By Simon Allison
Pastor Evan Mawarire started the most subversive protest movement in Zimbabwe’s recent history by accident. He was fed up with the state of his nation, and decided to share his frustrations online. Turns out that he’s not the only frustrated Zimbabwean. In an in-depth interview, Mawarire tells Simon Allison why Zimbabwe is broken – and how citizens can start fixing it.
The day that he lost it, the day that he’d finally had enough, Pastor Evan Mawarire was sitting at his desk at his office in Harare. The 39-year-old Zimbabwean is a professional master of ceremonies – his church doesn’t pay him a salary – but work has been scarce in this tough economic climate, with little sign of things getting any better. So bad, in fact, that he didn’t know if he would be able to keep his children in school.
“I’ll be honest with you, the day it happened was a really tough day for me. I was thinking of ways I could get more money for school fees, or I could borrow money, but it just wasn’t happening. I was packing to go home,” said Mawarire, in an in-depth telephone interview with the Daily Maverick.
And then something snapped. After decades of struggling to make a living and keep his family safe, of quietly disappearing into the background like upstanding citizens are expected to by the current regime, Mawarire decided that he would disappear no more.
“I had that moment where it just became clear, wait a second, this country has gone completely broken because people like me have stayed quiet,” he said.
Without much thought or consideration of what would come next – never mind a script – Mawarire grabbed a Zimbabwean flag and put it around his neck. He balanced his camera on the desk, put on a little mood music, and vented.
“When I look at the flag it’s not a reminder of my pride and inspiration, it feels as if I just want to belong to another country. This flag. And so I must look at it again with courage and try to remind myself that it is my country,” he tells the camera. His head isn’t completely in the frame, and the focus is slightly off, but it doesn’t matter: Mawarire’s pain is obvious, and conveyed with such eloquence and feeling that, by the end of his four-minute monologue, you can’t help but feel it too.
Mawarire posted his video online, with the comment: “#ThisFlag. If I have crossed the line then I believe it was long overdue. I’m not a politician, I’m not an activist…just a citizen #ThisFlag.”
The video attracted hundreds of hits. Then thousands. Then tens of thousands. In Zimbabwe’s relatively tiny social media bubble, Pastor Evan’s message hadn’t just got viral, it had gone full-on pandemic. The pent-up frustrations of Zimbabwe’s hashtag generation had found their trigger – and, more important, their hashtag.
#ThisFlag took on a life of its own. Ordinary people started posting pictures to Mawarire’s Facebook account, of themselves wrapped up in the Zimbabwean flag. Others wrote in to tell Mawarire that he had somehow expressed the very words and feelings that they had kept locked up in their heads for too long, and that he wasn’t alone.
“Surprised is not the word. I was shocked by the reaction. It was massive, like an avalanche. It was from everywhere,” said Mawarire.
He reacted to all the enthusiasm by declaring five days of digital activism under the #ThisFlag banner, which he then, by popular demand, extended to 25 days. The last day is 25 May, Africa Day, although Mawarire says that this is just the start – although he’s not sure of what exactly.
“The 25th is not when we stop but when we start, where we start to push them to accountability. The last 25 days have been us waking up, us knowing that we all have these frustrations. Going forward I’d love to see us more organised, to put a strategy in place as citizens to continue to expose their failings… A lot of people have got to a place where, like me, they didn’t know what to do, but they really just want Zimbabwe to work,” he said.
Zimbabwe, of course, does not work. Belying his age and ailing health, President Robert Mugabe clings on to power with extraordinary energy, stifling dissent and opposition at every turn. The economy is running out of precious US dollars, grinding to a halt as a result, and everyone knows the government’s new plan to resurrect the Zimbabwean dollar will only make things worse. Unemployment is skyrocketing, inflation is getting out of control, corruption is rife and the country’s once-proud health and education sectors are in tatters.
Pointing out these or any other of the country’s flaws is a dangerous business, however. More than a year ago, activist Itai Dzamara, a prominent critic of Mugabe’s regime, was abducted by suspected state security agents. He has not been seen since. Mawarire knows that he too is at risk.
“I couldn’t lie to you to say that I feel completely safe. I don’t have enough resources to hire a security team or equipment. The only safety I have are my fellow citizens, the people who know me, the people around me. People have said that I could leave the country but I can’t. This is home. Everything I have is here. I could leave but then what?
“Even my parents have sat me down and said listen, this is a very dangerous thing you’re getting involved in. But this is part of the problem, we live with this every day in Zimbabwe. It’s been very difficult to speak out, and because it’s so dangerous we warn each other off speaking, we put the fear into each other. State security doesn’t have to tell people not to talk, we do it for them. I’m not brave, I’m scared, but the bottom line is I’ve had enough and I can’t do it any more,” he said.
