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Can Lesotho survive? The political economy of a fragile state



This chapter discusses Lesotho’s political economy while assessing the country’s prospects as one of Africa’s emerging fragile states. It focuses mainly on Lesotho’s present and future prospects given that Lesotho’s history and its political and economic legacies have been covered fully in other chapters in this book. The structure of the chapter is as follows; it briefly reviews the scope of Lesotho’s Futures research agenda. Then global concerns about State fragility and sustainable development challenges are discussed and applied to Africa.

The relevance of the human security paradigm is also discussed. Lesotho’s current challenges of development, fragility, instability and governance arethen discussed through a review of Lesotho’s governance and development challenges from 2000 to 2016. The chapter then discusses the role of Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation (PDSC) system in addressing Lesotho’s chronic instability.  The paper concludes by addressing prospects for Lesotho’s survival as a small and fragile State in Southern Africa. Scope of Lesotho’s Futures Research Agenda This chapter is a component of a Lesotho Futures Project being implemented to mark the 50th anniversary of Lesotho’s Independence.

It is a futuristic project that is dedicated to current and future generations of Basotho who are inspired by the concept of human security and the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 – The Africa We Want campaign that was launched by the AU in 2015[1].In this context, the Lesotho We Want campaign is informed by the need to address Lesotho’s challenges with a conscious linkage between short, medium and long term governance and development challenges.

In order to enable Lesotho to effectively address the interlinked challenges of consolidating democracy, attaining stability, human security and development, a robust research agenda is needed that will inform  a public policy dialogue process which reflects on the past in order to manage the future.As a Small State in Southern Africa that marked its 50th Year of Independence on 4th October, 2016, Lesotho is currently at a crossroads as all concerned citizens, particularly the youth, assess the country’s performance in the last 50 years and articulate their concerns about governance and development challenges in an environment of serious contestation about possible futures for Lesotho.

Our expectation is that the output of the Lesotho Futures Project should enable citizens to discuss Lesotho’s current and future governance and development challenges and provide a framework for emerging popular coalitions for change to engage with the proposed constitutional, governance and security sector reforms process. The research agenda will apply scenarios methodology to determine strategic options for Lesotho given the uncertainty about its future prospects. An initial scenarios exercise was undertaken with Lesotho’s Business Community in pre- election dialogue sessions, February, 2015.[2]This process is inspired by the well-known wisdom that ‘the best way to predict our future is to create it’.

Global Concerns about State Fragility and Sustainable Development Challenges This research agenda on the political economy of Fragile States is undertaken in the context of universal concerns within the international development community about challenges posed by Fragile States in general and State fragility in Africa.[3]  Towards this end, the World Bank and the United Nations (UN) organised a high level Fragility Forum held in Washington DC – USA, March 2016, under the theme, Take Action for Peaceful and Inclusive Societies, which was inspired by Sustainable Development Goal 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions.

This timely forum discussed the sustainable development agenda in a world affected by fragility, conflict and violence.In his key note speech given at the Fragility Forum, the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim expressed his concerns as follows: Hope for the future of development assumes a world where nation states are secure and stable and where citizens, are not confronted by fragility, conflict and violence. While the rest of the world makes progress, the world’s poor will increasingly be concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected countries, estimated to reach almost half of the global total by 2030.[4]

These globally expressed concerns are a testimony to the challenges posed by State fragility to the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and need to pro-actively identify its early warning signs to prevent the eventuality of State failure and adverse impacts on affected societies. Defining State Fragility According to Cilliers and Sisk (Cilliers and Sisk 2013: 2-3), fragility is characterised by low state capacity and poor state performance with respect to security and development.

“A State is fragile when it is unable to provide basic human security and or create the public goods and conditions needed for a minimum of human development.” The drivers of fragility are clustered into four dimensions; Poor or weak governance; high levels of conflict and violence; high levels of inequality and economic exclusion and high incidence of poverty. (Cilliers and Sisk, 2013: 2-3).While Lesotho was not included in the 26 fragile African States listed by Cilliers and Sisk, yet they emphasised the need for a research agenda to forecast fragility using the four dimensions outlined above.According  to the OECD States of Fragility report (OECD, 2016), fragility is defined as “the combination of exposure to risks in five areas—economic, environmental, political, and social and security—and the insufficient capacity of the state or national systems and sub-regional inter-governmental systems to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks”.[5]

In applying this typology to Africa, the OECD report identifies 35 African fragile States, including Lesotho.  Analysis of Africa’s Fragile States A major study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Africa’s Fragile States (IMF,2015)[6], undertook an extensive review of the theoretical and empirical literature and identified key  factors that contribute to fragility as follows: “Weakness (and lack of legitimacy) of government institutions, a poor and unstable economic environment, and a divisive and non-inclusive political context”.

