State conducted war against Basotho in the 1860s, and the extent of Basotho’s territory they sought to seize, were so out-of-proportion that, no less a personage than a former Free State President, Josias Hoffman, described the Free State’s war plan as “hellish”.
Central to the Free State’s war plan, he said, was “ . . . destroying, rooting out, and driving away the Basutos . . . ” If this ‘hellish’ plan was persevered with, he said, he saw no way out for Basotho —“Where can they go?” he asked — and “ . . . feared the consequences.”
Moshoeshoe I saw matters no differently. The Free State’s activities to seize Basotho’s land reached levels which he could only interpret as having the purpose to exterminate Basotho.

That this was the way he saw matters is clear in his response to Free State and British colonial officials’ ultimatums asking him to remove his people from territory claimed by the Free State.
Like Hoffman, he expressed himself as being at a loss as to where such people could go: “If I remove (Basotho), I have nowhere where I can establish them . . . ”

The representative of the British government in southern Africa—and the man who finally acted to colonise Basotho and their territory—described the Free States war against Basotho as a war “ . . . which had been converted, by the Free State, into a process of starvation, tending to drive Basutos into a state of misery . . . ”

If anything could have provided forceful evidence of the Boers determination to destroy, or root out, Basotho, it was the amount of territory that they left to Basotho, in 1866.

With the British denying them access to guns and ammunition, and turning a deaf ear to their pleas for protection against a Free State army which had access to British guns and ammunition, the Free State inflicted heavy defeat on Basotho in the first round of Seqiti War (July, 1865-March, 1866).
They seized almost all of lowlands territory to the northeast and southwest of Lesotho’s modern territory, totalling some 12 737.5km² of 30 355 km² that makes up Lesotho’s territory today.

In the northeast, they seized 8 181.25km², including all territory consisting of the country’s best land that receives highest annual precipitation. In the southwest, they seized 4 556.25km² of territory—from just north of Maseru, in the west, to the point where Tele river joins Senqu river, to the east.
Basotho remained with just over half—17 617.5km²—of territory that makes up Lesotho today, and less than 10 percent of Lesotho’s current lowlands. Close to 90 percent of what remained was foothills and mountains.

Today, 90 percent of land that the Free States had seized is home to 80 percent of Lesotho’s population, and constitutes 90 percent of all arable land.
Without violating boundaries and thereby causing instability, making a living on the foothills and mountains that were left to Basotho would have been utterly impossible.

In large part, it is this—Free State’s seizure of what remained of the best land and forcing Basotho on small marginal land—that drove Moshoeshoe, Hoffman, and Wodehouse to the conclusion that Free State’s intention was to exterminate Basotho.
From a philanthropic point view, this is what moved Wodehouse to declare Basotho British subjects and what was left of their territory British territory.

From the point of view of territorial possession, Wodehouse described the plight of the people that he declared British subjects as follows: “Basuto were in extreme difficulties, the Boers were pressing them at all points, their forces were within a few miles of Moshesh’s residence, Thaba Bosigo”.
Simply put, after over two decades of Basotho’s attempts to secure British protection from Free State’s threat to their existence as an independent chiefdom, and secure the extent of their territory, a point came when Basotho’s predicament pricked the conscience of a British government’s official on the ground, Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse, who lent a sympathetic ear to Moshoeshoe I’s pleas for help and diplomatic overtures.

Wodehouse had the fortune that, the situation enabled him to justify his action in ways that his superiors in London would view as being line with government policy—safeguarding British commercial interests—and also in ways that a philanthropic British public would understand—protecting a ‘tribe’ from extermination.
Which of these motives was paramount is debatable. However, what is clear is that, the ruling circumstances enabled Wodehouse to act as a government official performing duties he was employed to perform, on the one hand, and to act in accordance with his personal, private conscience, on the other.
Thus, in July 1869, he was able to explain his intervention on behalf of Basotho as having been stimulated by “ . . . a sense of duty…” to the Cape Colony—and therefore British Empire—and compassion induced by Basotho’s distress, or “ . . . what some would term sentimental sympathy” for Basotho.
In territories the Free State conquered to the northeast and southwest, parts were set aside as ‘native reserves’—‘Molapo’s Reserve’, in the northeast, and Letsie’s Reserve in the southwest.
This ‘bantustanisation’ is important because it reveals philanthropic and settlerism’s dominant thinking regarding treatment of ‘native’ populations: they were to be left small pieces of land where they could subsist and provide labour to the economy of adjacent European society.
This is what territory left to Basotho by the time of colonisation had become—a piece of land set aside for purposes of settling a tribe threatened with extermination.