One night, Mawarire received an anonymous phone call from a persistent stranger. Using the pastor’s words against him, the stranger told Mawarire that “this flag around your neck can strangle you, and if you carry on like this it will strangle you”. Mawarire was chilled. “That was the darkest phone call I have ever received. I will never forget that. But I tried not to show fear, so I told him if he was going to strangle me, he would be there strangling me already, not on the phone.”
Officially, the government has mocked and belittled Mawarire and his accidental campaign. On Twitter, information minister Jonathan Moyo, in his inimitable style, dismissed the whole movement as nothing more than a “pastor’s fart in the corridors of power”, and implied that Mawarire was using the campaign to make money and encourage attendance at his church. Moyo described #ThisFlag supporters as nameless and faceless trolls, and initiated his own social media campaign, #OurFlag, which hasn’t been taken up with quite as much enthusiasm.
“The first contact that I had with ministers was very hostile, very demeaning. It was very ‘oh please keep quiet’, ‘oh please you’re trying to get popular’, ‘oh please you’re trying to drive people to your church’… for me, their response showed the exact problem we’re dealing with. Government officials don’t believe that citizens have a right to hold them to account,” said Mawarire.
Mawarire fiercely maintains that he is nonpartisan with no ties to any political parties. And he’s determined to keep #ThisFlag neutral, saying that politicians from across the political spectrum have failed Zimbabwe – not just the ruling Zanu-PF.
But this hasn’t stopped opposition parties from capitalising on the sudden wave of discontent that Mawarire’s movement has generated. Last week, two opposition MPs were ejected from Parliament for wearing the Zimbabwean flag around their necks. Imagine that: it is now an offence to display the national flag in the national assembly.
More than anything else, this incident illustrates the sheer absurdity of Zimbabwean politics – and the simple genius of Mawarire’s protest. In reclaiming the flag, #ThisFlag has appropriated the state’s most potent symbol. They have seized the one icon that the state can’t ban or suppress, and made it their own. The flags that fly above government buildings, the flags that are pinned on the chests of government officials, the flags that fly on the bonnets of President Mugabe’s motorcade, these are all now subversive acts that the regime cannot ignore – or does so at its peril.
Mawarire is insistent that he is not pushing for revolution, or regime change, or anything like that. He doesn’t want the inevitable violence and bloodshed on his conscience. What he does want to do, he says, is to break the fear that keeps Zimbabwe’s citizens in line; to give Zimbabweans the space and the courage to confront their problems and hold their government to account. Oh, and one more thing – to pay his children’s school fees. – DM
Trouble in Zimbabwe
The situation in Zimbabwe is tense. There has been a wave of spontaneous protests mainly in the capital, Harare and Bulawayo, the second city.
The protests turned violent, with government properties including at least a police station, toll gate and police vehicles burnt by protesters. Some private vehicles have also been burnt, with rocks and mounds of sand dumped on some roads.
For the second time in six months, armed soldiers have been deployed in the streets and suburbs in order to contain protests. Several people have been injured in running battles between security forces and protesters. The situation remains taut overnight.
The last time soldiers intervened in August 2018, six people were shot and killed, while 35 others were wounded. An official investigation blamed the police and military, but no one has been brought to book. This is ominous in light of current protests and the latest military deployment.
A “Sarajevo Moment”?
The immediate trigger of the current storm is the dramatic and unpopular announcement at the weekend of a big increase in fuel prices.
Flanked by his deputy and senior ministers, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that price of diesel and petrol had risen to $3.11 and $3.31 per litre respectively – a rise of more than 140 percent. It sparked anxiety and panic, given that fuel is one commodity whose pricing has a multiplier effect in the entire economy.
The government argued that it was necessary to raise the cost of fuel to contain consumption levels which have risen beyond sustainable levels in recent months. It has previously accused foreign truck operators of taking advantage of hitherto cheaper prices in Zimbabwe compared to regional prices.
It offered relief to businesses in only four sectors, but the effect is muted by the exclusion of the retail sector which directly interfaces with the public. Besides, the conditions of relief appear hard to implement and given the deterioration in the local surrogate currency, the relief might be worth little when the refund comes. So businesses are likely to forgo the relief and charge higher prices instead.
Critics argue that the government is merely trying to raise funds by raising taxes under the guise of raising fuel prices. This is because according to one fuel retailer excise duty on fuel had risen by around 68 percent. Of the $3.11 per litre of diesel, $2.11 is tax that goes to the government, an increase of 358 percent on previous levels. The government did not say it was raising tax. It simply buried it in the high fuel price.
