Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

Understanding the post-2015 political crisis

This chapter addresses some of the underlying causal factors for Lesotho’s perennial political instability focusing primarily on the current post-2015 political crisis. The inconclusive 2015 election led to the establishment of a seven-party coalition government.
Even before completing its two years in office, this seven-party political amalgam is already beset by a crisis which has effectively paralysed the country’s governance system. Whereas a plethora of factors has propelled Lesotho’s current crisis, this chapter isolates only three, for deeper reflection.

The first is the country’s poor socio-economic condition marked by underdevelopment, poverty, inequality, unemployment etc., which turn contestation over state power into a fierce warfare among the political elite. The second is the militarisation of politics and politicisation of the military, which generates political violence underpinning pervasive instability of the country.
The third is the country’s fragmented party system, which undergirds both intra-party and prevalent splintering of parties which further undermines the country’s democracy and peace.

When Lesotho marked its Golden Jubilee of independence on 4 October, 2016, this was supposed to be a moment for the nation to celebrate its achievements over the past fifty years, and recommit to consolidating democracy, peace and development over the next fifty years.
Instead of a celebratory mood and a critical reflection over the achievements over the past fifty years, and setting a strategic agenda for the next fifty years, the Basotho nation in 2016 is in a sombre mood, largely due to the on-going political crisis.

If there is one phrase that is synonymous with Lesotho’s political development over the years, it is ‘political crisis’. One crisis after the other has become the hallmark of Lesotho’s political instability.
Whereas a multiplicity of factors accounts for Lesotho’s current political crisis, this paper focuses on only three of these in explicating the country’s perennial problem of political instability.

The first explanatory factor for the Lesotho crisis has to do with the country’s socio-economic fabric and the allure of the state to the political elites for survival and accumulation of wealth. The current crisis has both structural (socio-economic) and proximate (political) causes. Policy response to the current crisis should aim to combine both political reforms with socio-economic (structural) transformation if the results are to be far-reaching, impactful and sustainable.

The second factor driving political crisis in Lesotho is the militarised politics and the politicised military upon which a culture of violence, malfeasance and impunity is anchored. Paul Collier reminds us that

. . . political violence is both a curse in itself and an obstacle to accountable and legitimate government. It is a curse because the process of violent struggles is hugely destructive. It is an obstacle because where power rests on violence, it invites an arrogant assumption that government is there to rule rather than to serve” (Collier, 2009:2).

The third factor is Lesotho’s fragmented party system, marked by intra-party factionalism and splits. The faction-fighting and splits affect both ruling and opposition parties alike, often destabilising the political system.
This trend of intra-party power struggles, factionalism and splits does not only denude the essence of the country’s party system, but it also undermines the country’s fledgling democracy. It also propels political instability, insecurity and lack of durable peace in Lesotho.

The latest splits are currently (at the time of writing this chapter) playing out within the two dominant parties in the current seven-party coalition government; namely, in the Democratic Congress (DC)—the leading party in the coalition government, and the party of the Prime Minister—and in the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), the second largest coalition partners, and the party of the Deputy Prime Minister.
This essay delves into the above three factors that define the current crisis in Lesotho and offers proposals for its lasting and durable solution.

Socio-Economic Roots of the Lesotho Crisis: When the state is everything

Lesotho is one of the smallest countries in the world with a geographic size of 30 355km2 and a total population of 1 876 633. According to the latest UNDP Human Development Report (2015), Lesotho falls in a category of countries with the lowest of the Human Development Indices.
Out of a total of 188 countries in that category, Lesotho is ranked 161, a category comprising largely conflict-ridden and war-torn countries including, Yemen, South Sudan, Sudan, Madagascar and Afghanistan (UNDP, 2015). One common denominator that this group of countries share is political instability and violent conflict.

Lesotho has an underdeveloped and weak economy, with paltry resource endowment. Poverty, unemployment and inequality are rife. About 57.1 percent of the country’s total population lives below the poverty datum line. Unemployment rate in Lesotho is estimated at 25 percent According to the AfDB, OECD and UNDP report, “about 75.7 percent of the unemployed live in rural areas. Unemployment is also high among the youth.” (AfDB, OECD and UNDP, 2015:2).

The country’s private sector remains miniscule, contributing a meagre 14 percent to the GDP. The sector comprises a “wide range of businesses from the micro to medium enterprises and affiliated business associations.” These include the taxi owners associations, truck owners associations, small traders associations, street vendors associations and textile exporters.

Since the inception of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the textile industry has benefitted from US trade concessions. Consequently, Lesotho’s manufacturing subsector, in particular, exports of clothing and textiles, has become a major source of economic growth and employment, currently employing over 40 000 workers”. (AfDB, OECD, UNDP and UNECA, 2012:9).

Lesotho’s is an agrarian economy reliant on rain-fed agriculture, with about 85 percent of the population living in rural areas. To compound the country’s dire socio-economic situation, at the time of writing this essay, Lesotho is experiencing a severe drought due to the El-Nino phenomenon that is affecting almost all regions of the African continent, with Southern and Eastern Africa as the hardest hit.

