Political leadership — a cause of instability?

Political leadership — a cause of instability?

Continued from last week

In the fighting that followed, approximately 40 LDF soldiers died resisting SANDF troops who attacked Katse Dam and Makoanyane barracks.
Focussed on this resistance, SANDF failed to prevent fleeing demonstrators and soldiers from looting and putting parts of Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohales’ Hoek, and Roma to the torch.
The country would take years to politically and economically, recover from this man-made calamity.

One-party Dominant System, 2002-2012

Attempts to deal with a part of the causes of political instability—First Past The Post (FPTP) (the electoral model that the country had adopted since independence) and its perceived ‘tendency’ to ‘exclude’ from parliament parties with a sizeable following and a culture of disputing and contesting election results— all led to the establishment of the Interim Political Authority (IPA) in 1998 to create a more appropriate electoral system.
The IPA came with proposals for a new electoral model, namely, the Mixed Member Proportional which is a mixture of FRTP and Propositional Representation (PR), with a view for parliament to be inclusive.

This is the context against which the 2002 general elections were held, the outcome of which was a landslide victory for the LCD winning 79 out of 80 constituencies, the exact number it had won in the 1998 elections, which, had resulted in chaos and political instability in the country.
The difference was that at this time the size of the parliament was 120—constituted by 80 FPTP members and 40 PR members.

The enlargement of parliament was done, in large part, to appease political elites with hope that political stability would be established. The cost of an enlarged parliament to the fiscus was huge but the question was whether the price of peace was not better than that of war.
However, as we all know, despite the huge costs Basotho paid and are paying for political stability, Lesotho political elites’ greed and struggles for power continue to exacerbate political instability.

In many ways, the 2002 elections provided an opportunity for Lesotho to establish a stable democracy and to erase, from its history, the instability that had dogged the country since independence.

The general acceptance of the new electoral model as inclusive and representative of all shades of political opinion was hailed as its main achievements. Prime Minister Mosisili would describe it as “molleloa” meaning ‘the best (ever)’ in one of his political rallies. The elections’ outcomes of 2012 and 2015 would show the fallacy of this description, as will be seen below.

Scholars of elections, such as Makoa,(2012: 4), however, observe that “ the advent of the MMP system may have just heralded a shift in focus or opened a new side of political conflict in Lesotho rather than being a cure for it.”
Six years later, and following the 2007 general elections disputes, political instability ensued as losing parties wrangled over the allocation of propositional representation parliamentary seats because the new model was abused by the political elites. LCD went into an alliance with the National Independence Party (NIP) and won the poll.

The newly formed All Basotho Convention (ABC), which went into an alliance with Lesotho Workers Party, challenged the election outcome. As a result strikes, stay-aways and protests followed as the opposition sought to overturn seat allocation.
Violence ensued as supporters of government and opposition supporters clashed. Elements of the army were also reported to be involved in this violence on the side of the government.

SADC, in the person of former Botswana President Quett Masire, visited the country to mediate disputes on allocation of parliamentary seats. His mission failed and he withdrew.
In the midst of this impasse, political instability manifested itself, as Prime Minister Mosisili survived an apparent assassination attempt when the State House was attacked by mercenaries in the dead of the night in 2009. The same mercenaries had, on the same night, attacked the Makoanyane barracks and seized army vehicles.

Three mercenaries were killed in the exchange of fire with the police on the outskirts of Maseru the following morning while seven were charged in connection with the attack on Mosisili and found guilty and jailed.
As these events were happening, the ever-present power struggles within the congress ‘movement’, characterised by internal wrangles within the LCD as two factions, Lija-mollo and Litima-mollo, supporting the Leader of the party, Mosisili and the Secretary-General, Metsing respectively, fought pitched battles to capture the party. When the leader and his supporters realised that they would not win, they split from the LCD and formed the Democratic Congress (DC) which hived away a large number of members of parliament to form a minority government. Political stability was a casualty.
It was also during this period that the LCD government, in order to buy support from parliamentarians, not only increased their remuneration but also introduced a lot of obscene perks.
These included the interest-free loan of M500 000.00 from commercial banks, guaranteed by the government. There was also the purchase of government vehicles by the ministers and Principal Secretaries, at the nominal price of M4 000 for Mercedes Benz sedans, and M2 500 for luxury Toyota sedans after three years of use (Lesotho Government Gazette Extraordinary, 19th June, 2006).
These ‘perks’ were justified by saying that increasing parliamentarians’ remuneration was in order to attract persons of high calibre to national politics. In fact, the opposite has happened.

Instead of attracting persons of integrity, national politics has attracted a majority of persons willing to play sycophant to the few who exercise real power. Further, the perks have attracted, to Lesotho politics, individuals—‘political leaders’ and their supporters—of greedier dispositions who are driven more by motives of self-enrichment than public service.

During the life of the LCD government, instances of public funds being laundered through tenders for both party and personal gain were investigated by the Lesotho National Assembly Public Accounts Committee. The results of that investigation are a matter of public record.
The report shows that nepotism, kickbacks, opaque and irregular procurements, and conflict of interest were used by the political elite to fund themselves and their parties in complicity with several dirty corporations.

It was during this period, 2007-2012, that a conducive environment emerged in which the investigative institutions such as auditors, police, anti-corruption agencies acquiesced to this skulduggery.
In such an environment, many public servants felt free to also indulge in this gluttony, masquerading as independent suppliers and overcharging government for goods and services illegally supplied. For example, the Prime Minister’s office reportedly bought a consignment of cans of fruit juice for each of which the government was charged M100, instead of the normal retail price of less than M10.