Zimbabweans are frustrated by the tax policies of the current regime. The fuel tax increase comes on top of a controversial 2 percent tax on electronic money transfers, announced last October. Other taxes and charges were introduced in the Finance Minister’s maiden budget last November. And all the while, the government has maintained an unrealistic currency policy under which a surrogate currency is supposedly equal to the US Dollar. No-one believes this fiction, not even government itself.
Despite all this, wages have remained stagnant and, in many ways, have been eroded. Clients who had pre-paid fuel coupons woke up to be told that they would be getting less fuel than they had paid for in the wake of the price increase. If one had a coupon for 200 litres, they would now get just 80 litres. State workers have threatened to go on strike, rejecting the government wage offer which they believe is paltry.
Major companies have been shutting operations, citing foreign currency shortages. Government intervened to stop the major drinks manufacturer from charging in US Dollars. A food manufacturer recently announced closure, citing the same challenge.
In all this, the government has preached the gospel of austerity. The theme of the Finance Minister’s budget was “Austerity for Prosperity”.
And yet, for many they see little effort among political elites to live by their own gospel. Many have been incensed by the allegedly high cost of hiring a private jet for the president’s current trip to Russia and former Soviet satellite states. The nation faces a crisis, and he has gone ahead with his trip on a luxury jet. Meanwhile, the national airline does not even have a single operating plane – the two it remains with are both grounded.
The government has in the past splashed out on vehicles for traditional leaders ahead of critical needs at hospitals where patients have to bring their own provisions. About 90 percent of medical drugs in public hospitals are donated by foreign donors. Meanwhile, political elites, including the president seek treatment in foreign countries, South Africa being a favoured choice.
The gap between the political elites and the ordinary people has grown too wide.
So when the president convened a press conference late on Saturday night to announce the fuel price hikes, it merely drove people further into a tight corner. Sun Tzu says do not drive an opponent into a corner without leaving a way to life, because the only option for them is to fight to the death. Mnangagwa did not heed this advice and he drove desperate Zimbabweans into a wall, without an escape route.
To be sure, the situation has been incendiary for some time and the price hikes are best seen as a “Sarajevo moment” – the spark that triggered an inferno. The powder-keg was already there. It didn’t help that Mnangagwa promptly left on his trip to Russia hours after the price hikes. It suggested insensitivity to the plight of the people. Did he have to do it on the eve of his departure?
He knew or ought to have known that the price hikes would spark trouble. That he chose to leave at this time instead of resolving a predictable crisis is not a good sign. It suggests a man with a tendency to run away at the first sign of trouble. He has left the mess to his deputy, a military man, who has struggled in the past to handle lesser crises. A man holding a hammer thinks every problem is a nail so goes an old cliche. No wonder the first option is command and use of force.
Zimbabweans are disheartened by the apparent failure of the Mnangagwa regime to arrest the deteriorating economic situation. Comparisons with the Mugabe regime, whose ignominious departure most people welcomed euphorically in November 2017, have been a serious indictment on the Mnangagwa regime.
After Mugabe, the only way was up, or so it seemed. But the decay is palpable while the regime looks and sounds clueless with each passing day. They have even latched on to an old Mugabe strategy, which Mnangagwa had previously disavowed. It is called take no responsibility and blame Western sanctions.
As I have said before in these pages, the Mnangagwa regime overpromised but it has under-delivered, leaving many citizens underwhelmed and disappointed. Where they were calling for Mugabe to go, now they say Mnangagwa must go. It is a massive fall from grace for a man who came in amid so much goodwill.
Mugabe used to say he stayed so long in power because he failed to identify a successor. It was a self-serving excuse and annoying, but now some joke that the old man was right after all. This does not mean Zimbabweans think Mugabe was great or that his rule was better, no. Merely a damning indication of their utter frustration with the Mnangagwa regime.
The current unrest has a lot to do with the dire economic situation, which affects all regardless of their political inclination. But part of the frustration in opposition circles also stems from the controversial election last year, which they still feel was stolen. The opposition has never officially acknowledged the validity and legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s victory. This is a source of bitterness between the parties.
For the opposition, they see the failure of the Mnangagwa administration as a vindication of their position. They always argued that ZANU PF had no viable plan for the economy and they could not do it alone. They have strategically proposed dialogue in recent months but this hand has been spurned by ZANU PF, which is not amused by the opposition’s refusal to accept its controversial victory.
So what is the position of the opposition in the latest wave of unrest? The opposition has been very careful not to be at the forefront of the protests. The leaders are mindful of the fact that their rivals are always looking for scapegoats. Last August, the government blamed the MDC leaders of inciting protests. A controversial commission of inquiry set up by Mnangagwa to investigate the post-election violence also made a similar finding.
With that in mind, the opposition knows it must tread carefully, lest it is blamed once again in the court of public and international opinion where the battle for the moral high ground is ever-present.
