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Coalition agreements are a waste of time

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Coalition agreements in Lesotho are a complete waste of effort, cartridge and paper. They add zero value to the stability, success and effectiveness of the coalition.
On August 31, 2017 when the leaders of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Alliance of Democrats (AD), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) signed the Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability I felt a sense of de javu and not excitement.
I recalled how on April 10, 2015, the seven leaders of Lesotho’s second coalition government signed the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform. I consider this 2015 coalition agreement, indisputable proof that coalition agreements in Lesotho are absolute “rubbish”.

The leaders who signed this agreement achieved neither “stability” nor “reform”.
The alliance imploded after about 28 months. They had also failed to achieve most if not all the broad objectives they set themselves i.e. to be a reformist government, to restore national peace and political stability, to deepen democracy and respect for human rights, to make transparency and good governance their hallmark, to drive economic growth, to consult more with citizens, to eliminate corruption at all levels of society and government, to deepen national pride amongst Basotho and to deepen the relationship with regional and international partners.

When we go even further back in history, we see how our first coalition government also failed. The ABC, LCD and BNP alliance ended abruptly after only about 31 months in office. During that period, the coalition partners jostled for power even though they had an agreement to regulate the alliance. They also achieved very little of their own objectives to improve the lives of Basotho.

For me, this is sufficient evidence that coalition agreements in Lesotho do not serve the same purpose that they perhaps serve in other countries of the world. Over here, they don’t mean very much. But for the benefit of the doubt, I took time to compare the Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability (2017 coalition agreement) with the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform (2015 coalition agreement).

I was hoping to find differences between the two that would convince me that the 2017 coalition agreement is better and therefore more likely to succeed where previous ones failed.
At the end of the exercise, I concluded that the 2015 and 2017 coalition agreements are more similar than they are different.
In fact, 90 percent of the objectives and (or) priority programmes in the Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability appear in the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform in some form or another – improving the economy, entrenching a culture of the rule of law, respecting human rights, fostering peace and stability, espousing good governance, altering current procurement practices, undertaking constitutional, political, security and administrative reforms, beefing up local government, implementing policy of the declaration of assets and interests, monitoring and evaluating the agreement.

Basically, it’s the same document. The language and wording might be different, but generally, it’s the same agreement just signed by a different group of leaders. It’s a rehash and repackaging of things we have heard before. The same challenges / issues that rendered the previous coalition agreement useless will render this one just as useless:
l Jostling for power – the leaders of smaller parties in the coalition being perceived to have more power and status than senior leaders in the dominant party (i.e. the very thing that caused the DC to splinter resulting in the coalition eventually imploding)

l Skirting around hard and tough issues to avoid upsetting and antagonising coalition partners i.e. foregoing the national interest to avoid imperilling the alliance
l Slow service delivery due to the need for consultations between the partners l Hurdles presented as the result of having weak institutions and the actions of corrupt state officials i.e. criminality condoned and tolerated (politicised) instead of being tackled.  l Inadequate capacity and state resources to respond to dire economic and social crises i.e. inability to implement policy
l Lack of humility, ego and personality related differences between leaders that make cooperation and collaboration between them a hard ask
Coalition agreements in the past failed to mitigate these challenges. In fact, in some instances, having the coalition agreement worsened the situation e.g. not consulting when the agreement says consultation is required collapsed our first coalition government.

These and many other challenges remain present and unremitting. However, there are a couple of “new things” in the new coalition agreement presumably included to increase the prospects for success for this coalition. The inclusion of confidence building measures to restore lost trust and confidence in government by citizens is one of these “new things”.
These measures include promptly implementing all outstanding decisions emanating from the intervention by SADC, limiting the abuse of public office by promptly strengthening investigative and judicial offices promptly, promulgating a public procurement code of conduct for politically exposed persons including ministers and senior officers, reviewing and passing new procurement legislation. Implementing all reform proposals outlined by both SOMILES and the Commonwealth (New Zealand Reforms) that do not require constitutional amendments and lengthy legislative processes.
The way I see it, pushing too hard on these things will be the very thing that will cause this coalition’s instability in future. Here are three examples why I say this (not exhaustive of course).
There are ministers in the current government who formed part of decisions by the previous government to frustrate the implementation of the SADC recommendations. For these Ministers, “promptly implementing all outstanding decisions emanating from the intervention by SADC” will not be as important and urgent as perhaps it is to new Ministers who were in the opposition at the time SADC issued the report. I therefore see a potential clash of priorities between the partners when the agreement must be actualised.

Secondly, it is not true that all these leaders want a strengthened justice system. Having strong investigative and judicial offices is not in the best interests of corrupt politicians both in and outside government. I therefore expect to see sparring between those in government who genuinely want Lesotho to have stronger investigative and judicial structures (motivated by national interest) and those who don’t (motivated by self-preservation).

Thirdly, reviewing and passing new procurement legislation and public procurement codes will close the space for politicians to distribute patronage. Because this will effectively reduce their scope to loot and to pillage state resources i.e. the easiest way to accumulate wealth in Lesotho, there is bound to be pushback from those who are in government for self-enrichment and instead public service.
The second “new thing” is the inclusion of a clause to invite SADC and other international partners to serve as mediators of last resort to the agreement in the circumstance that all local remedies fail to resolve a dispute.

When push comes to shove, I am not convinced this will make a difference. SADC is a toothless bulldog. Take for example how SADC was powerless in the past to force the Government of Lesotho to implement its recommendations. So, to say that SADC would serve as mediators of last resort does not mean much.
The acknowledgement that the current size of the cabinet is “too large for effectiveness and cost and could lead to fragmentation of government programs. The Partners agreed to review ministries and their responsibilities and thereafter re-align them as necessary before the beginning of the next fiscal year with consideration given to having a smaller government in future following the review”.

This is another “new thing” in the 2017 coalition agreement. This is one of those classic pronouncements by politicians meant only as a lullaby. Having a smaller Government would go against our culture of pushing partisan and personal interests instead the national interest. A smaller government before 2022 is a pipedream. It’s not going to happen. Let’s not fool ourselves.
Because 90 percent of the objectives and priorities are not new and there is nothing to write home about as far as the “new things” are concerned, I maintain my position that in Lesotho, Coalition Agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. The Coalition Agreement for National Unity, Reconciliation, Peace and Stability is no exception.
As far as I am concerned, great leadership, ethical and moral leaders, love for country, genuine trust and mutual respect between leaders, is what is required. No piece of paper i.e. a coalition agreement will ever make up for these things.

Poloko Khabele

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

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

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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