Preparing the groundwork for reforms

Preparing the groundwork for reforms

In Moshoeshoe’s case, I would like to posit that he grew in perspective and in his larger humanity (botho) during the early and formative period of his life as a result of the much older wisdom traditions connected with Mohlomi which he then tried increasingly to incorporate in his leadership.
These included care for the poor and vulnerable, a hallmark of his legacy, and various other characteristics which are often encapsulated within proverbs and wise sayings such as: Setlhare ke pelo (Leadership comes from the heart or character of a person, not through charms and medicinal potions); U ka nketsang, ha e hahe motse; ho hahoa oa morapeli (A domineering or violent approach does not build up the community; rather, it is nurtured through humility); and Se ka re ho Moroa ‘Moroa tooe’ (Cautioning against denigrating or discriminatory attitudes, hate speech and xenophobia).

Moshoeshoe is also famous for the saying Khotso ke khaitseli ea ka (Peace is my sister, in other words, extremely close to my heart).
This last attribute was demonstrated in a number of ways, for example, when he generously gave his attackers gifts in order to placate them, and urged his followers not to seek revenge or to retaliate.

Moreover, Moshoeshoe forbid the killing of ‘witches’, even to the point of prohibiting the mere accusation of witchcraft, for he believed such accusations were usually trumped up and used to victimise people, either out of ignorance, or from manipulation for ulterior motives. Moshoeshoe also outlawed the sale of liquor within his kingdom as it destroyed the good sense of those who consumed it, and led to unnecessary disputes.
During his mid-life and later years, Moshoeshoe was ‘in conversation with’ the larger Christian tradition as well as with the prophetess ‘Mantsopa, and these no doubt added new dimensions to the already well-formed vision and understanding which Moshoeshoe held.

Suffice it to say that a rich tradition of wisdom exists here which is perhaps underutilised by us as a resource for improving our lives today, either individually or collectively. Moshoeshoe, first and foremost, was like us. He had a variety of flaws and overcame many obstacles, both internal and external.

He became a philosophically-minded but pragmatic ruler whose greatest ambition was to keep his national experiment alive so as to provide a more coherent future for his people. It was these traits of growing self-knowledge and an openness to explore options – even unorthodox ones – which set Moshoeshoe apart from others.

If his people did not always understand him, if his sons and brothers were not always prepared to heed his advice, and eventually took very different courses of action, we nonetheless all call ourselves Moshoeshoe’s children and we are indebted to his perseverance in maintaining the integrity of the Basotho nation against formidable odds.

Much of Moshoeshoe’s success in this regard can be attributed to the fact that he grew far beyond the days of his rather conflicted youth, as well as his earlier modus operandi of plundering the wealth of others, to create a more stable realm of security, growth and prosperity for his people in collaboration with internal and external partners.

We remember him for his larger sense of humanity and fairness, his willingness to adapt traditions and invent new ones as needed, and the energy, commitment and intelligence which he applied in forging and then governing a growing state in the heart of Southern Africa. If Moshoeshoe was not necessarily a philosopher king in quite the same way as Mohlomi, he nonetheless taught us practically about some of life’s most important issues, including peace and reconciliation.

These, he seemed to teach us, were not abstract goals to be pursued in and of themselves at any cost, but rather as a means towards fullness of life in community as well as peaceful co-existence between communities. A wise saying in Lesotho is that a ‘Chief is a chief by the people’. Equally true is the reverse: that ‘a people is a people through its chief or leader’.

It is partly because of the wise, magnanimous and dedicated leadership of men like Moshoeshoe that we as a nation or people have a legacy worth preserving and building upon today.

Our Current Situation

As it was during Moshoeshoe’s time, so it is during ours: maintaining the integrity and viability of the nation-state called Lesotho is not a simple matter or a foregone conclusion. It takes real commitment, intelligence and hard work. The context in which we operate as a nation has changed greatly since the 19th century.

The emerging Lesotho of the 19th century faced largely external threats though we cannot discount internal issues. During the period from 1966, however, the once again independent Lesotho faced both internal and external challenges, though the focus has increasingly shifted since 1993 towards internal factors, exacerbated by its extreme dependency upon its neighbour South Africa.

In the current fluid situation, leaders require agility and a clear focus, grappling with an array of challenges. As such, leadership remains a complicated business as human beings are socialised and educated through various institutions and associations, and rise to positions of importance and great responsibility.

The roots of our current crisis, which is only the latest in a much longer series, go back into past formations. In some respects, it might be well to note that the transition in Lesotho during the 1950s and 60s, which moved from a relatively benign if ineffective semi-executive monarchy with limited but growing elective offices under the British administration, to a full-blown Westminster system under a Constitutional Monarch at Independence in 1966, was too rapid to allow for effective institutional growth and maturity. This judgment may well raise the ire of many of you.
Certainly during that earlier era, the zeitgeist weighed heavily against anyone who articulated the concern that Lesotho might need more time to make the transition to this newer Westminster style of democracy.

