Speaking truth to power

Speaking truth to power

MASERU – HE is outspoken.
He is witty and he speaks with professorial authority.
When Lesotho was going through political turbulence between 2014 and 2015, Professor Mafa Sejanamane, 66, was among the few academics who sought to challenge the government on key issues.

Through his blog, Lesotho Analyses, and with breathtaking candour, Sejanamane provided hard-hitting analyses on what he saw as the crisis gripping the country.
Although you would not always agree with everything he wrote, there is no denying that Sejanamane played a pivotal role in providing an alternative narrative to the heavily massaged messages from Qhobosheaneng Government Complex.
At numerous occasions, Sejanamane would speak out against what he says were the “excesses” of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), directly putting himself on a collision course with the government.

To him the army, under Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, had gone rogue.
Something drastic had to be done to tame it.
In long, well-researched pieces, Sejanamane would often lash out at Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and his then deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, and the army for subverting the democratic will of the people.

He would often do so in such a forceful manner as to offend Mosisili’s legion of supporters.
It was no surprise that Sejanamane would often find himself at the receiving end of withering criticism from the Mosisili-led government.
Yet he took all the criticism on the chin.

His critics, however, say Sejanamane is a deeply polarising figure in Lesotho’s politics who has allowed his close affinity to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convention party to cloud his judgment.
They argue that as a card-carrying member of the ABC, Sejanamane is no neutral observer; he is an interested player in Lesotho’s politics and therefore should not hide behind the cloak of academia when expressing his clearly partisan views.

These are serious allegations that could chip at his credibility as a respected political scientist.
However, Sejanamane insists that charges of bias are pure nonsense.

Sejanamane admits though that he is a card-carrying member of the ABC since the party’s formation in 2006.
“My conscience is very clear. I have never allowed my party affiliation to cloud my ability to analyse things as an intellectual,” he says.
He argues that his training as an intellectual allows him to “analyse dispassionately” issues without risking being partisan.

Sejanamane has over the past two decades been among the leading lights on the intellectual platform in Lesotho.
He has written extensively on the political crisis in Lesotho. He is one of the leading proponents for political reforms in Lesotho.

He argues that the absence of strong and credible institutions has been at the centre of Lesotho’s political crises since 1970.
“Our current institutions are either weak or non-existent and the result is that instability is the dominant factor,” he says.
To fix Lesotho, Sejanamane says we need “a strong Parliament that can play its oversight role and courts appointees that are appointed on merit”.
He says “our judiciary is a shadow of what it should be”.

“When you have a Human Rights Commission which is credible and a public service that is professional, if all these are strengthened, then all of our problems will be solved.” Sejanamane says the current SADC-driven reforms are the only way to extricate Lesotho from its current mess.
“We need strong governance institutions to ensure that the government is accountable and that politicians do not do as they wish,” he says.
He believes Lesotho can “only be fixed through the reforms process”.

“The reforms must be anchored on SADC so that none of these politicians can wriggle out of this process.”
Sejanamane however believes there is a clique of politicians who remain determined to wreck the reform process.
“We have politicians who are talking reforms to stop the reforms.”

While Sejanamane believes the only route for Lesotho is the reforms process, he believes the Thomas Thabane-led government bungled when it tried to railroad the Reforms Bill 2017 in Parliament. He sees the proposed Bill as an obnoxious piece of legislation that was “extremely undemocratic”.

“The Bill places all the power on the Minister and the Prime Minister. That Bill has to be withdrawn if we are to seriously talk about reforms and if we are to ensure Lesotho becomes the Lesotho we all want.”

Sejanamane’s major gripe with the Bill was the absence of consultation with the citizens on the kind of reforms they want.
“It violated the principle agreement by political parties who spelled out what should be done. The whole thing should start with an all stakeholders’ conference.”

Following years of political turbulence, Sejanamane believes Lesotho now desperately needs healing and reconciliation.
He says the SADC reforms must be able to produce such a “healing mechanism”.
Having seen how Lesotho’s politicians have over the years sought to capture key institutions such as the army to serve their own agendas, Sejanamane says it is critical that “we create institutions that are not subservient to the government”.

“You need a judiciary that is independent and not politicised, we need a Parliament that is independent of the executive to provide oversight. We need a public service that is not politicised. Following years of instability, directly linked to the army, it is no surprise that Sejanamane holds very strong views against the military, which he sees as the biggest instigator of the political crises in Lesotho.

“We must determine whether we need the military in the first place,” he says.
The first issue, he argues, is to interrogate “our threat perceptions lest you rear a monster that will devour you because it has nothing to do”.
Given Lesotho’s unique geographical position where it is entirely surrounded by South Africa, Sejanamane believes the only military threat can only come from Pretoria.

Can Lesotho withstand a military onslaught from its giant neighbor or we are better off re-directing resources to the police to deal with internal security challenges?
Sejanamane says he has not yet crafted a position on the continued need for an army for Lesotho.
He however says if the general consensus is that we still need an army “then we have to reform it to ensure it becomes professional and completely accountable to civilians”.