Unstable Coalition Governments, 2012-2016

The first coalition government was formed after the 2012 general elections which produced a ‘hung parliament’, where no single party had a majority to constitute government. Coalition partners ABC, LCD and BNP had 30, 26 and 5 seats respectively, forming a simple majority of 61 seats out the 120 seats that constitute the Lesotho National Assembly.

The four years of Coalition governments which followed the ten year one-party dominant government was a welcome change to most Basotho. It was hoped that the political elite had, at last, come to their senses and were then committed to an inclusive nation-building process and economic development. Alas, that was not to be, as political instability became more pronounced than ever before in the political history of the country because political elites vied for power at the expense of the people and embarked on bitter and mostly bloody struggles to get on top.

Examples of these self-serving struggles from the first Coalition (2012-2015) were the prorogation of parliament in June, 2014, the attempted coup of August, 2014, by the Commander of LDF, Tlali Kamoli, following the decision by prime minister to fire him and replace him with Brigadier Mahao, the LDF night attacks of the 30 August, 2016, on Police headquarters where Sergeant Ramahloko was brutally killed, attacks on Mabote police station, on the home of new Commander of LDF, Lieutenant- General Mahao, and on the State House.

The latter resulted in the Prime Minister Thabane and the Minister of Sports, Chief ’Maseribane, fleeing to South Africa.
The first coalition government effectively collapsed in June 2014 when the LCD signed a new alliance with the DC, which had won 48 seats in the 2012 elections. Before the 2012 elections, the LCD had ruled out the possibility of a coalition with the DC in the event of a failure to secure the requisite parliamentary majority.

The ABC-led coalition was a marriage of convenience which was driven by an “anti-Mosisili sentiment.” Both the ABC and LCD were hostile to working with the DC or expanding the coalition to anyone else.
This arrangement was inherently unstable because the coalition faced challenges of governing with a one seat majority; it was difficult to pass legislation requiring two thirds majority and factional politics subsequently characterised the coalition driven by their historically antagonistic relationship.

More importantly, this “coalition became personality-driven with a standoff between Thabane and Metsing over the division of spoils” (Motsamai, 2015:7).
The second Coalition government of 2015-2017 was equally unstable because of its exclusion of the ABC which had won 46 seats. Within three months of a new coalition government being formed, Thabiso Tšosane, a prominent businessman, and a member of former Prime Minister Thabane’s party, was killed by unknown people in May 2015.

This event was followed by the execution of Lieutenant-General Mahao, former LDF Commander, by the elements of the LDF, in June. Fearing for their lives, three opposition leaders, Thabane, ’Maseribane and Rantšo fled to South Africa, while a number of LDF members were rounded up, arrested and brutally tortured for alleged mutiny. Other LDF members fled into South Africa.

These are signs of political instability since 2012. SADC has been occupied with efforts to manage and resolve the perpetual conflict in Lesotho. In fact, Lesotho has been a prominent conflict agenda item at SADC Summits and Extraordinary Summits to-date.

Following the murder of Mahao, SADC, (at the invitation of the Coalition government), established a Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi from Botswana. It sat for three months in Lesotho and South Africa and presented its findings. During its investigations and after presenting its report, the coalition government threw all manner of obstacles either under its own hand or using agents, particularly the army, to frustrate and tarnish the image of the Commission.

To-date, only one of the Commission’s recommendations, namely, the release of Lt. General Tlali Kamoli from the Command of the LDF, has been implemented. Makoa’s (2012:2) observation on the first Coalition that the key motivation behind its formation was the quest for office and state power applies to the second Coalition, perhaps to a very large extent.

For example, while in the first Coalition the combined number of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers increased from 23 to 30, in the current Coalition the number has increased to 38. The payoffs and the spoils, or benefits, of cabinet positions have been captured by Mboweni (2014:2) when he observed that:
In this country (Lesotho), which is poor and with a small economy, control of the government is key to the most primitive forms of wealth accumulation. Access to a ministry means the ability to loot the state’s resources in order to enrich oneself. It is as crude as all that.
Once someone becomes a minister, their social status changes, their control over tenders and other state resources is enhanced, and “aluta continua!”
So the very thought of losing state power drives even the best men and women to go absolutely berserk. That is the fundamental basis upon which we should understand the continuing instability in Lesotho.

Conclusion

Based on the events of the last five decades, it can, arguably, be said that Lesotho is confronted with a significant leadership challenge which has been at the centre of the country’s political instability. That leadership challenge needs to be urgently addressed and elevated as a priority issue of concern to all Basotho—ordinary citizens, political parties, civil society groups—regional and continental bodies, as well as development partners.

Collective action is required to stop and reverse the trend of poor leadership and generate a new crop of leaders. Currently, all those at the helm of the Lesotho state seem oblivious to the fact that “leadership is a privilege and an opportunity to serve others . . . (rather than) an instrument to assert their dominion and oppression of others” (Murithi, 2007:9).

Lesotho needs leaders who demonstrate ability to manage state affairs conscientiously and efficaciously, a consistent commitment to advancing the conditions of their compatriots, selfless devotion to the principles of democratic governance and an attitude of service.
Granted, that Lesotho’s problems cannot be reduced to poor national political leadership alone. However, men and women who have ruled Lesotho since independence have been so obsessed with self-advancement and have been so lacking in the sense of national duty that they have had neither the will nor the talent to face squarely this nation’s other problems.

Current national political leadership prefers the status quo and have been completely blinded by self-interest and by the benefits that accrue to them from the status quo.

T. H. Mothibe

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