In Lesotho, the El-Nino phenomenon manifests in the form of below average rainfall and higher than normal temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius. The drought condition has worsened poor harvests since 2014/15. It is projected that the country’s agriculture is likely to be adversely affected with devastating consequences for food security.

Possible adverse effects of the current drought include crop failure, water scarcity, pest infestation, malnutrition, water-borne diseases, such as cholera and dysentery—as well as animal diseases, such as anthrax. It is estimated that about “464 000 people are at risk of food insecurity during the 2015/16 cropping season. The number of food insecure people is currently estimated at 33 percent of . . . rural population” (Government of Lesotho, 2016:3). As a result of drought, the government of Lesotho declared a state of drought emergency on 22 December, 2015, appealing to the international community for assistance.

A landlocked and impoverished country, Lesotho has so far been unable to exploit the socio-economic potential of its human resource (its people) and its vast water resources. Given its poor resource endowment, Lesotho depends overwhelmingly on external factors for its own development namely, (a) foreign aid, (b) revenue from the Southern African Customs Union and (c) migrant labour to South Africa and remittances by migrants themselves. Unfortunately for Lesotho, all these sources of development revenue are on the decline.

With regard to foreign aid, Lesotho receives development assistance from both bilateral and multilateral sources. USA tops the list of countries providing a substantial amount of development assistance to Lesotho, largely through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
Besides the overall decline of aid to Lesotho, the country also faces a bleak future in respect of bilateral aid from the USA. In July, 2007, Lesotho and the MCC signed a five-year compact amounting to $362 551 000 aimed at reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth.

The MCC funded, with other international partners, the construction of the Metolong Dam, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to mitigate adverse effects of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other diseases.
The MCC also “funded the provision of water and health services by constructing 150 clinics and health centres and improving the performance of the private sector.

The water sector project was meant to improve the water supply for industrial and domestic needs and enhance urban and rural livelihoods via improved watershed management. The project beneficiaries include more than 100 000 Basotho in urban areas and approximately 100 000 Basotho in rural areas” (thePost, Volume 2, Issue 5, 24 Dec., 2015-Jan., 6, 2016).

Lesotho was preparing to negotiate the second five-year compact when the MCC board met in Washington DC on 16 December, 2015, and made a decision to defer its vote on Lesotho’s re-selection due to outstanding governance issues, including accountability around various facets of the current crisis engulfing the country, including the abortive military coup of May, 2014.

In a letter dated 7 January, 2016, the MCC CEO, Dana Hyde, advised the Government of Lesotho that MCC had deferred re-selection of Lesotho’s eligibility for the fiscal year 2016. The letter further informed the Lesotho government that

. . . together with other concrete actions your government might take in this regard, we hope that implementation of the eventual recommendations of SADC’s 2015 Commission of Inquiry will also help demonstrate Lesotho’s commitment to MCC eligibility criteria” (Southern Times, Gaborone, Botswana, undated).

Furthermore, the future of Lesotho’s concessionary trade with the USA through AGOA hangs in the balance, threatening the growth of the country’s manufacturing sector. Although recently AGOA was extended for a further ten years in 2015, the government is still negotiating with the US Government on some eligibility issues (most of which hinge on Lesotho’s governance record).

Another threat to continued trade benefits through AGOA relates to the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement between the US and a number of Pacific Rim countries, some of which are strong competitors with Lesotho’s apparel trade to the US market.
During the 2016 budget speech to the Lesotho Parliament, the then Minister of Finance, Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla confirmed this threat noting that “the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement has opened concessions similar to those afforded AGOA countries to countries in the Pacific Rim.
These countries have an advantage over Lesotho, due to their cheap labour costs and favourable exchange rates, among others.” (Government of Lesotho, Budget Speech, February, 2016:16).

In respect of multilateral aid flows into Lesotho, the EU plays a critical role with its major contribution to budget support. Since the recent past, the EU has raised concerns regarding public financial management by the Lesotho government. Given these concerns, in March, 2016, the EU decided not to disburse outstanding budget support payment totalling 26.85 million Euros as a grant to Lesotho.

The . . . decision was taken after carefully assessing Lesotho’s compliance with the conditions for payment, leading to the conclusion that insufficient progress has been made in the implementation of the agreed policy reforms, especially in the area of Public Financial Management” (EU, Press Release, 02 March, 2016).

In December, 2016, the EU warned the Lesotho government that it risked losing development aid due, largely, to both poor financial management system and poor governance arrangements, including the proposed Amnesty Bill, providing amnesty to political and security personnel involved in any acts of criminality between 2007 and 2016, a proposal which is perceived as encouraging impunity.

To the extent that aid to Lesotho is largely channelled through the state, it has had a minimal effect on combatting poverty, but has largely benefitted the elites who have captured the Lesotho state for their own self-serving interests, often manifest through an entrenched culture of corruption.
Lesotho’s revenue from SACU has been on a downward spiral since the recent past and seems poised for further declines in the near future. As AfDB, OECD, UNDP and UNECA report aptly observes “fiscal policy remains dependent on the performance of SACU revenue which will average 27 percent of GDP in the medium term, much higher than the average 15 percent (2010-2011). Lesotho has traditionally relied on SACU revenue to fund close to 60 percent of its national budget.