According to the IMF (IMF, 2015), recent research focuses on the multiple dimensions of fragility and instability, where conflict is a possible outcome with linkages to other aspects of fragility.  These multiple dimensions interact and reinforce one another in a vicious circle.Hence, countries are identified as fragile using key indicators that assess economic performance, governance, political stability, and institutional quality. Some of the key indicators identified in the IMF Report (IMF, 2015) are the following:

l         The economies of fragile countries are weak and vulnerable to shocks. Fiscal balances are in deficit, and high debt often encumbers economic prospects.l         There are large internal disparities in income and wealth and in access to services.l         Institutions are not able to provide a stable and fair environment, and the rule of law and enforcement of property rights are weak.l         Corruption is prevalent and the judicial system is ineffective.l         Controls on executive power are also ineffective, as the legislative branch of government, the press, or civil society struggle to hold the government accountable.l

At a social level, ethnic, linguistic, religious or political divides may undermine the development of a national consensus and an awareness of shared interests.l         Education, health, and social security systems are poorly organised, underfinanced, and unevenly accessible. The factors identified above do indicate that fragility has multiple dimensions which have been monitored by international and regional development agencies especially in Africa.Given the prevalence of State fragility in Africa, the African Development Bank (AfDB 2014) has also developed a Strategy for Addressing Fragility and Building Resilience in Africa for the period 2014-2019[7].

It is based on an understanding of fragility as a condition of elevated risk of institutional stress, instability and possible societal collapse. In terms of this approach, the AfDB recognises that there is no hope of achieving Sustainable Development Goals in Africa without successfully addressing fragility and building resilience in the continent.

The relevance of the Human Security Approach This chapter also seeks to highlight the relevance of the human security perspective in the analysis of Lesotho’s insecurity, instability and fragility problems. The human security concept was first used in the 1994 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report, and identified seven human security components including economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security dimensions.

Currently in fragile African States, such as Lesotho, citizens experience insecurity as a result of linked and mutually reinforcing challenges of stability, governance, human security and fragility which undermine prospects for sustainable development.In the SADC region, the devastating impact of climate change is already being observed through extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, shrinking rivers, reduced crop yields and increased water insecurity.

Lesotho remains vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that are associated with regular and recurrent floods and droughts. The floods, in 2011, were the largest in the country since the 1930s, while the drought, in 2015 and 2016 periods, was the most severe on record. All the climate models indicate that average mean surface temperatures will rise, but precipitation projections vary greatly.In the medium to long term, these adverse trends are predicted to impact on human security through intensifying competition for scarce national resources which may be aggravated by economic crisis and humanitarian disasters.

These threats all have national and regional implications and require urgent rethinking about African human security strategies which more effectively links all these factors. The major observation here is that, if national governance systems are not transformed and are pre-occupied with State Security concerns as is the case in Lesotho, then the multi-dimensional challenges of human security will not be fully addressed.

In contrast to a narrow focus on State security, that is security of and for the state, a human security approach therefore seeks new answers to the traditional questions such as security for whom and from what? Hence, a human security model takes people to be at the centre of the security challenge.This approach should take us beyond the limitations of the current State Security approach in the SADC region which is mainly concerned with the survival of regimes and which safeguards those with vested interests in the status quo. In the light of the above review of recent state fragility literature, the human security paradigm and the concerns of the international development community, the chapter seeks to apply these insights to Lesotho’s situation, while highlighting the linked challenges of stability, human security and sustainable development. Review of Lesotho’s Governance and Development Challenges, from 2000 to 2016  This section of the chapter discusses the development of Lesotho into an emerging fragile state by reviewing its governance and development challenges at least since 2000. Lesotho’s governance and development aspirations are described in the National Vision 2020 document, which is based on a national consensus that was agreed to in 2000/2003.