It should not be thought that, use of words such as ‘extermination’, ‘destruction’, ‘rooting out’ by the missionaries, Moshoeshoe, and Hoffman, was frivolous exaggeration.
All these men were aware that settler colonialism—such as was being established in southern Africa—was responsible for mass murder, genocide, ‘extermination’ and ‘destruction’ of native communities in America and Australia, for example.

Here and elsewhere, natives were being hunted down and killed, or forced to live in conditions which tended to lead to their destruction.
Closer home, although, typically, he himself held more enlightened views about the Bushmen and became famous for rejecting their ‘otherness’, saying ‘Do not say to a Bushman, “You Bushman!”’, Moshoeshoe was aware that, given the attitudes of his people and white settlers towards the Bushmen, and the treatment that these communities meted out to the Bushmen, their future as a people was bleak.

He saw attitudes of white settlers towards his people, and the fact that they wanted to take all of Basotho’s land, as evidence that they wanted to exterminate Basotho. It is this knowledge of attempts at, and experiences of, extermination, locally and elsewhere, that must have filled Hoffman and Moshoeshoe with fear, and filled Wodehouse with the sympathy that made him act.

Colonisation and Annexation
For years, the British limited their involvement in southern Africa’s regional politics to maintaining their commercial and political superiority. This was done as cheaply as possible, and by means that included invocation of reputation, appeasement, and other means that avoided military confrontations to an extent possible.

Applied in situations where invocation of reputation did not work, appeasement meant that, for many years, the British watched as the Boers seized land that Africans regarded as theirs.
Indeed, in Basotho’s cases, British colonial officials facilitated such seizures to the benefit of the Boers, putting Basotho, who looked up to Britain for fairness, under various forms of pressure to sign boundary treaties that favoured the Boers.

The last of this form of injustice against Basotho had been perpetrated by Wodehouse himself, three years before declaring Basotho British subjects, and their territory British territory.
As he admitted to his son, after his intervention in a boundary dispute between Basotho and Free Staters, in 1864, “I gave my Award at Aliwal (North) and sent it to both parties.

It is quite in favour of the Boers…” This was in line with British policy in southern Africa. Thus, in May, 1868, he reminded his superiors in London that, Basotho had suffered greatly as a result of British policy and its implementation by him and his colleagues.
He blamed Basotho’s defeat and distress on a war “…in which, while professing neutrality, we were withdrawing ammunition from the Basutos and supplying [it] freely to their enemies . . . ”, and he recollected that, at his and his colleagues’ “solicitation”, “ . . . Moshesh had twice . . . consented to spare the very State which was now [canvassing] his destruction…”

It was this policy of ‘neutrality’ and its implementation which had made it possible for the Boers to seize a large chunk of what remained of Basotho’s territory, in 1866, leaving Basotho desperate on a yet-smaller strip of land described above.
It is unlikely that, the consequences of British government policy and his own acknowledged culpability, did not fill Wodehouse with a sense of guilt and add to, or increase, the sympathy which made him act to annex Lesotho.

It is important to remember that Basotho and their territory were not simply colonised but they were colonised for purposes of incorporation, or annexation, to the Cape Colony, there to join other African chiefdoms that were ruled by the Cape Colony through its Department of Native Affairs. This plan was duly executed in 1871. Lesotho was not colonised as an ‘independent’, ‘free-standing’ colony like, say, Kenya.

This was because of colonial officials’ recognition of the fact that, the territory left to Basotho by the time of colonisation would not support existing and, particularly, future populations, and that, therefore, necessarily, Basotho were going to need access to more land than had been left to them.
Wars and treaties of land dispossession left Basotho with a small and marginal territory which colonial government recognised as economically unviable, and as a potential source of political instability, unless integrated into a larger political and economic unit.
In line with this recognition, much colonial policy-making, and policy-execution, in the first seventy (of hundred) years in Lesotho under colonial rule was dominated by plans for future annexation and incorporation.