In fact, some citizens, have accused the opposition of not grabbing the opportunity and leading from the front, which ironically, adds weight to the view that the opposition leaders have nothing to do with the current protests. This is not something that favours the ruling party’s strategy of blaming the opposition leaders of fomenting and leading violent protests.
Instead, this is a broad response of ordinary citizens. It is a conflagration of diverse interests, which include workers, formal business, informal traders, millions of unemployed youths and a general citizenry that has become desperate and sees little hope under the current regime. The next election is not due for another four years but more significantly, after the farce of the last election, many young people have lost hope in the electoral process as a means of affecting political choices.
Generation with nothing to lose
The government has underestimated the enormous challenge posed by the growing numbers of the young, unemployed and desperate. Their parents and older brothers and sisters may have been patient over the years but this is because they had memory of a better past and always clung on to it.
On the other hand, the younger generation does not have that memory because they have never had good times. The older generation might have had something material to lose, but the younger generation has nothing to lose. It is not surprising that it is the young and unemployed youths who appear to be at the head of the current wave of unrest.
Mnangagwa himself should know. Back in 2015, when he was interviewed by Baffour Ankomah, he was asked for his opinion on today’s youth. He was quite dismissive. “In the 1960s, our leaders decided that we must take up arms, and the youth were very enthusiastic to go to war. We had nothing to lose at the time. We had no wives and no property.
The only property we had was the clothes we wore,” Mnangagwa said. “Now the generation out of school, they have wives and children, they have homes and mortgages, so to tell them to sacrifice and die for the nation [laughs], they think twice.”
He may have to revise his opinion because the generation which their leadership has produced since 1980 is not what he described in 2015. Some may have wives/husbands and children but they have no jobs, no homes, have never held a payslip all their life and might not even know how to spell the word “mortgage”.
In short, it’s as highly combustible a generation as his was in the sixties. They too have nothing to lose and it is Mnangagwa’s generation that created this incendiary generation. The chickens are coming home to roost.
From Russia, with love?
It is ominous that Mnagagwa travelled to Russia and a other regimes with no tradition of democracy and tolerance. For Russia, Zimbabwe is probably ripe for the picking, given the regime’s desperation. For Mnangagwa, he may be goading the West by cosying up to a major geopolitical rival after the apparent rejection last year. Seeing Zimbabwe fall into Russia’s arms may not please either the West or China.
But Russia’s leader Vladmir Putin is cunning operator. We are a pawn in a larger game. He was not even at the airport to receive his counterpart. Not even Sergei Lavrov, the heavyweight diplomat was there. A grim sign perhaps of how the guest is regarded. It remains to be seen whether anything will come of that expensive trip apart from more headlines of mega-deals.
For the region, Zimbabwe is a hot-spot which cannot be ignored any longer. The military deployment has to be monitored. As we have seen, the last time it happened people died and many were injured. And the failure to hold individuals accountable could prove to be an incentive for impunity. Human rights and freedoms are at stake and it is important to remain vigilant. Civil society has a key role but it will need broad support.
Any further chaos will have major regional implications, particularly for our southern neighbour, South Africa. We have had a coup before and it is often said coups beget coups. SADC cannot bury its head in the sand and pretend all is well. This latest wave might be put down by sheer application of force but such action will not heal the ailment. It’s important to keep a vigilant eye and better still, to lend a hand to steer the country away from permanent trouble. – www.bigsr.co.uk
Dr. Alex T Magaisa
There is nothing called ‘free aid’
THE shades and the hues of colour at dawn and at twilight are exactly similar and their melding into one another follows the exact same pattern: what differs is the pattern of their flow with one being the progress of another and the other being the regress of another.
Dawn precedes the day, and dusk precedes the night and the skies of both states of the day are governed by stars, there are just more stars to see in the navy blue sky of the night than the one star (the sun) one gets to see in the course of the blue clear skies of the day.
However different we may see night and day to be, the reality is that they are more similar than different with certain creatures in creation naturally being diurnal (of or belonging to or active during the day), and others being the nocturnal kind ( that is, belonging to or active during the night).
Nature so dictates that the creatures of the world be one type, that is, they should belong to the diurnal sphere of existence or to be the creatures of the night being able to see even into the inky blackness the naked diurnal human eye cannot see into.
Only us human beings have the benefit of being able to see into the night, having developed or invented instruments that enable us to see into the darkness in most of its forms. This means that the darkness of the night cannot be used as an excuse not to pursue a given entity or duty.
The brazen light of the day too cannot be used as an excuse not to perform certain tasks because there are tools that help the individual to guard against the brightness of the rays of the sun. We human beings have the benefit of being able to function in both light and dark to get whatever it is that we want or that our hearts wish for.
