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We have the right to know



It is now three months since a new coalition government assumed power in Lesotho. Like in any democracy, Basotho have a right to know how this coalition government is going to govern them.
After all, these four parties individually, before elections made promises that will impact on Lesotho’s development agenda.
Now that elections are over and they are in government, governing together as a coalition, their governance programme ought to have been known by now. In any democracy, political parties are public institutions. Their activities should be subjected to public scrutiny.

I find it odd that up until now the public is not privy to their coalition agreement. It is mandatory for this coalition government to present its coalition agreement to Basotho.
In fact, a coalition agreement is a reflection of good governance. It is a blueprint that established the current government. The importance of this agreement will be discussed below.

The Importance of Coalition Agreement

A coalition government is a mechanism through which willing parties come together to lead the nation. Their agreement is usually based on shared policy agreement that they want to pursue in government.  This type of government often consists of two or more political parties who must compromise on principles and shared mandate to govern the country.
In other words, coalition parties work on the basis of mutual trust and agreed procedures which foster collective decision-making and responsibility while respecting each party’s identity.
This notwithstanding, coalition parties must still adhere to the concept of collective responsibility. Cabinet decisions remain binding to all coalition partners and consultation forms the hallmark of this important agreement.

The importance of a coalition agreement in a democratic society cannot therefore be overemphasized.  Those who led successful coalitions agree that the most important contribution to a successful coalition is trust, respect among leaders and good relationships amongst political parties in the coalition marriage.

This is why a coalition agreement is so important. One way to manage many of the challenges coalition governments face is to have a coalition agreement. Coalition agreements are agreements on policies and procedures that are entered into by political parties.  From an agenda-setting perspective, coalition agreements set the policy agenda of the government and thereby determine which issues the government should try to promote (and avoid) in its governing period.

In fact, the coalition agreement is a contract constraining the behaviour of not only individual party supporters but cabinet parties and ministers as well. The contract also constitutes a vertical constraint.  It actually constrains all levels of the party from ministers to Members of Parliament and ordinary rank-and-file members. Hence, one crucial aspect of a coalition agreement is that it regulates relations both between and within parties.

In this sense, coalition agreements are pre-commitments, by which the parties bind themselves to the mast in such a way that they are able to deal with challenges that may threaten the viability of the government. A coalition agreement is a viable document that provides the leadership with the mechanism by which they can resist temptations and pressures from their respective parties to renege on their agreements.  It is the radar that guides the ship through troubled waters. The nonexistence of this covenant can bring about unpalatable consequences.

The consequences of lack of coalition agreement

Basotho may recall among others, some of the factors that led to the collapse of the 2012 coalition government. The All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) could not agree on how the coalition government should have worked. For instance, the LCD leadership perceived the coalition as supposed to be consultative in all major aspects of policy in government.

Conversely, the ABC leadership saw a coalition agreement as an inferior document to the national Constitution that gives the Prime Minister (PM) powers to do as he pleases. They claimed that the agreement had no bearing to what the PM does according to the Constitution.  As such he was not obliged to consult anybody when he made decisions regarding the dismissal of ministers who were picked by the LCD. It is now common knowledge that this view was extremely erroneous.

The collapse of the 2012 coalition government was not the consequence of a lack of coalition agreement but lack of enforcement mechanisms.
The most general type of institutional enforcement mechanism lies in coalition agreements that coalition parties enter before going into executive branch collaboration.
Coalition agreements, formal or informal, are generally designed to prevent defection and indiscipline among the parties to the coalition.
Such agreements impose various degrees of coalition discipline in parliamentary votes, as well as in other parliamentary activities.

The current absence of a public document like a coalition agreement has given rise to immense negativity not only within the government itself but among coalition partners themselves and the public at large as will be illustrated below.

Rise of cronyism

A coalition agreement is supposed to govern relations and guard against cronyism between partners. If this is not done it will give rise to cronyism in most sectors of the public service.
In providing employment and tenders, competition has become stiff. Each minister is racing against time to look after their own supporters to the detriment of national development.
That is precisely why the Prime Minister had to warn ministers to desist from venturing in the governance of tenders.
Most supporters of the current coalition government appear to have developed a sense of entitlement at the expense of professionalism. Ministers are provided with cadre lists for employment with complete disregard to public service ethics and good governance.
The situation is so rife to the extent that it has now created intra-party conflicts among coalition members. In an environment where there are no rules of conduct such as a coalition agreement these anomalies are inevitable.

