Lesotho: What must be done

Lesotho: What must be done

In recent times, the Lesotho government has gone through turbulence. Within five years, there were at least three elections. Each yielded hung-parliaments resulting in coalition governments with partners forever undermining each other. The challenges of HIV/AIDS and TB, coupled with a negative political environment hamper service delivery operations, adding to the difficult position. The present worldwide Covid 19 pandemic has exacerbated the already awkward dilemma we are in.

In the meantime, Lesotho remains amongst the poorest countries with about 57% of the population living in extreme poverty. Lesotho faces climate-related risks including erratic rainfall, droughts and soil erosion. These climate risks have had an adverse impact on food security resulting from the poor performance of the agriculture sector.

Lesotho’s 54th independence anniversary came and went. This year’s event was marked by a cleaning campaign led by His Majesty King Letsie III who was accompanied by the Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro on October 9 2020.

Lesotho is in the middle of national constitutional reforms under the National Reforms Authority (NRA). Organisations outside Lesotho initiated this process. SADC, the EU and the US sanctioned the commission. The reforms emanate from the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry. Although the lawmakers regularly drew their monthly salaries, they needed to be coerced by external powers to carry out their responsibilities. The constitutional reforms provide Lesotho with an opportunity to correct their shortcomings and build on their strengths.

This is not the first time that Lesotho finds itself in a democracy entropy. This disorder was brought upon us by our inheriting a foreign system, post-1966 independence. Postcolonial Lesotho represents an accumulation of legacy of failure. To understand our propensity to hurt our democracy, we need to look at how we got into this awkward predicament in the first place.

In the meantime, postcolonial independent nations, especially in Africa, politicians continue to promise democracy. But for Basotho, ‘democracy’ continues to be an elusive Utopia. A Utopia only the elites live in at the electorate’s expense.

Instead, Basotho experience hypocrisy, sycophancy and patronage. When the election seasons approach, politicians, smear the voters’ lips with honey as the traditional folklore tale tells of Tselane coercing ‘Limo’ into carrying a bag full of bees to his detriment.

After politicians win parliamentary seats, they forget their promises to the electorate. The amnesia remains till the next elections season when they need their votes once more. Meanwhile, the Government keeps the electorate poorly educated to deny them the ability to hold the politician accountable using quid pro quo, ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’.

Quid pro quo is the best method that the electorate may make politicians account. It enables the voters to attach conditions to their votes.
I seek to explore some fundamental Achilles heels that explain why democracy remains an illusion to Basotho. I critique the form of Government that the country adopted, postcolonial independence.

Lesotho lost its independence and became a British protectorate on March 12 1868. This is the date that the future of Lesotho as a sovereign was assured. With this single act, King Moshoeshoe outsmarted the Boers. Lesotho retained the portion that today, Basotho call home.
During this period, the colonial administration ran along with the customary chieftaincy. The head of the High Commission Territory was the Resident Commissioner. At independence, the Paramount Chief became King and Head of State and the Prime Minister, Head of Government. Lesotho adopted the Westminster government system.

Lesotho inherited a ‘successful’ European colonial government system. The system was successful where it originates in Britain. The British developed these laws in line with their values and cultural heritage. The system evolved over the years.

According to Couzens in Murder at Morija, the English generally viewed Africans as enemies that are dependent and must be provided for, but who must be prevented from rising to a position which nature did not intend of him. The High Commission administration held this view about Basotho. So, the colonial government was at war with Lesotho. Yet Lesotho adopted this government system at war with Basotho.

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ government. A system that is developed and is successful for one context will fail in another. A system imported from one country will not succeed in another.
At independence, we inherited the Westminster system of government, including the legislative lawmakers and critical state institutions. The aims and purpose of this system differ from the expectations of Basotho. Some examples of the key state organs that Lesotho adopted include:

l There is a Bicameral Parliament — consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly. Senate has thirty-three senators comprising 22 principal chiefs and 11 nominated members – these are the most misused constituent of Lesotho parliamentary system. The government uses these senators to undermine the electorate and ‘sneak in’ ‘failed’ politicians into cabinet positions as ministers.

The national assembly has 120 members of parliament (MPs). There are 80 MPs representing constituencies and 40 proportional representatives, PR.
Unfortunately, parties use the PR seats to undermine the electorate and ‘sneak in’ politicians rejected by their constituencies into parliament. It is not uncommon in Lesotho to find a minister without a constituency compromising accountability. Government reward political aspirants who fail to even stand at constituencies by making them principal secretaries or ambassadors.

Although the PR system’s introduction had good intentions, the consequences reveal otherwise. The method results with the proliferation of parties for selfish reasons.
l The judiciary is headed by a Chief Justice and other jurists comprising judges of the high court, magistrates in lower courts. The judiciary adopted a mixed legal system, the common law and Basotho customary law.

However, common law is superior. The courts administer appeals under common law. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that there were conflicts between the two practices as early as King Moshoeshoe’s time. Basotho found the system unjust. They denounced the magistrates’ system adjudicating on the matter Basotho felt were out of the colonial courts’ jurisdiction.

The Lefela brothers’ Lekhotla la Bafo campaigned for the restoration of chieftaincy powers in colonial Lesotho. They believed that the chiefs had prominent roles to play in Lesotho.
l The country’s security cluster consists of the military – the Lesotho Defence Force with about 2 300 strong forces; Lesotho Mounted Police Services with 4 700 serviceman and women; National Security Services with 1 800 intelligence personnel and Lesotho Correctional Services with about 1 800 correctional officers.