Such words of caution at that time were roundly condemned by the emerging political elite as a ploy to prevent Basotho from attaining their rightful self-government or, even worse, as a trap so that Lesotho might be incorporated within its apartheid neighbour.

Observers will point out correctly that our cousins in Botswana did make the transition to a Westminster system of democracy rather smoothly, within a similarly short span of time, but they had two key factors in their favour, namely, a) a fairly strong consensus around the leadership of Seretse Khama, a quasi-kingly figure with a party political base, and b) the fortune not only to discover significant mineral resources within their territory after independence, but more remarkably to utilise those resources wisely.

Lesotho, on the other hand, was divided down the middle in terms of party politics, which led to instability, while its resources were meagre to say the least as Lesotho served largely as a labour reserve for the South African mines.

Trying to build up a greater diversity of profitable economic enterprises in order to ensure the longer-term sustainability of the nation and its people has been an on-going pre-occupation of Lesotho’s leaders, but this priority has often been compromised by the lack of consensus among the political elite. As such, instability has been a regular feature of Lesotho’s post-independence experience.

The last few years have been particularly taxing, and thus our pundits and concerned citizenry have become quite vexed by the constant jockeying for position and splits within the major political parties, the repeated collapse of coalition governments before their term has expired, the misuse of state institutions and resources by successive regimes, and the brutal killing of high profile persons.

Many of our people have opted out and are completely disillusioned with the political process as can be seen in the steadily shrinking percentage of those who take the time to vote in national elections. Where then are we at present? There is a line of general thinking which runs as follows:

1. In terms of modern democratic institutions and norms, including good governance, the rule of law, the separation of powers, issues of succession, party political maturity, an efficient and apolitical civil service, and a host of other traits, Lesotho does not always score very well. We seem rather adept at wriggling out of and/or finding ways of circumventing checks and balances, or just eliminating some of these as has happened over the past 50 years, thus centralising power in the Executive, especially in the office of the Prime Minister.

Part of this ‘deficit’ in terms of good governance is a result of our poor economic base and relatively small private sector, which helps to concentrate the attention and aspirations of some of us towards gaining access to the spoils of government, this being the most attractive option or outlet for our ambitions.

As such, one sees, regardless of the party or coalition in power, a regular abuse of tendering processes, maladministration, nepotism, the undermining of accounting frameworks, etc. These manifestations of abuse are often the result of strategic cooperation between elected officials and civil servants.

2. The political elite, regardless of party affiliation, tend as a class to protect their own interests, and to unashamedly promise the public during rallies, either before or after elections, what they cannot actually deliver. Few are the cases where a parliamentarian or candidate for office explains clearly the limited ability of government to meet the ever-growing expectations of the public, or to honestly acknowledge that partnership with business and other social formations is absolutely pivotal to the larger success of the nation, or to refrain from the temptation of seeking to gain a personal share in any new business venture which tries to open up operations in the country (or in his/her constituency).

Fewer still are those in Parliament who have ever voted against the sizeable salary increases which they give themselves, or raise a query about the ethics of not repaying the rather scandalous M 500,000 interest-free loans which they receive.

3. While many will admit that each political formation possesses leaders of integrity and substance, the tendency often seems to be to move towards the lowest common denominator, and thus even relatively good people, through excessive peer pressure from their political compatriots or the ‘circumstances’ of the time, are hoodwinked into making dubious decisions.

Those in office become compromised by power and wealth, while those in opposition become excessively negative or surprisingly virtuous, preaching what they failed to practice while they were themselves in power.

4. After 50 years of independence, during which numerous crimes and excesses have been committed by our rulers, usually with impunity, we have an opportunity now, if we can pause long enough and try to re-centre ourselves, to put matters of state on a stronger foundation. And thus we aspire to hold a National Dialogue followed by the Reform process itself.

5. Finally, some will assert, if we want peace and stability in Lesotho, we need to hold a Truth and Reconciliation process in order to let go of all our negative baggage and secrets, secrets which are festering, and thus, relieved of these burdens, we can start afresh.

I have at times been personally in favour of such a TRC process, but of late I have begun to doubt its wisdom. Many in each political formation or faction do have dirty linen, to be sure, but the call for public hearings of the nature of a TRC process may be more than we can bear.
Popular as the current hearings before the Public Accounts Committee may be, it is doubtful that the political elite (whether defined more broadly or more narrowly) is keen to air its own wrong-doings and errors of judgment in public so as to seek cleansing or forgiveness or an amnesty.
Perhaps behind closed doors, some would participate, but I doubt greatly if many of our leaders have a genuine appetite for a full-blown TRC process, especially if it is meant to cover the past 50 years.