Lesotho’s 1871 annexation to the Cape Colony was not successful, and lasted only thirteen unhappy years, until 1884. In 1884, the Cape Colony handed Basotho and their territory over to the imperial government, to be ruled directly from London.
Almost immediately, the imperial government found ways to integrate Lesotho into a larger unit, albeit a narrow economic one.
Five years after establishment of imperial rule, Lesotho became part of a customs agreement that included the Free State and Cape Colony, signed in 1889. Ten years later, a three-year war broke out between the British and the Boers.

At the end of the war, in 1902, Britain agreed to end its rule over the colonies of Natal and Cape Colony, and to grant independence to a Union of South Africa made up of these two colonies and the two Boer Republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal.
The two sides agreed that, together with Botswana and Swaziland, Lesotho would be incorporated into the Union of South Africa at some future date. This became Section 151 of the constitution of the Union of South Africa (also known as the Act of Union).
It is arguable that, running through policies of annexation of Basotho and their territory to the Cape Colony, in 1871, their inclusion in a customs union with the Free State, in the late 1880s, and possibilities of incorporation into the Union of South Africa, in 1909, was the recognition that, as was the case at the moment of colonisation and annexation, Lesotho’s material circumstances did not favour creation of an economically viable and politically stable state.

This recognition formed the basis of colonial policies that cultivated and deepened a relationship that anticipated Lesotho’s eventual incorporation into South Africa. Over and above inclusion and entrenchment of Lesotho’s membership of a customs union dominated by South Africa, features of this relationship also included absence of immigration controls between Lesotho and South Africa, until July 1963; unfettered access to Lesotho for South African security services; use of the South African currency in Lesotho; erection of South African railways structures in Lesotho; and others.
It remains to be said that, the fact that territory left to Basotho at colonisation could not support politically stable statehood was acknowledged even among African nationalists in modern South Africa and Lesotho.

Even though these groups opposed incorporation of Lesotho into the white minority-ruled Union of South Africa after it was established, in 1910, there was a general understanding, among them, that such an integration was desirable once white minority rule had been defeated, and South Africa was under African, or majority, rule.

In large part, this was also recognition that, an expectation that Basotho should continue to be confined to territory inadequate to support decent livelihoods was recipe for political instability in Lesotho’s vicinity.

Towards an Explanation of Political Stability during Colonial Rule
Apart from chiefly land disputes between Lerotholi and Maama (1893-94)—itself an indication of land scarcity—and power struggle between Lerotholi and Masupha (1898), it is evident that, particularly after 1884, there was much political stability in colonial Lesotho. Contestations and protests of the colonial period—those conducted by formations such as Basutoland Progressive Association (BPA) and Lekhotla la Bafo (LlB)—were fairly civil affairs. Reasons for this political stability must be many, and must include the fact that, having dubbed Basutoland “a prickly hedgehog” because of the level of Basotho’s political activity in the territory, the British were careful to avoid any action that might incite political instability.

However, more important reasons for political stability in Lesotho during colonial rule must be that, in administering its colonies, Britain brought to bear the enormous resources of statecraft that it possessed. Britain was the world’s superpower and, in some cases, it was enough for its officials throughout the world to invoke this reputation to secure other societies’ acceptance of British policies and wishes. Further, as a dominant player among authors of the order that was emerging in southern Africa, the British were much more conversant with the character of that order than African societies. This gave them an enormous advantage not only to shape the emerging order but also to anticipate coming changes, and to determine and provide resources that were needed.

Within the colony of Basutoland, the government maintained stability by use of a combination of force, on the one hand, and co-optation, on the other. Force took a form of establishment of a police force, prisons, and attendant institutions and processes. It should not surprise us that, in the very first requisition for material sent to the Cape Colony government by the newly-established colonial government in Lesotho, handcuffs topped the list; and that, prisons were some of the earliest colonial buildings to be constructed. Co-optation was used on Lesotho’s dominant group, the chiefs. For much of the colonial period, the chiefs had, and benefited from, a close relationship with the colonial government and a colonial policy of parallel rule which left them in charge of spheres of rule from which they created economic opportunities for themselves. This worked and, consequently, the chiefs were quiet for much of the colonial period.