Should there be an argument to the contrary, such an arguer should perhaps tell me how human beings somehow managed to crawl into the belly of the earth in search of the minerals of the world that they use for different aesthetic pursuits such as jewellery and for industrial purposes as is seen in the mining of such metals as iron and copper.
The inner spirit of curiosity that drives the human being towards a goal gives such an individual human the benefit of being able to pursue the given goal despite or inspite of the various challenges nature in its form presents. This means that in essence, we cannot shy away from that which we want to follow simply because the day is too bright or that the night is too dark. There is no excuse.
I have read of the history of this continent and observed the political trends as they unfold with the passage of each era. The age in which we are in finds Africa at a point where there is some kind of a journey of self-discovery going on and there are many challenges that pop-up and all of them stem from the dilemma of the individual that does not understand their past.
The understanding of the past is the root to one understanding their place in society but even more importantly, it helps one to understand their true identity. It is only when one knows who they are that they can make decisions that serve their best interests, for the rationale is simply that one first has to know who they are to know what they want or what is suitable for them.
We are a continent that has for the larger part of modern history served as the labour reserve to extract natural resources but who sadly are not involved in the processing of such natural resources into finished products.
This means that we do not know how the raw materials become what we consume, the manufacturing phase is elusive to us as a continent, and the leadership we have does not have the wisdom to insist on us having the means and the resources to actually become full-time manufacturers of that which we get off the land in the form of natural resources.
That there are various disputes in this land over the ‘sale’ of wool and mohair to foreign companies does not wash with me, in fact, I think it is a flimsy ruse invented by those with interests to run away from the truly pertinent question: when shall we ever process wool and mohair products to sell them away as finished products on the international market at a better price than what is currently being made off these two raw materials?
It is weak political speak to tell the poor farmers that their previous agents or brokers actually skimmed a lot off their earnings from the sale of wool and mohair on the South African market and that the new benefactor offers a better deal.
Basotho are known to be “beautiful blanket wearers” and most if not all of the blanket brands that they wear are made from either wool or mohair.
What vexes my understanding is why the Mosotho blanket wearer has ever wondered why those blankets are not actually manufactured locally. I do not wear the blanket because I find it the most foolish piece of raiment to put on my shoulders and I find it the ultimate symbol of our stupidity as a nation.
It is made from the wool and the mohair of our sheep and goat herds, but we actually have no hand in its making, but then we now find the audacity to argue over the acquisition of the profits from its sales. What a bunch of clowns in a Scaramouch!
I grew up reading Paliso ea Sesotho and in one of the volumes is the story of the blanket (Pale ea Kobo) and it is a beautiful tale of how the blanket is made, and though patronising in its tone, it however does justice to defining the whole process of how the blanket is made from the first stage as a the wool on the backs of a flock of sheep to the point where it becomes a blanket.
Such tales may seem of little benefit to the ordinary reader that does not bother to question their true essence, but they do serve to sharpen the understanding of the figure that bothers to understand their true and full meaning. They are also relevant when one poses the Thomas Sankara question that could see most of Africa get out of the clutch of servitude the continent finds itself in. Thomas Sankara said:
“I think the most important thing is to bring the people to a point where they have self-confidence, and understand that they can, at last …be the authors of their own wellbeing.”
We fail to progress as a continent because we rely on everything foreign, from the basic stage of fashioning economic strategies that can lift us out of poverty, to adopting policies on governance that are relevant only to the donor and not the local masses that are forced to adopt them.
The truth is that we can never get beyond the door to true freedom if we keep on adopting neo-colonial policies that serve the interests of the donor nation at the expense of the local masses.
It is true the British may have left the continent at the point of independence (if they did, which I believe they did not do), but the truth is that Africa looks like a juicy piece of steak on a dinner plate for many of the nations of the world in the so-called First-world.
With abundance in terms of natural resources, there is just no sense in believing that we are being saved when foreign powers come and present their ideas in this continent. What those foreign powers should come with are materials that enable the continent to process the natural resources into finished products.
Other than that, we shall remain a continent that sees only the beginning, never the end of that which we claim to ‘own’ in terms of natural resources.
In my recent research, I have come across the reality that many of the papers from the colonial times are actually missing from the national archives, and if they are still present, rest in some foreign museum or archive.
This means that some of the arguments that can be made with regard to issues of land ownership and territory cannot be made, issues related to the status of Lesotho as a sovereign kingdom cannot be fully addressed because the evidence is missing or rests in some foreign archive where it cannot be accessed.
There is reliance on paper evidence in courts, and without the papers, we cannot have clear cases to present on issues that need to be addressed in terms of land and ownership of resources.