It is always easier to see one’s opponent confessing, rather than oneself! I would like to humbly suggest that if we take Moshoeshoe, our beloved and honoured founding father, as an example, we might rather think in more modest terms. You will remember that when Moshoeshoe forgave the cannibals for eating his grandfather, he did not, according to the traditions handed down to us, publicly admit to his complicity in helping to create the conditions for cannibalism to emerge.

After all, Moshoeshoe had not driven Rakotsoane to cannibalism by stripping him and his people of their animal wealth. Others had done so! What Moshoeshoe had done very successfully, however, was to pillage the wealth of Ramonaheng and many others, and it is only to be expected that some of these did choose the path of cannibalism. With this broader realisation, Moshoeshoe recognised his complicity within this larger dynamic, and thus he took steps to re-integrate Rakotsoane and his men, men who were greatly loathed, back into society, such that they could assume more acceptable roles.

It may be, therefore, that in seeking a higher moral tone through a TRC process, we may be going down a path that will not yield the desired results, and thus we may be cutting ourselves off from more realistic and achievable forms of progress. At this stage, this delicate stage at which we are poised at present, where the proposed National Dialogue is still not yet a done deal, each of us might well reflect upon our own complicity in the on-going dynamics within the political process, and begin to take a few steps towards doing the right thing even if we are less than fully honest in public about our complicity.

Baby steps are better than the perpetuation of animosity and intransigence, or retribution, or grandstanding and brinkmanship. We as leaders are often quite successful at playing the game of politics; true, we do stretch the rules at times, but then, so do many others. Cumulatively, however, this ‘playing of the game’ has led us into a situation which threatens our very existence as an independent nation. We may not be individually guilty of crimes, but collectively we have failed to take corrective measures, and thus we have placed the nation at grave risk.

During mid-2014, the study trip by Parliamentarians to New Zealand under the auspices of the Commonwealth inspired hope in the hearts of many that such corrective action might be taken soon. But alas this was not to be. The internal dynamics within the then ruling coalition were such that distrust escalated and the government collapsed, leading to fresh elections.

And this same process was repeated once more two years later. Surely we are all aware that the destiny of Lesotho lays within the decisions we will take in the coming days, weeks and months. Do we have enough courage to look deeply in the mirror and recognise our individual and collective responsibility in this regard? Or have we cut ourselves off so fully from those who can honestly advise and guide us that we still hope to ‘win’ by crushing our opponents, or in bringing them to their knees?

Can we not see that a larger win-win scenario needs to be brokered? Many of us may be rather like Moshoeshoe, talented individuals who also have significant flaws, but people who with mentors of the calibre of Mohlomi might grow tremendously in wisdom, people who with skilled life coaches might surprise us with their contribution to the larger society, people who with further training in various modern tools of management and administration might provide strategic guidance to Lesotho’s key institutions and foster partnerships which will help to transform our society.

Maximising the talents of our leadership pool can only be achieved, however, within the framework of a more orderly if still robust system of governance, which includes adequate checks and balances in the hope that these will prevent the ‘game’ from becoming violent and spinning out of control.

Some will argue that this emphasis upon stability and inclusivity undermines the call for justice, justice for the victims who have been brutally removed by other ‘players’ in this game of politics, this game of thrones. These voices will argue that justice has its own requirements, and that political leaders who have committed crimes, together with their henchmen and complicit public servants, must be held accountable, that those who have been wronged must be compensated.

Such calls may well be correct. I am not wise enough to discern how the demands for justice might be balanced in such a way that our leaders can also be redeemed and thus play a more constructive role within a reformed system.

My perspective at present is based partly upon a realisation that much as we need to raise the bar with regard to our political practice, we may also sabotage ourselves by following a course of action which is not realistic, thus leading to further internal turmoil and disappointment. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from the life of our founder, a man whom we all hold in deep reverence, a role model for his sagacity and leadership qualities, and an icon in terms of peace and reconciliation. If a man of his stature was apparently unable to publicly admit to certain ‘crimes’ that he had committed, perhaps a TRC process for Lesotho may be unwise. Could it be that other less obvious processes might be put in its place instead?

I am not an expert in conciliation, conflict management, transitional justice, or related matters. But certainly within Lesotho and our regional and international partners, such expertise exists for us to draw upon.

I will merely offer here a few thoughts on what we might expect from our political party elite. One does not have to make a full public confession in order to begin righting the wrongs of the past. One can start with small steps and move forward, incrementally, to create a new climate for political exchange.

