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Gambia: important lessons for SADC

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FORMER Gambian president Yahya Jammeh left his country at the weekend for exile in Equatorial Guinea ending what was likely to be a bloody confrontation with soldiers from ECOWAS.

It is telling that Jammeh only gave up power after threats of military intervention by the regional bloc ECOWAS.  But all this was really unnecessary.  After initially conceding defeat to Adama Barrow in an election held on December 1, Jammeh made a dramatic U-turn when he refused to accept the election result. That triggered a real threat of military intervention.

It is the firm manner ECOWAS dealt with an intransigent Jammeh that holds important lessons for us here in Southern Africa. First, we note that ECOWAS stood firm in its resolve to defend democracy. The regional bloc has consistently refused to mollycoddle dictators whose time is up. The wishes of the majority must be respected.

We believe these are important lessons for SADC, a regional bloc that has been accused by human rights groups of protecting the worst of dictators in southern Africa while ignoring the will of the people at the polls. Take for instance, the tragic case of Zimbabwe and Kenya, further north of us. SADC has tragically allowed dictators who have lost elections to stay in power through the barrel of the gun, literally.

Such leaders have bludgeoned their own people into submission to stay in power at all costs. Instead of defending the people’s vote, SADC has chosen the easiest way out: by setting up power-sharing arrangements to prop up dictators. The result is that losers have been allowed to hang on to power through the back-door. In fact, once they are back in office they begin to consolidate their grip on power and plot a way of coming back stronger at the next election.

The power-sharing experiments we have seen in Zimbabwe and Kenya have been unmitigated disasters for democracy in Africa.  They also failed the people terribly, resulting in people losing their trust in elections as an avenue of changing unwanted governments. While SADC has guidelines on how to run and manage elections, such guidelines have largely proved impotent. The biggest weakness lies in the enforcement of SADC mechanisms to uphold democracy.

That to us must change. It is for these reasons that SADC must adopt a zero-tolerance for electoral malfeasance.
The hardline stance by ECOWAS is beginning to pay dividends for the West Africa region. Over the past decade, the region has enjoyed relative peace, thanks to the position taken by the bloc.

Governments in the region are fully aware of what is expected from them and the attendant consequences of non-compliance. When leaders are tempted to hang on to power through foul means, they are left in doubt as to what they should expect from ECOWAS. The result is that West Africa has over the years seen peaceful transfer of power in Ghana and Nigeria and now The Gambia.  The threat of force always hang on the heads of leaders who might be tempted to subvert the will of the people. The result is that West Africa has prospered economically, driven by the political stability in the region.  We believe SADC can pick a few lessons from ECOWAS and adopt similar tactics to deal with rogue leaders who steal elections and seek to subvert the will of the people.

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Time to act to avert hunger

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A surge in food prices will likely make life miserable for Basotho in the coming year. Their situation had already been precarious in the previous year as the effects of Covid-19 continued to linger.

Over the last two weeks, Basotho had to bear the bad news with a spate of increases in the prices of basic commodities.

The Lesotho Flour Mills, the country’s biggest milling company, announced a seven percent price hike on all maize products. The increase is with effect from next Monday.

A ton of maize, which was trading at between M3 700 and M3 900 in January, is now costing a staggering M5 300. The result is that the high cost of maize will now be transferred to the consumer.
The surge in the price of maize is a result of crop failures in the southern Africa region due to high temperatures and erratic rains. The shortage has now triggered a surge in the price of maize.

Much more worrying was a warning by Lesotho Flour Mills that Basotho should brace for yet another round of price increases in the next two months.

The company warned that the wholesale price of maize could hit as high as M8 800 per metric ton.

It is not just the price of maize-meal that has gone up. Other basic commodities have also gone up in the last few weeks.

The price of fuel has gone up. A surge in the price of fuel will likely see a knock-on effect on the prices of basic commodities such as maize-meal and bread.

The result is that transport operators are likely to demand a review of taxi fares in the next few weeks. If the government rejects the request for a hike, we are likely to see protests on the streets.
With food in short supply, the prospect of food riots must not be discounted. We are heading into unknown territory for Lesotho. The general hardships could trigger instability in Lesotho.
This is not fear-mongering. It is real.

The massive price increases on the back of a jobs carnage in the textile sector, which is the second biggest employer in Lesotho.

At least 15 000 jobs have been lost in the textile sector in the last few months as companies closed.

What has compounded the crisis is the fact that no new jobs are being created. Instead, we are shedding jobs at an astonishing pace. The massive job losses have increased the levels of hardships in Lesotho across all levels.

This is deeply worrying.

While this is a matter of grievous concern, we do not see any concerted efforts by the government to prepare for the troubled times ahead.

Nearly every country in the southern Africa region is scrambling to put in place contingency measures to deal with the disaster. We are hearing very little from Lesotho about the plans to deal with the crisis.

Basotho are waiting to hear from the government what sort of safety nets it will put in place for the poor. They want to hear what orders the government has put in place to acquire enough maize for the next year.

We hope the government is not banking on some donor out there to avert the crisis. While donors might be welcome they must complement what the government is already doing for its own people.
The time to act is now.