What we need are governments willing to follow the paper trail to understand where we stand, but the sadness is that our cabinets are oft made of individuals that can only sign their names on agreements and nothing more.
Independent researchers are deliberately deprived of the financial resources that aid with the search for truth as is found in those leather-bound archive volumes, meaning that the paper trail cannot be fully explored.
The pursuit of any truth becomes personal for the researcher at some point in time, and the frustration that comes with a lack in terms of funding makes one realise that perhaps there are some intentional omissions in some of the papers our governments sign with regard to the making of policies said to be geared towards poverty alleviation and economic emancipation.
We can only get out of this rut history and colonialism placed us in if we learn of the true worth of self-reliance. This attitude that one needs to depend on some big brother from somewhere will keep us chained in the clutches of poverty and perpetual debt.
There is just no thing as ‘aid’ for any kind of donation comes with conditions attached, it is in effect just a lure for one to fall into the trap of debt or indebtedness.
Who has seen a free woman or man that depends on others to free himself/herself from their squalid state of being? Africa should free herself from this mentality that aid is free, for the truth is that aid is just in short a business transaction where the recipient is given temporary short-term relief that ensures that the donor’s long-term goals are achieved.
There is nothing such as free help, no good Samaritans out here in this world, unless one believes that the manna of the Mosaic times still rains, which actually never happens.
We are a nation that considers itself smart simply because we manage to reach a certain level of literacy, but the truth is that we only possess the ineffective type of smarts from the rest of the world.
The knowledge of books is an endless travail as was said by Ecclesiast, and it does not serve one anyhow when it comes to being practical about poverty eradication measures.
The truth of the matter is that we did not progress because we depended on external understanding and not the essential self-understanding one needs to get to a point where they can establish veritable points of progress.
Politics are often blamed for the state of things, but I think politics are just used as the scapegoat in the case of a nation made up of individuals that do not understand who they are in terms of serving others.
We do things just because there is visible evidence in the form of instant gratification and reward. Where such evidence is not so visible, we quickly lose interest and lose the long-term benefit that comes with holding on to a dream inspite of or despite the prevailing circumstances.
Promises are just that, promises. They can never be reached if one does not bother to follow them through to the point where they become visible benefits all can get to enjoy at the end of the day.
This continent seems an unfulfilled promise only because the citizens never actually get to taste of its fruits, for someone from somewhere always comes along and takes such promises away. What happened to the diamonds, to the water, to the ganja? You tell me of their end and I will begin to think I am only rambling and not talking.
Tšepiso S Mothibi
Imperatives of professionalizing public service
Continued from last week…….
Prevalence of Political Patronage in Lesotho Public Service
Lesotho’s attainment of independence was achieved through negotiations between Basotho’s representatives, on the one hand, and British Government officials, on the other. Basotho’s representatives were divided between proponents of ‘congress’ and ‘nationalist’ political ideologies in Lesotho.
Ideological differences between proponents of ‘congress’, on the one hand, and proponents of ‘national’, on the other, were deep and characterised by an animosity that filtered down to followers of the two sides.
Given this political polarisation, it came not as a surprise that, political patronage became a policy of distribution of public service jobs for any political party that seized government powers.
Just as in any transition, there were inherent challenges experienced when the British bureaucrats gradually handed over government functions to the local personnel. Some of these challenges were related to the lack of requisite competencies among the local public officials. This challenge later affected the machinery of government and, thus, led to declining efficiency in public service.
Political patronage significantly influenced public administration operations as employment opportunities and procedures for senior public officials were overtly politicized. In many cases, individuals appointed on political grounds are recruited from outside the public service. Warhurst (1983: 184) contends that politicisation of public service is mostly manifested in the appointment of senior public officials whose commitment to a successful political party is known.
After the Lesotho’s general elections of May, 2012, there was no political party that won an outright majority in order to form government on its own. This period formally marked the dawn of coalition governments in Lesotho.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) split, which gave birth to Democratic Congress (DC), weakened LCD as it managed to retain only twenty six (26) parliamentary seats out of one hundred and twenty (120). This loss brought to an end fourteen years of LCD in power.
It is on this basis that the coalition government was formed between LCD, All Basotho Convention (ABC) and BNP.
Consequence of all this, for the public service, was that, the coalition government did not renew the contracts of Principal Secretaries and senior public officials who served in Lesotho’s diplomatic missions and who were not members of three political parties that formed government.
The same thing happened after February, 2015 general elections when the seven party coalition government, led by DC, seized power. The Prime Minister, Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili, made it clear in the government public gatherings that the position of a Principal Secretary is political. He indicated that in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts it was important to amicably terminate the contracts of Principal Secretaries who served in the previous regime.
