Dreams for Lesotho

Dreams for Lesotho

The questions of independence, foreign assistance and development in Lesotho remain core as markers of the kingdom’s progress in social, economic, educational, health and other terms. There is need for any one state to take a moment of reflection and to retrospectively analyse the trajectory the government has taken in terms of ensuring that the question of development is addressed in a manner that benefits the citizens and the state.

This therefore necessitates constant review by scholars, politicians and other academic professionals of the state of affairs in a country from one era to the next era. This is the type of process of review that gives out not only frank individual opinion, but it is also the type of analysis of the state of affairs that is supported by facts in the form of evidence from archives and records. A close reading of John Aerni-Flessner’s Dreams for Lesotho-Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development reveals a side to Lesotho’s history and its progress that makes current events clearer and easier to understand.

Independence came on the 4th of October 1966 and as laid out by the first prime minister in his addresses shortly thereafter, development, independence, and individual prosperity were interlinked (page 55). The glue to this union lay in the government whose role would be to assure the people of progress and ensure that the land would be used to fulfil the wishes of the people to “promote economic development and national prosperity”. This means that Lesotho’s vision right after independence was to see to the development of the people and the land.

This process would ensure that Lesotho would be fully decolonised or at least gain the true meaning of what independence meant. Aerni-Flessner puts it that independence and development are symbiotic with one promoting the other and the other confirming its symbiotic partner. It was the political leadership and the colonial officials that laid the foundation of this model for the decolonisation of the kingdom, with the primary focus lying in instilling it in the minds of the youth in the last years of colonialism and the early years of independence. He posits:

Their embrace of development was rhetorical and political, but it was matched by their action in youth organizations to bring projects to fruition that would show significant numbers of people what development, and hence independence, could look like.

The beginning of Chapter 2 of the book reveals a pattern that might have begun Lesotho’s dependence on foreign aid. It seems that Lesotho never for once held a moment of introspection with regard to finding out exactly what the potential of the state was with regard to effecting development based upon its internal resources. Not happy with the paltry sums donated by the United Kingdom and America in the name of development projects, Leabua Jonathan set off to different countries to look for aid.

What he did not understand was that “…the calculus of donor aid was more complicated. Both the United States and South Africa were loath to fund development efforts in Lesotho that they felt were lingering British colonial obligations.”(page 59) South Africa saw Lesotho as a potential ally and the United States only ‘saw Lesotho as a site to provide symbolic assistance to an independent African state and thus demonstrate their solidarity against European settler colonial regimes in the region.’

Development had begun in the 1930’s for Lesotho, but development projects were not well received because many of them ‘did not include meaningful popular consultation.’ (page 62) This was coupled with the sceptical view amongst the chieftainship and the youth on whether political independence could lead to economic improvement as echoed in the words of Caswell Molapo, “We wonder if we shall be able to manage self-government without adequate finance.”

Incorporation into South Africa has always been a worrying element in many of the development discussions, and it seems to have led to a defensive type of approach largely driven by the fear of the loss of power in decision-making on the part of the chieftainship and the local people. Development as an activity is not only focused on economic development but fans out into other areas that include industry, agriculture, education, planning and other sectors of society.

Aerni-Flessner’s book not only explores one sphere of so-called development but it also sets out to capture the role of the different forms of government that changed in the colonial, latter-day colonial and post independence state in influencing the processes linked to the phenomenon of development. Political and administrative leadership had the larger role to play, but their views were often governed by patriarchal outlooks on how society should receive development.

The true purpose of some of the development initiatives lost meaning in the hubbub of political rhetoric, for example, the kopanos and the Homemakers Association that came to be viewed along political lines with leaders such as Ntsu Mokhehle describing them as, ‘a massive gaggle of geese being herded by political and spiritual leaders.’ Despite the reality of the benefits of maintaining a wide variety of projects, political polarisation that came with the post-independence political state often rewarded the party followers and not entire communities as set out in the goals.

Independence and its approach to promises of a better life necessitated and speeded the need for a broader understanding of what development meant. Having been reluctantly accepted and understood previously as a threat to familiar systems of rule and governance, the advent of independence meant that the idea of development had to be defined in its full diversity.

There was the chasm of understanding between the senior citizens, the politicians, and the youth, with the older citizens often being described as suspicious of development and independence. The reality however, is that the older citizens had seen previous projects fail, leading to a push for more successful projects in the 1960’s. These too met the same fate, revealing, one can suppose, failure due to a habit of hesitation that had carried on since the 1930’s when the first church-driven anti soil erosion and other hesitant projects that were a response to the Great Depression were begun.