Regarding voices of discontent from among organisations of the commoners, Basutoland Progressive Association and Lekhotla la Bafo, the quality of intelligence available to government was good, and enabled colonial state to snuff-out threats to political stability, and protests were largely civil. Perhaps more importantly, the policy of government was to avoid an accumulation of political and social pressure to a point of explosion. Any time pressure threatened to reach ‘boiling point’, officials made well-calculated and timely concessions to all, or part, of those involved in activity that threatened stability.

So, for example, after Basotho commoner elites established the BPA, in 1907, they demanded representation in the chiefly-dominated Basutoland National Council (BNC). The government turned down their requests, and insisted that chiefly representation was for the benefit of all Basotho. A decade later, LlB was formed, and started demanding, among others, representation in the BNC. Faced with two sources of pressure and fearing they might combine forces, the colonial government allowed BPA representation in the BNC, and responded to LlB’s demand by saying BPA representation benefited all commoners. This decreased the possibilities of the two organisations working together, and reduced any negative impact LlB’s activity could have on political stability.

Migrant labour was probably the most important instrument for securing political stability in colonial Lesotho. It enabled people who lived in a small, overcrowded territory with marginal land, to find employment elsewhere, and to support livelihoods of families and relatives left in overcrowded territory. At state level, revenues from the Southern African Customs Union, SACU—that vestige from the period of annexation—made public expenditure possible and made life in the colony not too intolerable—and even bearable—and thereby assisted colonial government’s efforts to maintain political stability.

On the whole, however, it has to be acknowledged that, throughout the colonial era, the colonial government maintained a general policy of ‘borderlessness’ between Lesotho and South Africa—signified by only minimal immigration controls between Lesotho and South Africa—until July, 1963. This must have contributed to political stability by reducing both the sense and the realities—such as ‘national’ exclusion, tighter restrictions on movement and access—that came with independent statehood.

Political Instability of the Post-Colonial

We have to start from recognition that, as Britain granted independence to Basotho, critical instability-inducing circumstances that had made colonisation and annexation necessary, in the 1860s, had not changed. That Basotho became an independent nation, and their territory an independent state, was not a consequence of any change in Lesotho’s circumstances of the 1860s. The adjustment of colonial policy—from incorporation to granting Lesotho independent statehood—was made necessary by political conditions that prevailed in South Africa as post-Second World War conditions—including growth of nationalist agitation for independence in Africa—forced Britain into a programme of decolonisation. It was a change in which political considerations predominated.

British government abandoned the plan to incorporate Lesotho into South Africa because of opposition to apartheid in Britain, among African nationalists in southern Africa and international opinion, in general. The instability-inducing economic and other circumstances which had informed policies of colonisation, annexation and incorporation had not changed for the better when the British adjusted their policy, after the Second World War, and allowed Lesotho’s attainment of independent statehood in the mid-1960s. These circumstances are very well-articulated by James H. Cobbe,[3] among others.

The question, then, becomes: if the British colonised Basotho and what remained of their territory on recognition that, without resources that British colonial rule over the territory brought, there would be political instability in the Mohokare valley, why did they grant independence to the people and their territory under the same material circumstance that had suggested colonisation, annexation and incorporation as the best strategies against political instability?

The argument made in this chapter is that, the decision of the British to grant independent nationhood to Basotho, and sovereign statehood to their country, did not imply that, matters had changed from what they were in the 1860s. It would seem that, in granting Basotho and their territory independent nationhood and statehood, respectively, the British were leaving Basotho to consider realities that had forced the British government to annex Lesotho, and determine the fate of their nationhood and the independent statehood of their country. This is what the country’s ruling elite have failed to do in the last 50 years: to initiate, and provide leadership on, discussions of what to do in the face of Lesotho’s circumstances. Instead, it has been much easier for them to pretend, or assume, that Lesotho’s circumstances are ordinary. Persistence of political instability of the country strongly suggests otherwise. Without circumstances that persuaded the British towards annexation being addressed, it has meant that, struggles for power in Lesotho take-on a character whose intensity leads to political instability.