The Lesotho national visioning process was initiated in the aftermath of the post 1998 post elections crisis in Lesotho and the need for an inspiring long term vision that could establish foundations for national healing and social cohesion[8].The Lesotho Vision 2020 document which was launched in 2003 outlines the long term aspirations of the Basotho and states inter alia; By the year 2020 Lesotho shall be a stable and prosperous nation at peace with itself and its neighbours.

It shall have a healthy and well developed human resource base, its economy shall be strong, its environment well managed and its technology well established. This Vision 2020 statement was formulated and endorsed at a well-attended and representative multi-stakeholder national dialogue.[9]The commendable initiative to develop a long term National Vision was inspired by major internal and external determining factors. Internally, the aim was to stabilise Lesotho’s vulnerable democracy and lay foundations for a united and stable nation in the context of post-conflict peace building following on the 1998 elections crisis.

Externally, the visioning process and methodology was inspired by the African Futures Project of UNDP for implementing National Long-Term Perspective Studies (NLTPS) in Africa.[10]The NLTPS strategy was a response to the poor performance of previous development management approaches in Africa such as the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that were prescribed and driven by International Finance Institutions in the 1980’s and 1990s.[11]

Lesotho also had the experience of implementing a structural adjustment programme and Enhanced Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), supervised through 6 successive IMF/WB Policy Framework Papers from 1988/89 to 1993/94.[12] Even though these IMF/WB SAP and ESAP frameworks stabilised GOL public finances, they, nevertheless, had no significant impact on the serious poverty situation in the country. As proposed by the African Futures Project, the NLTPS recognised  . . . the strategic importance of a shared national vision, long-term thinking and a stable policy environment for development.

Accordingly, any national vision must provide the people with a sense of direction, discovery, and destiny and must become the guiding framework for national development action.[13] The success of the NLTPS approach is therefore determined by sustained political commitment, visionary leadership, political stability and the creation of relevant institutions to support the national vision initiative.

National leaders within the public and private sectors are expected to think and act strategically within the framework of a long term vision. In the case of Lesotho, a justifiable critique is that a State-centric approach to the National Vision implementation process has limited the scope and impact of this process. With the year 2020 approaching, there is need to assess the performance of Vision 2020 in terms of its goals and objectives.

Lesotho National Poverty Reduction Strategy Lessons, 2004 to 2012 In order to realize the goals of the Vision 2020 document, Lesotho implemented a poverty reduction strategy (PRS) from 2004 to 2007/08 after the endorsement of the PRSP by the executive boards of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September, 2005.[14]

This was followed by an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy (I-PRS) from 2007/08 to 2009. The Lesotho PRS consisted of eight priority areas and three cross-cutting issues and the Public Sector Improvement and Reform Programme (PSIRP).These PRS priority areas were: employment creation and income generation; improving agriculture and food security, developing  infrastructure, deepening democracy, governance, safety and security; improving quality of and access to health and social welfare services; and improving quality of and access to education. The cross-cutting issues identified under the PRS were HIV and AIDS, gender, children and youth.

The transition from the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy (I-PRS) to an Interim National Development Framework (I-NDF) was ultimately agreed to by Government of Lesotho (GOL) and its Development Partners, in 2009. The I-NDF was used to guide the budgeting and planning processes in the interim until the proposed National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) for 2012-2017was finalised.The National Vision 2020, the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS),

Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy (I-PRS) and Interim National Development Framework (I-NDF) and other related development policy papers such as the National AIDS Strategic Plan (NASP) have therefore served two crucial functions. Firstly, as long and medium term development strategy papers, and, secondly, as major frameworks for development cooperation between Lesotho and its bilateral and multi-lateral Development Partners including the World Bank (WB) and  International Monetary Fund (IMF).Summary of Poverty Reduction Strategy implementation lessons: l

The PRS was based on extensive nationwide consultations which involved 20000 Basotho citizens in 2003, yet this process raised unrealistic expectations without any general and tangible pro-poor outcomes for citizens.l          These extensive nationwide consultations were also encouraged by Lesotho’s Development partners (DPs) to demonstrate national ownership and broad-based participation without clear commitment by the DPs to scaling-up development funding.l The extensive nationwide consultations did not necessarily establish a culture of effective dialogue and dynamic partnership between GOL agencies and non-state actors.l