Lesotho’s share of SACU revenue is expected to decline from M4.9 billion, in 2009/10, to M4.7 billion, in 2010/2011” (AfDB, OECD, UNDP and UNECA, 2012:2).

Confirming the decline of SACU revenue to the national fiscus, when delivering the Budget Speech to Parliament on 16 February, 2016, the then Minister of Finance, Dr ’Mamphono Khaketla disclosed that SACU revenue is set to decline from 23 percent to 17 percent of GDP in the 2016/17 financial year (Government of Lesotho, Budget Speech, February, 2016:7).

The minister observed that “the total revenue target for the 2015/16 financial year was M14.405 million, of which SACU recorded M6 398.2 million.
Lesotho has historically evolved as a labour reserve supplying extra-cheap labour to the South African mines, farms, manufacturing etc. Despite its abundant water, which the country exports to South Africa and discovery of diamond deposits, Lesotho’s labour reserve status remains intact.
Since the discovery of diamonds and gold in South Africa, the number of Basotho migrants employed on the South African mines was large, constituting an important source of external revenue by way of migrant remittances.

The number of Basotho in the South African mines has diminished drastically largely, as a result of mechanisation within the mining industry, internalisation of labour supply and stagnation in gold mining (Matlosa, 1991; Cobbe, 2012).

The declining numbers of Basotho migrant workers to the South African mines also meant further erosion of the migrant remittances to Lesotho. Basotho migrant labour to the South African mines has declined considerably, from about 130 000, in the late 1970s, to about 40 000, in 2016. As Cobbe aptly observes,

…the consequences for Lesotho of the end of new legal migration to work on South African mines and the retrenchment of migrants have been devastating. They have been exacerbated by population growth, political instability, drought, continuing soil erosion, and the peculiarities of the country’s limited economic development. (Cobbe, 2012:3).

As Lesotho addresses its internal economic challenges, the country has to rethink its regional economic relations, especially with its powerful neighbour, South Africa. In order to redefine and reshape its regional identity, especially its socio-economic relations with South Africa, Lesotho is confronted with three possible strategic choices.

Firstly, maintaining the status quo in terms of the economic relations between the two countries. South Africa remains the industrial hub and Lesotho, a labour reserve periphery that constantly supplies South Africa with extra-cheap labour for its mines, farms and industries, even at the current declining trend of migration patterns.

Secondly, while Lesotho clings to its national sovereignty—more political than economic—it is also possible to negotiate a bilateral common labour market and possibly an economic community with South Africa.

A positive development in the direction of a bilateral agreement between Lesotho and South Africa could be seen a couple of years ago when the two countries established the Joint Bilateral Commission of Cooperation (JBCC) on 19th April 2001 and the 2015 Lesotho Special Dispensation.
The overall goal of the 2001 bilateral cooperation is mainly to guide the strategic socioeconomic partnership between the two countries. One of its key objectives is to “facilitate movement of people, goods and services between (the) two countries taking into consideration the unique geographic position of Lesotho” (Government of Lesotho, 2001).

Furthermore, the two countries have recently agreed on a bilateral Agreement on the Facilitation of Free Movement of Persons across the Common Border. This has also facilitated the relaxation of stringent and bureaucratic border control procedures and has led to the extension of study permits to Basotho students for a period of 3 years from the 1 year permits previously allowed.

This agreement has facilitated current efforts towards free movement of labour across Lesotho-South African borders in the foreseeable future—a harbinger for deep integration.  Thirdly, and more controversially, Lesotho’s political leadership and their South African counterparts could negotiate prospects and possible strategies for formal political integration of Lesotho into South Africa (see Mahao, 1991; Mboweni, 2014).

For Mahao, ideally, Lesotho should have negotiated some form of political integration into South Africa as the latter transitioned from apartheid to a democracy in the early 1990s, given the deep economic integration of the two countries (Mahao, 1991:203).

Mahao’s prognosis was corroborated by the analysis made in 1995 by various United Nations agencies resident in Lesotho in a study that strongly argued that Lesotho should negotiate a better relationship with South Africa if it is to survive current global and regional changes. The study highlighted the urgency of such a negotiation as follows:

It is vital that Lesotho acts quickly in order to avoid becoming marginalised. Unless Lesotho, at the very least, negotiates favourable access to the South African labour market, the mountain kingdom will end up suffering the same kind of economic stagnation as the homeland areas suffered under the old apartheid regime.

Recently, Tito Mboweni propounded an idea of the establishment of ‘federal state’ arrangement involving South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland which entail, inter alia, abolishing borders between these countries, free movement of capital and labour, abolition of defence forces in Lesotho and Swaziland in favour of federal defence force and creation of a federal anti-corruption body etc. (Mboweni, 2014:3).

The exact nature of the political integration between the two countries (whether it is federation or political union) is a matter that could be dealt with during the negotiation process.  However, it should be emphasised that the negotiation process should allow critical input from ordinary peoples themselves, in both countries, so that it is not just elite driven, but people-driven, albeit elite-led.

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