How can we explain Lesotho ruling elites’ failure to initiate and lead discussions of what lies at the root of the country’s persistent political instability, and the search for lasting solution? It is clear that, part of the answer to this question lies in the country’s political elites’ motivated lethargy, and lack of both political will and imagination. The status quo serves them better. In his consideration of options available to Lesotho in post-apartheid southern Africa, Jim Cobbe identified ‘vested interest’ of the country’s ruling elite as a stumbling block to coming up with a solution likely to benefit Basotho. Given this vested interest, he pointed out, Lesotho’s ruling elite will want to keep things as they have been, and resist any change that threatens their positions, even if such change has potential to end political instability in Lesotho and benefit majority of Basotho:

…why would a Lesotho government seek to continue the status quo, and what are the alternatives? The simple answer to the first question is that those controlling and employed by the state apparatus within Lesotho benefit from it, and are widely assumed to want to continue to obtain those benefits. The unstated assumption is that the alternatives would necessarily involve costs to these elites in Lesotho as compared to their present situation.
Not only have the country’s ruling elite failed to start discussions aimed at determining arrangements that can answer challenges facing Basotho’s nationhood and their county’s statehood but they have failed to seize opportunities which had a potential to bring about political stability in the country. Examples of these failures would include Lesotho governments’ failure to do what was necessary for implementation of the Joint Bilateral Commission for Cooperation (JBCC) agreements of 2001; and failure to initiate discussions on multiple-citizenship.

Their strategy of resistance is to block any discussion of ideas that threatens their position, by quickly labelling them as ‘selling the country’, or as ‘incorporation’ of Lesotho into South Africa. A response by a section of Lesotho ruling elites to a request by South Africa to Lesotho government to clarify Lesotho’s position on multiple-citizenship provides a good example of this resistance.

Currently, Section 41 of Lesotho’s Constitution is intended to prohibit multiple-citizenship. Because of their insecurity, Lesotho’s political elite have met the idea of multiple-citizenship with intense hostility, invoking narrow nationalism and the ‘spectre’ of Lesotho’s incorporation into South Africa. The rhetoric always avoids raising and addressing the concrete issues the direct and indirect consequence of whose subsistence, alone and combined, is political instability. Thus, in April 2013, Pakalitha Mosisili (several times Prime Minister but, then, out of power) sought to persuade followers of his party, Democratic Congress, against discussion of the idea of multiple-citizenship, telling them:

There are 46 million people in South Africa comprising Basotho, Shanganis (sic) and Zulus. If we were to allow for dual citizenship, they would swallow us raw because they will also seek Lesotho citizenship…This is one way this… government is intending to hand us over to South Africa. I therefore urge you people to be careful, very careful.
Note how, in the illogicality of this narrow and self-serving nationalism, even Basotho who live in South Africa are presented as a threat—enemies, even.

At the heart of British government officials’ decision to colonise and annex Lesotho were the twin-aims to provide political protection to a tribe faced with extermination, on the one hand, and to secure political stability necessary for British commerce, on the other. Without such colonisation, political instability would be the order of the day, as their circumstances would force Basotho to eke out a living by violating boundaries imposed through war and conquest. Ideas and plans of annexation and, later, incorporation, were informed by material circumstances that militated against independent ‘colony-hood’.

During colonial rule, political stability was established and maintained, largely, through use of resources that were available to the British Empire. British government’s granting of independence to Lesotho, in the mid-1960s, was neither a sign that conditions that generated instability in the 1860s—and dictated colonisation—had vanished nor a sign that political stability maintained during colonial rule would continue after independence.

It is argued here that, in granting Basotho and their territory independent nationhood and statehood, respectively, the British were leaving Basotho to determine the fate of their country in the face of material circumstances that militated against political stability. Faced with these circumstances at colonisation, in the 1860s, the British had responded with annexation and incorporation. Whereas the political instability of the immediate colonisation era took the form of invasion of ‘others’, across colonial boundaries, the post-colonial political instability takes the form of a nation that has turned on itself, as groups in possession of the machinery of state use state institutions and processes against their opponents and those considered enemies.

A large part of the explanation for Lesotho’s persistent political instability lies in the material bases out of which the country emerged in the nineteenth century. These material bases have meant that, the economy is weak and unable to provide to majority of society. In these circumstances, struggles for power to control and access the little that the economy can provide take-on an intensity whose consequence has been persistent political instability.

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