The expected magnitude of additional resources in the form of poverty reduction support grants (PRSG) were not made available by development partners as expected.l          The PRS and I-PRS were therefore weakened as development frameworks since prioritised action plans were externally driven and too ambitious in relation to funding constraints.l The GOL still lacked institutional capacity to drive change, effective implementation and service delivery. Consequently, there were also absorptive capacity problems despite the declared interest in increasing development funding to Lesotho.l          In identified areas of good performance such as in the National HIV/AIDS response, this was mainly due to effective partnerships between selected GOL implementing agencies and committed Development Partners.  l

An economic growth strategy with an enabling environment for private sector development within the real economy which is so crucial for broad based growth, job creation and poverty reduction was not prioritised. In assessing the actual impact and outcomes of these various PRS frameworks, the World Bank[15]indicates that between 2002 and 2010 Lesotho made virtually no progress in reducing extreme poverty.

The headcount poverty rate was 57.1 percent in 2010 (national poverty line), accompanied by high inequality, measured at 54.2 percent by the Gini coefficient, itself an obstacle to poverty reduction. Lesotho’s economic structure and poorly targeted social protection policies are at the heart of high and stagnant poverty and inequality. Low-productivity agriculture remains the main source of income for over 1 in 3 households. The benefits of well-paid public sector jobs mainly flow to the most affluent households. (World Bank, 2016).

Sehoai Santho



An open letter to President Hichilema



Your Excellency,

I am certain that you are wondering where and/or how I have the temerity to write to you directly, but a recent post you put on WhatsApp piqued my interest; your meeting with His Excellency the Prime Minister of Lesotho, and his delegation. The delegation came to introduce to you and your good office the candidate of the Government of Lesotho, for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Joshua Setipa.

Let me set off by stating that I have a friendship with Setipa, for over 50 years, so I may not be the best person to give an objective appraisal or opinion of him; this I will leave to the government.

Further to that, as a citizen of Lesotho, I may embellish the information that I would provide on Lesotho, thus I will as far as possible keep to information that is contained in books. This is not a research report, but more a simplified literature review of what I have read. I shall not quote them, or reference them, thus allowing others the space to research this matter further.

First, let me state my surprise at the alignment of time that I see; Commonwealth Day in 2024 is on the 11th March, the day we celebrate a life well lived, that of Morena Moshoeshoe.

Further to that, this year also starts the 200th anniversary of the move by Morena Moshoeshoe and his followers from Menkhoaneng to Thaba Bosiu. They arrived at Thaba Bosiu in winter, circa 1824.

Next year, 2025 will also be the 100th anniversary of the ‘plenary’ that saw the birth of this Commonwealth of Nations. A handover from the bi-centenary, to the centenary celebrations.

We are all aware that the Commonwealth was started at the Imperial Conference of 1926, but it had what I call a plenary in 1925; this happened in Maseru, Basutoland. It was held at the ‘secretariat’ building on Kingsway. The building was used as the Prime Ministers’ office after independence, more recently, and to date as the Ministry of Defence.

When King George came to visit Lesotho in 1948, to thank the country and her citizens for their participation in the Second World War, High street as it was then known, had its name changed to Kingsway.

At this plenary Britain called the ANZaC states, Australia, New Zeeland and Canada, together with South Africa. It had been only 13 years (1912) since the Basotho monarch had been asked to attend the formation of the South African National Native Conference (SANNC), whose aim was to preserve African land. The SANNC was the forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC).

With the formation of the Union of South Africa, the union wanted to engulf Bechuanaland (Botswana) Swaziland (eSwatini) and Basutoland (Lesotho). This had been unsuccessful.

Next they came up with the Native Land Act of 1913, to remove African land rights. So, the conference that brought about the birth of the SANNC was a pre-emptive response to this act; an attempt to keep African land rights and traditions intact.

I would like to point out that the founding document of the Imperial Conference that brought about the Commonwealth states that all member states are autonomous and not subordinate to another.

At the time of the plenary, Basutoland was subordinate to Britain. But in a masterstoke became what I believe to be one of the founders of the Commonwealth.