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BNP must not recycle deadwood

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ELSEWHERE in this issue we write about a fierce power struggle within the BNP pitting current party leader Machesetsa Mofomobe and former leader Thesele Maseribane.
Mofomobe has accused Maseribane of orchestrating a rebellion against his leadership.

If Maseribane is indeed plotting a political comeback as BNP leader, that would be highly unfortunate.
It would, in our humble opinion, be a recycling of deadwood.

Such a tired approach will not do any good to the BNP, a once glorious political movement that is now a shadow of its former self.
Instead, a Maseribane comeback will likely deliver the final knockout blow to a party that has teetered on the brink of collapse in the past two decades.

We hold no brief for either politician. However, we are of the strong opinion that Maseribane had his chance when he served as BNP leader during his two terms. And that a return at this point would not do any good to the party.
Maseribane must therefore move on.

Mofomobe took over the reins following a violent election that left one person dead. He has not done spectacularly well as party leader either.
Under his watch, the BNP has continued to decline as seen in the results of the last general elections when the party only won slightly over 7 000 votes.
As party leader, Mofomobe must shoulder most of the blame for the BNP’s disastrous performance.

So we can understand why BNP stalwarts across the divide are now asking hard questions and demanding a totally new broom to take over the reins.
Instead of rebuilding the party Maseribane and Mofomobe are tearing it apart. That is sad.

There are fears within the BNP that Maseribane wants to amend the party’s constitution to allow him to serve a fresh term.
That too would be unfortunate.

Maseribane, as an elder party statesman, must step back into the background and play an advisory role for the new generation of leaders within the BNP.
For that to happen, the BNP must be allowed to go through a self-regeneration process. And Maseribane must not have any role to play under the new leadership, serve to be an elder statesman.

If the BNP fails to manage this conflict, it risks slumping into yet another cycle of decline. The party will have none but itself to blame for euthanizing itself.
The BNP has been declining starting in 1998 when it won over 145 000 votes in the elections. That figure fell to 124 000 in the 2002 elections. In the 2007 elections, the BNP won a paltry 30 000 votes. In 2012, the BNP won 33 000 votes which increased slightly to 31 500 in the 2015 elections.

But it declined further in 2017 when it won just 23 400 votes before things really went south in 2022 when it won just 7 300 votes.
The stats are damning for Maseribane and Mofomobe. The two might be equally culpable for the BNP’s decline, having presided over the affairs of the party when its support significantly declined.

Admittely, the BNP is gifted with brilliant minds who are now disgruntled and have recoiled into a cocoon. It needs these brilliant minds if it is to reclaim its former glory.

That means electing fresh individuals with new ideas on how to take the party forward. That new generation of leaders does not certainly include Maseribane, a man who had his chance and did his best for the party when he was still at the helm.
It is nothing personal. It is the hard reality.

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Inheritance Bill long overdue

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Elsewhere in this issue we carry a story of how Lesotho’s MPs are now in a stampede to pass a raft of laws in an attempt to unlock millions of dollars in funding for development projects.
The United States government last year said it would not release the funds unless Lesotho passes into law the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill and the Labour Bill by the end of this month.

With just two weeks before the March 31 deadline, Lesotho’s MPs have now found themselves in a squeeze.

A delegation from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was in Lesotho last week to check on progress.

The stampede by MPs to act comes only after the US government threatened to crack the whip by withholding funding.

One of the key demands is for Lesotho to pass the Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill that will likely improve the welfare of women and the girl child in Lesotho.
For decades, women and girls were at the receiving end of discriminatory practices simply because they were women.

They could not inherit their parents’ wealth, with the customary law favouring sons. Women could not even succeed their fathers under the Lesotho chieftainship law.
The customary laws were patently discriminatory.

We can think of the long running legal wrangle involving Senate Masupha who was the first born child of the late Principal Chief Gabasheane Masupha and first wife Chieftainess ’Masenate Masupha.

Senate argued that a section of the Chieftainship Act denied her the right to succeed to the chieftainship solely on the basis of her gender.
She subsequently lost the case in the Constitutional Court.

The judgment was a devastating blow for the emancipation of women and confirmed that we remained stuck to our patriarchal ways of doing things.

Our courts had over the years backed the discriminatory customary laws by denying the girl child their inheritance.

The Administration of Estates and Inheritance Bill, tabled by Justice Minister Nthomeng Majara, will undo some of this damage. It will abolish a customary law which made males the only heirs of their parents’ late estate.

The law, once enacted, will introduce the female child as an heir even where she has brothers. However, it will leave customary chieftainship inheritance laws untouched.
The law will also introduce the giving out of inheritance to children born out of wedlock when their father dies.

We believe this is a progressive law that was long overdue.

Our question is simple: Did we have to wait for the Americans to nudge us to do the right thing? Couldn’t we have thought of this on our own and implemented it without the US holding a gun over our heads?

Now MPs are under pressure to deliver. If they don’t Lesotho risks losing massive funding that could have been used for development projects.

It is a law that will likely correct a historical injustice against women.

Our simple position is that it was never fair nor just to deny women their inheritance based on their gender. This is a practice that should have been reviewed a long time ago.

Once enacted into law, the government must go on an aggressive education and information campaign to educate the people about the change of law.

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