As a result, the contracts of all Principal Secretaries, except three, from the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology, Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and Ministry of Energy, were terminated.
An attempt was made to recall the senior public officials deployed in Lesotho’s diplomatic missions. Two Lesotho high commissioners in the Republic of South Africa and India, ’Malejaka Letooane and Bothata Tsikoane, respectively, contested the termination of their contracts in the High Court of Lesotho, arguing that it was politically motivated. These two commissioners won the case and continued with their responsibilities.
Patronage works against bureaucrats who are deemed to support the opposition parties. As Warhurst (1983: 184) contended, more confusion and conflicts are perpetuated by appointment to the senior public office of persons from outside the ranks of the career of public service (1983: 184). As it is, the appointment of a principal secretary and other senior public officials who serve as accounting officers in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) is largely influenced by party politics affiliations.
The Constitution of Lesotho, Section 139 (1), clearly stipulates that the power to appoint a person to hold or act in the position of a Principal Secretary shall vest in the Prime Minister (PM), acting after consultation with the Public Service Commission (PSC).
This is also enshrined in the Lesotho Public Service Act of 2005, Section 11 (1), which makes reference to Section 139 (1) of the Constitution on the prerogative of the PM to appoint both the Government Secretary (GS) and the Principal Secretaries.
The idea is that, the PM consults with the PSC to establish the suitability of the candidate to hold the office of a Principal Secretary. In practice, however, the Prime Minister just informs the PSC about the candidates.
This implies that, candidates are not subjected to any competency assessment to establish their abilities to assume the task of being day-to-day managers of ministries’ operations. As opposed to the current practice, before the introduction of the 1993 Constitution, Permanent Secretaries were recruited from a pool of experienced public officials.
It has been the case, on numerous occasions, that, appointees to the Principal Secretary’s office have come from outside the ranks of the career of public service.
This has devastatingly retarded continuity in government projects and developmental agenda. Since the appointment of such officials is predominantly influenced by political affiliation, it fundamentally compromises key attributes such as fairness, merit and competency.
This skewed approach in appointing senior officials has virtually permeated the recruitment system within the public service in Lesotho. It has become a common phenomenon that the recruitment system within the public service is spoiled by political influence to a point where it has noticeably affected professionalism and the commitment of public servants.
As Camilleri and van Der Heijden (2007: 241) argue, factors that enhance organisational commitment and public service motivation include, among others, the perception on how well the public service is managed. Failure to effectively manage the key functions and systems of government will negatively affect the morale in the public service.
Weak Government Systems
Commitment to effective systems is a trademark of successful modern organisations. Good systems have the potential to sustain organisational operations even under challenging circumstances. This is because they are carefully designed in order to optimize organizational performance. Bertalanffy (in Palaima and Skarzˇauskiene, 2010: 332) gives a classical approach to a system.
He says that it is “a combination of two or more elements, when every element of the whole influences a behaviour of other elements and the behaviour of each element influences the behaviour of the whole.”
Just like any system in the public service, government systems have a capacity to influence, either positively or negatively, the performance of government. The systems in the public service should be aimed at improving service delivery as this has a positive bearing on economic growth, development and political stability of a country as a whole.
For systems to be functional in the public service, they also require unreserved commitment and willingness by the highest political and bureaucratic offices within the government.
This would sustain good governance whereby government continues to be an important conduit towards delivering prompt and responsive services to the citizens (Bajaj and Sharma, 1995:73). It is through commitment towards constant improvement of quality service delivery that citizens too are empowered and become active participants in governance and not just remain as spectators.
The public service in Lesotho has some dysfunctional systems, and reference can be made to performance management system (PMS) and Electronic Access Control and Time Management System.
The choice of these systems is informed by their perceived relationship towards improving performance of the entire public service. The rationale for adopting a PMS and Electronic Access Control and Time Management System was that, it is important to first ensure that the public servants report to work on time and remain present in their workstations in order to effectively deliver on their duties.
Under an Electronic Access Control and Time Management System project of 2012, it is clearly indicated that the Ministry of Public service had four main priorities to implement between 2007 and 2012, which coincide with the life span of Lesotho’s seventh Parliament.
The fourth priority is specifically about instilling discipline and professionalism to ensure good ethical behaviour and improved efficiency and effectiveness within the Public Service.
It is from this priority that Electronic Access Control and Time Management System ensue. The justification for the system was the absence of a decision support tool to support management decisions.
The Electronic Access Control and Time Management System became operational in the Public Service in 2007. It was first installed at Qhobosheaneng Government Complex to service four Ministries namely Public Service, Prime Minister’s Office, Law and Constitutional Affairs, and Foreign Affairs.
The system was further installed at the Lesotho Institute of Public Administration and Management (LIPAM) and Ministry of Home Affairs, Public Safety and Parliamentary Affairs.