Despite her subordination, Basutoland had placed so strong an objection to the presence of a representative South Africa in Basutoland, that South Africa’s invitation had to be withdrawn, and South Africa did not attend. This was the first ‘anti-apartheid’ shot, made in the world; what is more important is that it was made by an African country.

No matter how one looks at it, she may not have been a ‘founding member state’, but Basutoland was part of the founding fabric of the Commonwealth.

One just has to imagine the anger of the South Africans and their government: Dr. D. F. Malan, the first Nationalist Prime Minister of South Africa, was a minister responsible for housing at that time.

Had Basutoland’s lead been followed, spatial apartheid might never have happened. The Commonwealth would take till the 1960’s, and the formal legalisation/legislation of apartheid to remove South Africa from within her fold. A matter that Basutoland saw as far back as the 1920’s.

As shown, at the conceptualisation of the Commonwealth Lesotho was not just there, but an active and formidable participant; though one has to look further to see her relationship with Great Britain/the United Kingdom.

Basutoland/Lesotho’s history is strange, to say the least. The first Europeans to arrive here in 1833, were French Missionaries. At this time Europe was embroiled in wars, which inevitably included the French and English.

But it is these same priests, most notably Casalis, who helped steer the country to Britain, and British protection. Casalis acted almost as a foreign secretary/minister of foreign affairs at that time.

The first treaty between Basutoland and England was the Napier Treaty of 1843, though it took till 1866 to solidify this treaty into a protected land.

The history of the cavalry in Lesotho, the only African cavalry south of the Sahara, is quite long. It starts in about 1825, when F. D. Ellenberger in his book ‘History of the Basutho’, states that Morena Moletsane had come across gun powder quite by mistake.

They had been raiding a missionary’s home and came across a strange powder, which they found useless, so they threw it into a fire, which ‘exploded’. Thus, to his people called European style housing, ‘Ntlo-ea-thunya’, a house that shoots. But after having his people ravaged/savaged by Mzilikazi, he sent his best warriors to work on Boer farms, and with their remuneration purchase arms and horses.

We are often told of a ‘battle of/at Berea’. My answer is that it was not a battle but a cattle raid. Its importance is not just in the battle, but in democracy. The British called Morena Moshoeshoe ‘paramount chief’, a first amongst the others. The time before Berea shows something slightly different.

As Casalis writes in ‘My life in Basutoland’, the British had demanded 10,000 head of cattle, for stock theft. A great ‘pitso’ was called and all eligible men, those who owned land, were called.

At the end of the pitso, after many votes, the citizens refused to give their cattle to pay the demand of the British. The significance herein is that there was a plebiscite, a vote. Morena Moshoeshoe lost the backing of the people and thus the vote; the British then attacked to ‘collect’ the cattle themselves.

Both Morena Moshoeshoe and Morena Moletsane were heavily involved in the ‘battle’ which was won by the strength of the Basutho cavalry. Looking forward to the gun wars, it was most fortuitous that Morena Moshoeshoe’s ally, Morena Moletsane would outlive him, till the end of the gun wars.

After annexation in 1866, in the mid 1870’s the British, citing distance and as such expense, ceded Basutoland to the Cape, which was what the Basotho had been fighting against for a long time; they wanted direct British rule. They wanted to be ruled by Mofumahali Queen Victoria.

The first, and most critical mistake that the Cape made was, not so much in attacking Morena Moorosi, accusing his son of cattle theft, but in beheading him.

So, when some years later they wanted to disarm the Basutho, and they found those of the south of Basutoland who knew of the beheading, reluctant to go with the plan. The Cape decided to go ahead with disarmament forcefully and met equal if not greater force.

The Basutho were better armed, more knowledgeable on the terrain and better supplied. Helped by his father’s long-standing ally, Morena Moletsane, Morena Lerotholi was able to field a well-armed strong cavalry, which inflict great pain to the Cape.

This led to the Cape defeat. Together with the number of other wars that the Cape was fighting, there was fight fatigue among her people.

So bad was it, that they did not come and collect their fallen troops; in Mafeteng there is a cemetery called ‘mabitla-a-makhooa’, or graves of the white men. The SA Military History Society has a ‘roll of honour’ for some of the dead, as not all were buried in Basutoland.