The only country that may threaten Lesotho’s sovereignty is South Africa. However, South Africa, with a population about thirty times that of Lesotho, is too vast for us to make any military challenge. Moreover, the two countries are members of the African Union and SADC. The only enemy that Lesotho has is Basotho. The politicians unleashed the army against Basotho on many occasions. In the present Covid 19 pandemic the Security Cluster enforces submission to political authority.

l The World Bank reports that Lesotho’s public healthcare system is ailing and crisis plagued. Affordable healthcare is scarce and inaccessible to the general public. Only ordinary Basotho use public healthcare facilities. In short, the Government has no faith in Lesotho’s healthcare facilities.
Around 2015, Lesotho’s opportunity to address its public healthcare challenges fell flat when the Government shut down the Lesotho Medical School initiative.

l Lesotho continues to offer an inferior education system that fails to meet the country’s needs. Only the general public send their children to these schools. Those who have, e.g., politicians, ministers send their children elsewhere.

Higher education institutions find themselves producing graduates who cannot join the economy, as employers or employees. At the same time, the country continues to hover at the bottom echelons of poverty.
Basotho are one people who embraced strangers. Moshoeshoe encouraged Basotho to welcome strangers and learn from them. Racism is a European and American construct created to demean Africans. Furthermore, while Basotho recognised chieftaincy, they had no class system.

This article shows that Lesotho adopted government systems designed to suppress Basotho. This system created the divide and rule system, ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘us’, the elites rule ‘them’, the objects. ‘Them’ are the ‘nobodies’ that ‘us’ use and discard. In our case, ‘them’, the ‘nobodies’, refers to the general Basotho. The politicians dehumanise the ‘nobodiness’ in’ ‘them’. The ‘us’ exclude ‘them’. The exclusion of ‘them’ by ‘us’ is similar to how the colonial Government bundled Basotho as subhuman.

A consequence of the artificial systemic segregation is creating the First-Lady’s position in a monarchy, where their Majesties are the first family. The creation came to haunt the country. The English proverb that best describes the former Government’s predicament says: ‘the chickens have come home to roost’.
Many families in rural areas own farming fields. However, these fields lay fallow. Farmers are poor, lack resources and skills to plough their fields.

There are no subsidies for farming. The challenges expose them to exploitation where farmers take block farming deals, giving them 30% of their harvest proceeds. After the harvest season, the farmer remains unempowered. The vicious cycle of hunger, poverty, unemployment is maintained, forcing them to leave their fields behind to seek employment in urban centres.

In 1833, the missionaries found a nation with pride. Yet the politicians have made dependence look ‘cool’! Lesotho cannot be independent as long as she relies on donor agencies such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act. While this agreement is beneficial to Basotho, the USA determines Lesotho’s participation. She cannot claim independence if it cannot determine its future.

A myth that often accompanies foreign aid is that investors provide job creation opportunities and prosperity. A legendary Zambian politician, Kapwepwe, warned African countries that former colonial masters would return as investors. Today commentators warn African countries to guard against re-colonisation by China, who comes under an investor’s banner. The Chinese indebt African countries to gain full control of their mineral wealth. Basotho farmers are victims of such Chinese deals.

Presently, Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. Many argue that one of the amendments of the constitution should increase the powers of the King. History reminds us of the causes of the French, Bolshevik Revolutions, and many others. There must be checks and balances to any such power.
Lesotho’s constitution provides for local Government and chieftaincy. It is an open secret that many chiefs abuse their power and the public have no recourse. The national reforms must suggest ways to address Basotho’s cries.

Some politicians, especially those in previous governments, advocate for establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). There is no evidence that the South African TRC worked. News of racial tensions continue to dominate the South African media, 26 years post 1994 elections. TRC may appeal in terms of humanity, but it fails in terms of ethics and justice tests. Justice presupposes peace and prosperity.

Lesotho adopted a government system that is brutal to Basotho. This system regarded Basotho as the enemy who must be oppressed. To enforce the oppression, the Government makes the working conditions of security clusters, military, intelligence and the police conducive to ensure their loyalty. The security clusters are not loyal to the constitution.
In the meantime, the Government and the executive cease to be accountable to the legislature and the electorate. Lack of accountability leads to tyranny, injustice and rule by a hand grenade. Party manifestos and promises are mere gimmicks used to buy the electorate’s votes.

The Government deliberately provides substandard education, at school level and beyond, to keep Basotho’s knowledge inferior so that they do not demand a quid pro quo at the end of the parliamentary term. This system is similar to that of Britain. It enables politicians to exploit taxpayers repeatedly.

Lastly, while politicians carry the blame for Lesotho’s political chaos, academics cannot be spared for their failures, too. Education is the best instrument that a country can use to dismantle the bondage of oppression. Investing in education makes sense, thus should be a priority of Lesotho. Unfortunately, those sent to obtain the best education, end up copying the ways of the former colonial masters instead of fighting the system for the benefit of the African man and woman.

The words of the high court and court of appeal of Lesotho summed why democracy in Lesotho. The High Court described the then Government Executive as a lethally toxic cocktail of unprincipled populist, demagogic whistle dog politics of crime control through state-sponsored violence. To achieve this, the police turn into instruments of oppression.
In conclusion, this article confirms that a successful government system in one country may not be so successful in another. The outcomes of importing a government system proved detrimental to Basotho.

Consequently, our government’s hallmarks are unaccountability, inequality, tyranny, injustice, sycophancy, corruption, and unstable governments.
The NRA must identify the best form of governance for Lesotho. This government structure must consolidate Basotho’s culture and customs in the best interest of all. The government, the bicameral parliament’ shape and size must be critically assessed and overhauled.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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