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Of politicians and ‘class solidarity’

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It does not help much to consider any given issue from its midway point or to hold the notion that what one sees in the end is what the main fact is: all issues have their origins somewhere; there is always a cause to consider for all things have their point of beginning. With regard to any type of phenomenon in the world, the wisest move is that which strives first to understand the basis of any matter that has to be dealt with, to find the root cause first before attempting to unravel the pieces with which the entity in question is made of.

Blundering on with the foolish notion that it shall reveal its true form as the path is beaten is the way of the gambler, a pattern that does not guarantee that the phenomenon will ever be understood in full. Understanding the basics of anything is the first step towards attaining full understanding of the inner ramifications of an entity. First understand the simple before going to the complex, for it is the surest way to reaching a good conclusion, a right point of destiny, and a satisfactory result.

The main topic of interest with any type of reform begins first with the understanding of the history of the given system of governance or the state that uses the given system and how the existing systems affect the general harmony within society that engenders or adversely impacts the harmonious running of a given state. There are various types of reform going on in the various African states and the lead discussions focus mainly on the symptoms and not the causes (the Lesotho discussion is one such where the public has largely not been consulted, with the discussions largely limited to closed meetings and conferences, in reality labelling such type of reform process more of an imposition than a consultation).

This pattern is the same that was adopted by the colonists right at the beginning of the colonisation project that is in itself the actual source to most of the governmental and administrative problems plaguing the African continent at this point in time. The colonist imposed his system without consultation, without really bothering to find out whether existing systems were efficient enough in the running of society.
Africa already had its systems of governance that had proven effective over millennia, but the colonist with ulterior motives made sure to do away with them to guarantee that the looting of the human and natural resources would be an easier process to perform and to achieve. Of this, Walter Rodney gives an example in his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (page 192):

The kings of Buganda set up a small permanent armed force, which served as a bodyguard; and the rest of the national army was raised when necessary. The political administration was centralised under the Kabaka, and district rulers were appointed by the Kabaka and his council, rather than left to be provided by the clans on a hereditary family basis. Great ingenuity went into devising plans for administering this large kingdom through a network of local officials. Perhaps the best tributes to the political sophistication of Buganda came from the British, when they found Buganda and other East African feudalities in the 19th century. They were the best tributes because they were reluctantly extracted from white racists and culturally arrogant colonialists, who did not want to admit that Africans were capable of anything.

The lead problem here was not that the colonist did not see the effectiveness of the system, individual racist pride took the fore, for the European in a manner still regarded himself a more superior being than the aboriginal inhabitant of the land on which he had set foot. Rodney further posits on page 193 that:

Actually, Europeans were so impressed with what they saw in the inter-lacustrine zone that they invented the thesis that those political states could not possibly have been the work of Africans and must have been built at an earlier date by white ‘Hamites’ from Ethiopia. This myth seemed to get some support from the fact that the Bachwezi were said to have been light-skinned. However, in the first place, had the Bachwezi come from Ethiopia they would have been black or brown Africans. And secondly, as noted earlier, the cultures of East Africa were syntheses of local developments, plus African contributions from outside the specific localities. They were certainly not foreign imports.

The case continues when it comes to the issue of effecting reforms in the Mountain Kingdom; there has been no attempt whatsoever to consider the simple fact that Morena Moshoeshoe’s systems of governance were in actual fact so effective that other governments that came after were based on his models. The attempt at reform is largely drawn from foreign ‘junior’ opinion and not local concern or perspective. It is as if the simple man or woman in the street has no idea how things should be and the system therefore has to impose plans and strategies. This clogs the equation in that the very people on whom the reforms are imposed are only superficially considered ‘partners’ that are expected to ‘cooperate’ at the end of the day and this brings up the question: how can one cooperate where they do not have the full understanding of what they are dealing with?

It comes back to the issue of individual self-interest over the more vital issue of national well-being. It helps no one that someone thinks that they are such a smart Alec that they consider their opinions to have so much weight they can be considered over those of others. The fact of the matter is that individuals live in houses where there are families, and those families are a part of the larger community that in itself is a part of the state. It is a Charles Dickens perspective, but it has its roots in the philosophy of Ubuntu where the basic understanding is that one is because there are others, meaning that one cannot be without the presence of the others.

There are the masses that have to be consulted first before drawing the idea that a certain system has to be imposed on them, for every man is his own man, with his own opinions whose most vital aspect lies in their ability to connect with those of the other individuals existent in his immediate or external environs. The main point of argument lies in the fact that the consultation was not thorough, it was merely carried out in a partisan fashion that addresses the interests of the political class and their followers in the main and not those of the nation as a whole.