There are two significant outcomes of the war. In his book ‘The Mabille’s of Basutoland’, Edwin W. Smith states that there was a fact-finding mission to Basutoland by members of the Cape parliament, including Rhodes. Their conclusion was that the Basutho should be handed back to Britain for direct rule; which was the original wish of the Basutho.

As Whitehall was reluctant to take this role back, Basutoland spent a period of close to two years of self-rule. Thus it became the first African country (only?) to unshackle itself of colonial rule. And became the first African country to get the colonial rule it wanted; and re-shackled itself to Britain.

The second is how Britain agreed to go back and rule Basutoland. In his book, Rhodes Goes North, J. E. S. Green shows how the Prime Minister of the Cape went to Britain to sue for peace, and eventually agreed to give Britain 20 000 pounds per annum, of her import tax revenues to govern Basutoland.

Whilst not a founding member of the Commonwealth, Basutoland has carried her fair weight in the battle to save both the Commonwealth, and together the rest of the Commonwealth, the world at large.

Whilst SA will hype the losses during the maritime accident of the SS Mendi in the English Channel, Lesotho is less inclined to speak of the losses on the SS Erinpura. The Erinpura was sunk by German war planes in the Mediterranean Sea. Though I should say that, the prayer of the men on the Mendi would resound so well with those who lost their lives on the Erinpura.

When British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill said; never was so much owed by so many to so few, I am certain he was speaking not just of the people of the British Isles, but the broader community within the Commonwealth, that stood together at this time of international need.

But having heard Sir Winston, there is a special bond of Basutoland within, and with the Commonwealth, that I would like to highlight. Apart from the ANZaC countries and South Africa, there were no air squadrons from other Commonwealth countries that I am aware of; except for Basutoland that is.

They paid for 12 or so Spitfire aircraft that would form the 72nd Basutoland, which flew in the Battle of Britain. No moSotho actually flew (in?) them, but they had been financed by the Basotho.

For all the prowess of a moSotho man with arms, in his book ‘Basotho Soldiers in Hitler’s War’, Brian Gary not only writes about the gift of aircraft that fought in the Battle of Britain, he also shows that Basotho soldiers, who were hauling various ordinances through the Italian Alps, were allowed to carry arms.

Aircraft and carrying arms for an African in World War II; Lesotho is not just a pioneer member of the Commonwealth, but a beacon.

As Lesotho many of these pioneering attributes continued. Whist South Africa was banned from sports and entertainment, Lesotho filled the gap for her. Exiles like Hugh Masekela and Mirriam Makeba were hosted for sell out concerts in Lesotho. South African interracial sports, with matches between the likes of Orlando Pirate, Wits University, Kaiser Chiefs, to name those I remember, started in Maseru.

I have touched on politics and war, sport and entertainment; let me go to superstition. It would go against what is expected of me not to go without anything superstitious.

Britain has given the world three major sporting codes. Rugby, which is dominated by the big three of New Zeeland and South Africa. Cricket, which expands from the rugby three to include India, Pakistan, most of the Caribbean states and a few African counties.

These sports are obviously ‘Commonwealth Sports’, as they are dominated, or played predominantly by Commonwealth countries. They have also given us football. This is a truly global sport, the largest sport played across the world, on all types of surfaces, with all types of round looking objects. We can’t call all of these footballs.

The last time a Commonwealth country won the World Cup it was England in 1966; the year Lesotho gained her independence.

The next World Cup is in 2026, the millennium celebrations of the Commonwealth; who will head the Commonwealth then? Will a Commonwealth team have the necessary ‘juju’ to make it?

Your Excellency, this is but a brief note on Lesotho, and it is my way of using the words attributed to Morena Moshoeshoe, when asking for protection from Queen Victoria that say; take me, and all the lice (those that are symbiotic to me) in my blanket. I do hope that these words will be of use to you as seek consensus on Lesotho and her candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Yours truly

Khasane Ramolefe

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Culture quibbles



A few weeks ago these pages carried a substantial piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture”, written in the form of an open letter to the government of Lesotho. The first sentence of Mohapi’s article took me by surprise, as he stated: MPs and Senators’ primary role is to protect and preserve the traditions and culture of the Basotho people. I would have thought the primary role of MPs and Senators would be to ensure that Basotho are secure (being protected, for example, from criminals), that they have adequate access to social services such as education and healthcare, that the economy is sufficiently stable to offer citizens some chance of employment, and so on. Fat chance, you might scoff.