The hesitation sadly seems to carry on to the present day with regard to the implementation of government projects. An example of this behaviour revealed in the book shows that the colonial administration approached the International Development Association in 1961 in a bid to upgrade the road network to boost export-oriented agricultural production. The pre-implementation stage ended up confusing the scope of the project due to long and drawn out discussions that never actually included the target populations. Aerni-Flessner posits:

Administrators missed deadlines and could not produce technical reports in the timely manner that the World Bank demanded. They also could not agree on whether the project should emphasize macroeconomic growth for the territory or whether it should be run more as a public works program providing employment and skills training.

It is an attitude that carries to the present day as expressed by Michael Mateka on page 208 of the book who sees the lead cause to the failure of projects being attributable to their being:
“…a whole succession of ill-planned innovations that were never discussed and never evaluated. They kept displacing each other like water out of the tap and nobody ever doing anything”

His (Mateka’s) further frustration lay in the fact that, “with the introduction of these new things… you couldn’t question.” The basis of his frustration lay in the fact that government policy and its formulation never seemed to include the real role players on the ground, that is, dependence on the instructions of the funders from abroad excluded and limited the ability of Basotho to have a real voice when it came to the fashioning of development policy as well as specific projects.

A mismatch emerged between the time frames and expectations of donors on the one hand, and those of the communities concerned on the other; Lesotho’s civil servants and politicians often felt constrained in such circumstances, or used such situations to their own personal advantage, or that of their extended families or party networks. It is one of the realities that was born in the 1960’s, but which sadly carries on to the present day; where the formulation of government policy with regard to the implementation of development projects still remains the reserve of the ruling class, both political and technical, and not the people whose needs it is aimed at addressing.

One can say that the book addresses an issue pertinent to the understanding of the lead causes to the failure of development projects in the kingdom: Lesotho seems to have failed to retrospect, driven by the need of leaders to prove to the people their own prowess in attracting aid. What instead seems to have happened is a culture of replacing one failed project with another new one without exactly establishing what led to the failure of the previous one.

John Aerni-Flessner’s analysis of Lesotho’s trajectory in terms of development, independence, and foreign aid from the 1930’s to the present day not only provides a clearer understanding of the state and the entity we call Lesotho. Lesotho is also a kingdom made of socially and economically interconnected communities that seems to have not made much progress since gaining independence in 1966 because, it seems, in his words, that, “development planners and Lesotho government officials were not willing or able to build into projects in the 1960’s and the 1970’s” the very basic or primal elements that made up Basotho as a people.

The implementation of projects seems to have been on a politicised basis from the onset, ignoring the fact that Basotho viewed themselves as thickly connected members of multiple communities. It is the reality that gave birth to Basotho as a nation from Moshoeshoe I’s times, and its understanding by the officials would have helped a lot in assisting the people to internalise the rhetoric, practice and experience of development. Aerni-Flessner argues in terms a certain aid project that:

The project also suggests that the failure of planners and politicians alike to understand this sense of connectedness and community represents a missed opportunity to achieve fruitful development collaborations that could have meaningfully changed material circumstances.
Rather than address the needs of the people, there seems to be a now entrenched culture of compromising on the part of the government for the sake of getting the funds needed for development, funds that are often not used optimally, and from which senior officials and politicians as well as broader networks of ‘associates’ often profit, either directly or indirectly.

There are compromises in foreign policy for the sake of getting donor funds that often negatively affect the realities of the people on the ground, more so because it is hard to measure what the true results of such projects are in terms of sustainable outcomes . Polarised along political lines, the benefits from development projects are also so divided; benefiting party members and further tearing apart that sense of interconnectedness that gave birth to the Basotho nation and leading citizens to doubt the real purposes of development projects.

The book posits that Basotho have shown the resiliency of hope in the idea and practice of development. It is a genuine outsider’s view that needs also to question current and prevailing attitudes to development projects. Many were accommodating to USAID’s Food for Work Programmes because they effected real changes felt by all in the communities. One does not find this when it comes to the current Fato-fato programmes that have been accused of hiring the people along political affiliation lines. Perhaps it would be worth the author’s while to question current trends in development project implementation and the impact political affiliation has on the acceptance or the rejection of such projects.

There is in actual fact a loud culture of disillusionment with regard to development projects. The influence of politics in the implementation of projects is an issue that can now not be ignored. The perspective the book provides on Lesotho’s development is one that makes it clearer for the reader to understand the historical roots of current and prevailing attitudes when it comes to development in Lesotho these many years after the kingdom gained her independence.

To the student, the scholar and the interested layman seeking understanding on how it all began, Dreams for Lesotho, establishes itself as a valuable source of knowledge on the history of Lesotho and the kingdom’s trajectory of progress from independence to this day.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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