Sejanamane also believes the appointments within the LDF should “not be done by a single person”.
“There must be a process. We can’t have a single person appointing army bosses without any process. That is a disaster.”
Sejanamane says the key to stability for Lesotho is to ensure that “the military is not personalised”.

“Senior appointments within the army should not be based on political party affiliation but the best interests of Lesotho.”
Critics say while Lesotho got its independence from the British in 1966, it has nothing to show for it.
The country has remained largely under-developed with poverty, joblessness and hunger being the order of the day.

A quarter of Lesotho’s 1.8 million people still require food handouts from international donors or else they starve.
Critics argue the country has remained in a rut over the last 50 years despite being independent.
Sejanamane says we are reaping the whirlwind after spending all those years “fighting each other”.

“If we had not focused on fighting each other we could have made real progress. All the other countries in southern Africa have now bypassed us,” he says.
As a direct result of the infighting the political leadership which is charged with pushing for our development have tended to shift “resources on feeding the military to retain power”.
Sejanamane also blames Lesotho’s civil service structure where we have Principal Secretaries who are political appointees and are not professionals in their own right.

When the government falls, we replace the Principal Secretaries, losing critical institutional memory, he says.
“We have created these problems ourselves,” he says.
He says over the years, those in government have sought to block rivals across party lines from participating in the development of their country and we have paid heavily for practicing the politics of exclusion.

The result, he argues, is that talented Basotho have been squeezed out of key national developmental projects.
“You don’t run a government by excluding your enemies,” he says.
“The politics of exclusion has been devastating and that’s what has brought us where we are.”
Sejanamane admits his generation has let the young ones down.

Tragically, he says he does not believe “that some of us have learnt where we went wrong” and would likely repeat the same mistakes.
Lesotho’s opposition parties have been at the forefront in pushing for an amnesty for soldiers who were arrested last year for allegedly perpetrating gross human rights violations. They argue an amnesty will foster national reconciliation and social cohesion for Basotho.
Sejanamane says that is nonsense.

He says such a blanket amnesty would likely promote impunity and trigger a fresh cycle of violence and instability.
“An amnesty will promote a sense of impunity and breed revenge,” he says.
He believes all those who have been charged for various crimes must face the full wrath of the law for their sins.

“They have to pay for their crimes. We must not look at the interests of the perpetrators while ignoring the victims.”
Sejanamane is surprisingly gracious in assessing former premier Pakalitha Mosisili’s 17-year rule in Lesotho.
He says Mosisili “tried his best” under the circumstances “although he was still within the framework of exclusion”.

Sejanamane speaks glowingly of Mosisili’s major initiatives to roll back poverty and fight for social justice.
Mosisili’s pro-poor policies such as Old Age Pensions and Free Primary School Education made him the darling of the masses.
“It was not a disastrous era,” he says. “But from 2015 he destroyed his legacy and was an unmitigated disaster.”
Sejanamane believes “everything positive (Mosisili) might have done was wiped off by the 2015 fiasco that he got himself into”.
Sejanamane says Mosisili lost control of the army.

“He surrendered to the military. He was no longer in control,” he says. He cites the June 2015 killing of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao by the army and the murder of civilians by rogue elements within the LDF as some of the actions that show Mosisili was no longer in charge.

Sejanamane says there is a deep sense of disillusionment with the state of democracy on the African continent at present with the major gains recorded in the early 1990s having been systematically reversed. “There are very few positives I can point at,” he says. “The situation is quite depressing, apart from Botswana. Virtually all of West Africa is problematic, southern Africa and East Africa are also in a mess,” he says.
He lashed out at Africa’s strongmen for overturning the two-term presidential limits that became the in-thing in the 1990s.
“The optimism we had in the early 1990s has been rolled back.”

As an educationist, Sejanamane is critical of what he calls the “massification” of education in Lesotho.
He argues that when the government adopted the free primary education model, it failed to put in place adequate infrastructure to deal with the rising numbers of students who would enroll in high schools and tertiary institutions.

“Free primary education was seen as an end in itself and the attrition rate was horrendous,” he says.
“You bring in these masses where there is no infrastructural investment. When the kids get to university you are then expected to teach crowds without the necessary infrastructure,” he says.

The sad result is that there is no individual attention and there is no investment in technology and you have a demoralised workforce “who are not keen to do things they are supposed to do”. The “massification” of education has affected the quality of education at the university, he argues.

While other countries such as Rwanda are pushing technology in education, Lesotho is still stuck in “promoting a system that promotes rote learning”.
“That is not going to help us in any way.” Professor Sejanamane was born in December 1951 at Malibamatso Ha Theko in Leribe.

Although he had initially enrolled at the then University of Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho to study law, he later fell in love with politics and majored in Law and Political Science. He later enrolled for a Masters in International Relations at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 1975.
He got his PhD from Dalahousie University in Canada in 1987. His area of study was Lesotho’s security policy.

Abel Chapatarongo

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