But then I realised that Mohapi had a more specific contention in mind, as he stated: The Laws of Lerotholi were set to protect social order, traditions and culture of Basotho. Mohapi’s immediate concern is with the 2024 Estates and Inheritance Bill, which proposes radical changes to the existing order of things. (See the article in last week’s thepost, “MPs bulldoze through Inheritance Bill”, which gives a good idea of the background).

I’m aware that this Bill has provoked considerable controversy, and that is not my topic in this article. Nor do I wish to contest what Mohapi was saying in his piece — this is by no means a case of Dunton v Mohapi. But I did take note of the way the phrase “traditions and culture” kept resounding in Mohapi’s article, rather like a cracked bell, and what I want to do is open up those terms for examination.

Please bear with me as I slip aside for a moment with a little academic stuff. Back in 2006 I published an article titled “Problematizing Keywords: Culture, tradition and modernity.” For those of my readers with a scholarly bent and who might want to hunt it down, this was published in a journal called Boleswa Occasional Papers in Theology and Religion 2:3 (2006), pages 5-11. There I made a number of points I want to bring up in what follows.

The first fallacy I tackled in that article was the tradition/modernity binary — the notion that in Africa there was tradition and then, wham!, the white man arrived and there was modernity. Are we seriously to believe there were no great cities in Africa before the white man landed, that the peoples of a whole continent lived entirely in villages? Nigeria tells a different story.

Are we to believe there were no great libraries? Mali and Ethiopia tell a different tale. No writing systems? No medicine? I’m not saying that if I’m in pain I don’t prefer a dose of oramorph to an infusion made from some leaves picked off the slopes of Thaba Bosiu, but the point remains: the tradition/modernity binary is crude and crass and it’s demeaning about Africa.

We cannot get very far with simplistic ideas about where we are coming from and where we are at. And yet of course we do come from a past. I’ll quote — or, rather, paraphrase from memory, as I don’t have the work to hand — an observation made by T.S Eliot in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: We know so much more than those who came before us. But they are a large part of what we know.

But of those who came before who is it, exactly, that we know? When Mohapi repeatedly uses the phrase “the traditions and culture of the Basotho people” I take it he is thinking of the Basotho as constituted under Moshoeshoe I and the descendants of those generations.

For how much do we know about the “traditions and culture” of the various Sotho-speaking groups let’s say two hundred years before Moshoeshoe gathered them together to form the modern Lesotho state? Isn’t it likely there were significant differences between the “traditions and culture” of these groups, differences that were later rationalised or homogenised?

Two points here. First, we mustn’t forget what an extraordinary innovator Moshoeshoe was —and I guess that might be said also of Lerotholi, whose laws are the chief focus of Mohapi’s article. Second, culture is not static, it is not immutable. It evolves all the time.

For example, for how long has it been the case that adherence to the Christian faith could be said to be part of the culture of Basotho? (Or, for how long has football been part of the culture of the English? We are credited with the invention of football, but that doesn’t mean it’s been part of who we are since time immemorial).

That brings me to my next point, or a string of points, moving from England back to Lesotho. When I was a schoolboy I bought myself a copy of the book Components of the National Culture (1968) by the great British Marxist Perry Anderson. One of my schoolmasters — one of the few who didn’t like me — caught me with it and said “just the sort of book I’d expect a troublemaker like you to be reading. Just don’t show it to anyone else!”

The significant term in Anderson’s title is “components.” Culture is put together — it is an assemblage — and its components may have different sources.
That leads me on to the invention of tradition, and an example for Basotho.

I guess all my readers know Qiloane, the sandstone pillar at Thaba Bosiu the distinctive peak of which is said to be the inspiration for the shape of the traditional Basotho straw hat. Well, that notion is dubious to say the least; there were hats of the same shape from elsewhere in the region long before the Basotho got hold of the design.