The system was also meant to curtail uncontrolled movement during working hours. The United States General Accounting Office (2000: 5) on maintaining effective control and employee time and attendance reporting demonstrates the importance of controlling employees’ time at work for accurate recording of hours worked, hours in pay status and hours absent.
A reliable system is important towards accurate computation of employees’ payment, leave and allowances.
Even though this system could be deemed ideal for promotion of good performance in an organisation, it requires effective management. The noticeable deficiency in the implementation of an Electronic Access Control and Time Management System in Lesotho was that, it was not linked to employees’ payment and allowances.
It can also be observed that the success of such a system largely depends on constant monitoring which would inform decision or any course of action on public servants who failed to comply. Public service in Lesotho did not realize the utility of the system because it was not effectively monitored.
Disciplinary cases for those who constantly arrived late at work and/or left before time were inconsistently conducted and as such attracted no sanctions.
Another problem that exacerbated the failure of this system was the poor maintenance policy that has left the one at Qhobosheaneng Government Complex dysfunctional. As it was proposed, the Electronic Access Control and Time Management System was supposed to rollout to government working stations but has encountered serious financial challenge and a negative attitude in the public service.
The inevitable effects of this system’s failure led to a myriad of challenges, which negatively impacted the implementation of the performance management system in the public service.
The performance management system in the public service in Lesotho gradually evolved under different phases. It started as a confidential report appraisal system in 1970 whereby a supervisor had a prerogative to appraise the performance of a supervisee without consulting him. Lewis Dzimbiri (2008: 46) highlights that the confidential appraisal system did not prioritise performance targets and as such had a limited potential to objectively improve performance in the public service.
With time, it became obvious that the approach failed to improve performance because it was overly biased. As a response to this problem, a performance management system with more emphasis on the joint appraisal system was implemented in 2003, while performance contracting for senior managers was introduced in 2004.
A concerted effort to fully operationalise a performance management system for enhanced efficiency in the public service has always been undermined by lack of political will, whereby the highest political offices failed to own the system.
In 2014, there was a concerted effort to make all Principal Secretaries sign a performance agreement but only seven out of twenty-five Principal Secretaries signed. Had there been enough political will, all principal secretaries would be compelled to sign performance agreements because they are political appointees.
There also existed unnecessary bureaucracy that hindered capacity building initiatives for strategic officers that would oversee a proper implementation of the performance management system in the entire public service.
The team that was responsible for performance management had to be dissolved, in 2015, as it was composed of members from different ministries and departments, namely Public Service, LIPAM, Development Planning, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Since performance management is a vital accountability tool in governance, it ought to be owned by the leadership because accountability should always trickle downwards. Armstrong and Baron in Dzimbiri (2008: 47) give a comprehensive definition of performance management as “a strategic and integrated approach to delivering sustained success to organizations by improving the performance of the people who work in them and by developing the capabilities of teams and individual contributors.”
On the basis of this definition, successful implementation of performance management system requires proper management of an organisation, individual employees, performance improvement, employee development, stakeholders’ satisfaction and communication as well as their involvement (Armstrong in Dzimbiri, 2008: 47).
This comprehensively integrated approach on performance management requires a vibrant coordination and inclusion of all key stakeholders. This would ensure that constituent parts of government (ministries, departments and agencies) move in unison towards a comprehensive enhancement of public service performance.
The intensifying political challenges in Lesotho call for comprehensive reforms informed by inclusive participation of all key stakeholders. Reforms should also focus on improving professionalism and the efficiency of the public service, for it is when the public service competently executes its mandate that efficiency in service delivery will be maintained even amid politically volatile conditions. Sherwood (1997: 211) makes reference to the declining level of professionalism in the public service as a result of many political appointees in the bureaucracy and unsupportive environment.
Political patronage has been a springboard of a declining professionalism in the public service in Lesotho. The dominance of political appointees in the strategic positions in the public service has not only tainted professional competence but it has also disturbed continuity of projects and programmes in the public service.
It is apparent that prevalence of political patronage in the public service in Lesotho will not only perpetuate disservice to the citizens but it will also continue to threaten the stability of the country because the beneficiaries prioritise, above everything, the interests of those who have appointed them.
Based on the discussed challenges of the public service in Lesotho, it is imperative for the Government of Lesotho to adopt feasible and effective systems that will promote public service efficiency. The systems should be owned and driven from the highest political and bureaucratic offices. This approach would ensure optimal compliance with government systems as accountability tools. In order to realize the utility of government systems, the top public officials’ recruitment should be conducted fairly and be based on merits. Their continued tenure in office should be solely based on satisfactory performance.
Napo C. Khasoane
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