The argument could be that the issue of reforms can easily have more than a million ideas as to how it should be carried out, which would therefore mean that the discussion would be lost before reaching a veritable conclusion, but the main point of reiteration here is that there are living examples found in the history of Lesotho that can be used as points of reference rather than the findings and suggestions of one commission of inquiry. The Mosotho citizen should be given enough time to introspect and the nation should first be engaged in a comprehensive introspective dialogue before reaching the conclusion that the suggestions put forth by a single commission are worthy enough to be imposed as the model for a progressive approach to reforms.

The notion that two years of discussion can bring about changes to a problem that is older than fifty years is in simple terms illogical. The discussions should be more in-depth in their approach, and imposition should not be seen as the only way to reaching the desired point of conclusion.

The world operates on the basis of systems, and such systems need to be understood comprehensively if they are to be of any use to the people aiming to use them. The governmental system in Lesotho claims to use the Westminster style or system of governance adopted before and after independence.

It is quite different from the indigenous system of governance used after Moshoeshoe I’s national reforms, and to a large extent is a system that was imposed on Basotho after Moshoeshoe’s request for Lesotho to be a protectorate of the British Empire. It did not serve local interests but those of the colonist in its beginnings, for the main point of interest in its structure was the demolition of systems of rule and governance already existent in Lesotho society.

The power of the chief and the paramount chief was to a large extent reduced and in its place the power of the colonial/political elite was installed. The problem therefore lies in the fact Lesotho claims to be a monarchy but the monarch does not hold the power to effect changes in state rule and governance; the Prime Minister holds sway in this aspect, holding the executive power to effect changes.
There is no clear sense of hierarchy when it comes to rule and governance from the point of view of the common citizen. A clear understanding of hierarchy is a vital aspect when it comes to the issue of any type of revolt or change, that is, everyone first needs to know their place before they can contribute in the process. Should hierarchy or the understanding thereof be as vague as it stands in the land at this point in time, then executing it will become a hard process to complete, for the people need first to know and to understand who is leading who.

What could be a simple process can be lost to time as people flounder from one point to the next as leaderless birds on a migration journey. There is a need to know who exactly holds sway between the king and the Prime Minister in the instance of Lesotho, otherwise it will be endless sessions of opinion that end in nothing as seems to be the case with a country that has had more external interventions to sort local problems than any other state in the world. Intervention is well and good, but the fact of the matter is that Lesotho first needs to understand itself from the point of view of the individual, the community and the nation.

The real flaws in government are normally disguised by the rhetoric of political discourse which in fact promotes the effects of ideological manipulation (through political interests). This ideological manipulation’s weaknesses are brought into the open sphere where they can be seen by all citizens through the exposure of a particular situation which is often of a revolutionary form.

The revolutionary focuses only on the truths the ordinary people face and not the interests of the ruling class that in the case of Africa has largely been a self-serving entity that promises one thing at the rally and delivers the opposite in Parliament. It is pretty hard to question the politician once they become a Member of Parliament, an aspect which the German poet and intellectual Hans Magnus Enzensberger attributes to what he terms as “class solidarity”, based on the protection of a particular class’ interests to which he asserts:

For a ruling class does not permit itself to be questioned unconditionally before it has been defeated. Before that it does not reveal itself, does not account for itself, does not give up the structure of its actions, except by way of mistake…

The loquacious discussion that has been going on in Lesotho has been the ‘congress/national’ debate that has been going on for the past 50-plus years. It is the first point at which the reform process should begin, with none of the recalcitrance one sees between the two sides at this point in time. The failures of both parties over the years are what put this country where it is at this point where reforms have to be seriously considered as being the only way we can go forward as a state and nation.

What put the two parties at loggerheads is the first aspect that should be considered instead of the pointing of fingers one sees escalating with each passing day. There is room for reform in our hearts, but the real causes are possibly in the issue of party politics: the point at which the discussion must start. Justice Phumaphi must not be used as the scapegoat when people want to avoid getting to the gist of the matter in terms of the origins of the civil unrest and polarisation brought and manifest in the political history of post-independence Lesotho.

One learns with each passing day, and the people one meets are not only wells of wisdom but they are also libraries of information for one if one listens closely enough. What one hears is that the reform process should adopt a stance where the real origins of the divisions are questioned to the point where the solutions in the form of reforms are found. Right now, it is endless dilly dallying over pride and history, and there is no end in sight.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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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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