Does this really matter? Well, no, because even if a tradition is invented, it still has the persuasiveness of a tradition. It’s just that knowing this might dissuade us from making big claims about the unchangeable nature and sanctity of tradition.

And the same goes for culture. I leave you with a quotation from the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (it’s from his terrific book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers): We do not need, have never needed, a homogenous system of values, in order to have a home. Cultural purity is an oxymoron.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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The Joker Returns: Conclusion



Last week I was talking about how jokes, or humour generally, can help get one through the most desperate situations (although it’s like taking a paracetamol for a headache; a much, much stronger resort is faith). I used the example of how Polish Jews, trapped and dying in the Warsaw ghetto, used humour to get them through day by day.

A similar, though less nightmarish, situation obtains in today’s Nigeria. Conditions there are less hellish than those of the Warsaw ghetto, but still pretty awful. There are massive redundancies, so millions of people are jobless. Inflation is at about 30% and the cost of living is sky-rocketing, with the most basic foodstuffs often unavailable. There is the breakdown of basic social services.

And endemic violence, with widespread armed robbery (to travel by road from one city to another you take your life in your hands) and the frequent kidnapping for ransom of schoolchildren and teachers. In a recent issue of the Punch newspaper (Lagos) Taiwo Obindo, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Jos, writes of the effects of economic hardship and insecurity on his people’s mental health.

He concludes: “We should see the funny side of things. We can use humour to handle some things. Don’t take things to heart; laugh it off.”

Professor Obindo doesn’t, regrettably, give examples of the humour he prescribes, but I remember two from a period when things were less grim. Power-cuts happened all the time — a big problem if you’re trying to work at night and can’t afford a generator.

And so the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was universally referred to as Never Expect Power Always. And second, for inter-city travel there was a company called Luxurious Buses. Believe me, the average Lesotho kombi is a great deal more luxurious (I can’t remember ever having to sit on the floor of one of those).

And because of the dreadful state of Nigerian roads and the frequent fatal crashes, Luxurious Buses were referred to as Luxurious Hearses.

Lesotho’s newspaper thepost, for which I slave away tirelessly, doesn’t use humour very much. But there is Muckraker. I’ve always wondered whether Muckraker is the pen-name of a single person or a group who alternate writing the column.

Whatever, I’d love to have a drink with him / her/ them and chew things over. I like the ironic pen-name of the author(s). Traditionally speaking, a muckraker is a gossip, someone who scrabbles around for titbits (usually sexual) on the personal life of a celebrity — not exactly a noble thing to do.

But thepost’s Muckraker exposes big problems, deep demerits, conducted by those who should know and do better — problems that the powerful would like to be swept under the carpet, and the intention of Muckraker’s exposure is corrective.

And I always join in the closing exasperated “Ichuuuu!” (as I do this rather loudly, my housemates probably think I’m going bonkers).

Finally I want to mention television satire. The Brits are renowned for this, an achievement dating back to the early 1960s and the weekly satirical programme “TW3” (That Was The Week That Was). More recently we have had “Mock the Week”, though, despite its popularity, the BBC has cancelled this.

The cancellation wasn’t for political reasons. For decades the UK has been encumbered with a foul Conservative government, though this year’s election may be won by Labour (not such very good news, as the Labour leadership is only pseudo-socialist). “Mock the Week” was pretty even-handed in deriding politicians; the BBC’s problem was, I imagine, with the programme’s frequent obscenity.

As an example of their political jokes, I quote a discussion on the less than inspiring leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. One member of the panel said: “Labour may well have a huge lead in the polls at present, but the day before election day Starmer will destroy it by doing something like accidentally infecting David Attenborough with chicken-pox.”

And a favourite, basically non-political interchange on “Mock the Week” had to do with our former monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Whatever one thinks about the British monarchy as an institution, the Queen was much loved, but the following interchange between two panellists (A and B) was fun:

A: Is the Queen’s nickname really Lilibet?
B: Yes, it is.
A: I thought her nickname was Her Majesty.
B: That’s her gang name.

OK, dear readers, that’s enough humour from me for a while. Next week I’m turning dead serious — and more than a little controversial — responding to a recent Insight piece by Mokhosi Mohapi titled “A reversal of our traditions and culture.” To be forewarned is to be prepared.

Chris Dunton

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