Because many of us are members of the broader political elite, though we often do not wish to acknowledge this truth, I will use the first person here and not the third person, so that perhaps each of us will take more responsibility in this regard:

1. We will seek mentors, spiritual advisers, life coaches or others in order to better understand our own strengths and weaknesses so as to chart our personal life journeys more effectively, improve our understanding and skills, as well as better emphathise with and listen to others;

2. We will demonstrate a greater sense of humility; that is, we will not pretend that our own political formation or movement or organisation has never made mistakes, or is somehow morally superior to others, we will not demonise or demean our opponents, and we will be ever conscious of the power of our words to do good or harm;

3. We will show a willingness to dialogue with and engage other leaders in order to seek meaningful solutions to our common challenges as a nation, and we will take the time and effort to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes;

4. We will listen carefully to the input, concerns and the perspectives of all political formations, NGOs, churches, labour unions, business, chiefs, intellectuals and other formations; we acknowledge that politics is about decision-making for the good of society, not merely for our own good as the political elite;

5. We will seek the medium to long term advantage of the nation in terms of our decisions with regard to the National Dialogue and the larger Reform Process, and we will seek to build a sustainable political culture, which applies equally to all our formations whether we are part of the ruling coalition or not;

6. We will seek to build more robust checks and balances into the Constitution while understanding that the greatest checks and balances are internal to ourselves;

7. We will seek to bring greater stability to the political sphere, and work towards minimising floor crossings such that elected governments can serve out their full term of office;

8. We will be loyal in Opposition and good listeners as Rulers; if we do form a Government of National Unity at some point, as some are calling for, it will be based upon a collective commitment to raise the bar and govern Lesotho more effectively, not to engage in more procrastination and self-serving behaviour;

9. We will seek to reform government in such a way that tender manipulation, per diem allowances and other perks are no longer the main motivation or reward for high office, but that other more appropriate incentives or rewards will replace these in order to motivate the best in terms of public service and good management practices;

10. We will honour His Majesty, and listen carefully to his advice and counsel when he offers it, and always remember that we are servants of the people of Lesotho.

These 10 suggestions, as I have said, are modest, but they could make for meaningful change. Nonetheless, these are not meant to be comprehensive and no doubt each of you have many other ideas as to what can be done to get us out of the mess that we are in. Let all such ideas and suggestions be shared and debated. Ultimately, however, we must achieve consensus, and be realistic as to what can be achieved.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by thanking The Moshoeshoe Institute of Leadership for this opportunity to make a presentation on the life of Morena Moshoeshoe and the challenges facing Lesotho today. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me also thank you for your patience. Let me re-emphasise in closing that Morena Moshoeshoe was a particularly gifted leader. Much of his success resulted from his willingness to place himself under mentors and to learn deeply from the wisdom traditions associated with Mohlomi. These helped Moshoeshoe to rise above his own personal conflicts and flaws, derive new insight both from his successes and failures, and thus gain greater self-knowledge and leadership acumen. Nonetheless, Moshoeshoe remained fallible and subject to lapses as well as errors in his judgment and actions

. The current presentation has sought to de-mythologise Morena Moshoeshoe by placing him more fully in context, and as a result, it is hoped that we will be better able to relate to this remarkable leader. In terms of the present-day challenges facing Lesotho, we as political, social and intellectual leaders also need to deeply connect with various wisdom traditions, as Moshoeshoe did, if we hope to learn from our past 50 years, and thus put Lesotho on a more secure course as a nation state.

Though the path to National Dialogue and the Reform Process may still be subject to negotiation, it is clear that each of us can play a constructive role in this regard.

With or without a TRC process, we need to admit that we have collectively failed to address the negative dynamics that afflict us. Nonetheless, together, we can take a number of steps to diffuse tension and improve the climate for healing and national dialogue over the coming days, weeks and months. If a collective way forward cannot be found, we face the prospect of becoming a nation without a state, in the same way as the Amazulu.

Finally, let each of us admit frankly that we have contributed to the present crisis. It is not completely or even largely the result of one group or party, however much it may seem to be so at present.

If the Chinese are correct that a crisis is an opportunity, then let us not waste this opportunity. Let us not be overcome by complacency or pessimism, worn out by the constant political haggling, or become consumed by personal or purely partisan interests. Let us rather push forward and establish the consensus which is required to begin the National Dialogue. Step by step, let us air our views, build trust and then tackle the sobering challenges of the Reform Process. We owe this to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, as well as to the generations of Basotho who have gone before us, many of whom sacrificed a great deal to ensure the peace, stability and development of Lesotho.

Let us rise to the challenge, and see this longer process through to a successful completion. Aluta continua!

Stephen Gill is the Curator of Morija Museum & Archives. He was speaking at this year’s Moshoeshoe Memorial Lecture. References have been removed from the presentation to fit thepost’s style.

 

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