Undermining democracy

There are rules in every democracy relating to governance matters. The formulation of a coalition agreement is not only essential for the beginning of a new government but also for the beginning of a new parliamentary term.
Government declarations are likely to influence the legislative process in which the opposition and government face each other. How can government seriously govern the country without providing the nation with their governance programme?
The failure to provide the nation with such an agreement will ultimately undermine our democracy. The question is why does the government not feel ready to publicise its agreement?
Previous coalition governments provided their coalition agreements without any fuss. The nation was able to evaluate these governments on the basis of their agreements.
Misguided perceptions

Without a coalition agreement, people are bound to form misguided perceptions and develop an expectation overload. Recently people have raised concerns about the appointment of individuals who are related to powerful personalities in Lesotho.  What is interesting in the cases is that the individuals are Basotho who are qualified to get employment like everyone else.
There is a dangerous tendency for some Basotho who claim that others do not deserve similar work opportunities just because they are related to prominent politicians even when they have the requisite qualifications.

That mentality is not only bankrupt but must be rejected. People join politics to support both their families and their countrymen. In any event, politics is about the equitable distribution of resources, it’s about who get what? How? When and why?
It is foolish and incomprehensible to expect that a politician’s family should not benefit from the products of his work after following clean government processes. A coalition agreement can become a viable instrument in managing these issues.


A coalition agreement in a democracy is sacrosanct. It is concerned with the policies the new government intends to pursue. In general, we expect a coalition agreement to be more comprehensive since it is a reflection of good governance.  We all know that coalition governments have a short gestation period. A coalition agreement is a public document and the nation has a Constitutional right to know what is involved.  Our local non-governmental organisations have said this all the time. The public have a right to be informed about coalition programmes.
The current noises and unfortunate attacks on other coalition partners do not augur well for the government. The nation has a right to know the government’s programmes.
We expect to see tighter, or more centralised coalitions which are manifested in more explicit and detailed agreements as well as more elaborate institutions for their enforcement.

Dr Fako Johnson Likoti

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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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Reading, writing and the art of reflection



There is a close thread that runs through what you reflect on, what you read and what sticks in your mind. It’s almost a cyclic process with regards to how all these processes unfold. Today, in this installment we focus on the thread between reading, reflection and writing.

This appears a bit cumbersome to explain. But let’s simplify it. Let’s begin with a beautiful poem which encompasses what we have so far spoken about. Here we are! The poem is penned by “Tachibama Akemi.” It goes:

It is a pleasure
When, rising in the morning,
I go outside and
Find that a flower has blossomed
That was not there yesterday.

Seemingly, the poem is simple. But, on close analysis, it reflects very deep reflection and thoughtfulness.

The persona, in an existential fashion, reflects all about the purpose and meaning of life and his place in the overall matrix of life.

The persona carefully reflects on nature. This is what makes all this poem rustic and romantic.

The persona thinks deeply about the blossoming flowers and how the process of the growth of flowers appears almost inadvertently.

It is a poem about change, healing, the lapse of time and the changes or vissiccitudes in the life of a person are reflected creatively through imagery and poetry. We all go through that, isn’t it? We all react and respond to love, truth and beauty.

So far everything appears very interesting. Let’s just put to the fore some good and appealing thoughts. Let’s enlarge on reading, writing and reflection.

Kindly keep in mind that thoughts must be captured, told, expressed and shared through the magical power of the written word.

As a person, obviously through keeping entries in a journal, there is no doubt that you have toyed about thoughts and ideas and experiences you wish you could put across.

Here is an example you can peek from Anthony. Anthony likes writing. He tells us that in his spare time he likes exploring a lot. And, more often than not he tells us,

“I stop, and think, and then when I find something, I just keep on writing.”

So crisp, but how beautiful. Notice something interesting here; you need to stop, to take life effortlessly and ponderously, as it were; observe, be attentive to your environment; formulate thought patterns and then write.

To some extent, this article builds on our previous experiences when we spoke at length about the reading process.

But how can you do it? It’s not pretty much different. I can help you from my previous life as a teacher of English Languge.

The most important skill you must cultivate is that of listening, close listening. Look at how people and events mingle.

What makes both of you happy; enjoy it. I am sure you still keep that journal in which you enter very beautiful entries. Reflect about Maseru, the so-called affluent city. So majestic!

How can you picture it in writing!

I am glad you learnt to reflect deep and write. Thank you very much. Kindly learn and perfect the craft of observing, reflecting and writing. Learn that connection. Let’s meet for another class.

Vuso Mhlanga

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The Joker Returns: Part One



Don’t be put off by the title, esteemed readers; what follows has nothing to do with the Batman films. As you will be happily (or unhappily) aware, I am a big fan of jokes. There’s a common understanding that a joke is ruined if you have to explain it, and this is true, but some jokes do need a bit of background explanation. Anyway. I like jokes and I like thinking about how they work.

Many of my favourite jokes have to do with language and the way we use it. For example: “I just bought myself a thesaurus. I similar it very much.”

Other jokes have to do with human behaviour and here it is important, out of respect for others, to avoid jokes that perpetuate stereotypical ideas about gender, race, nationality, and so on. I’m afraid the following joke does depend upon a stereotype (I’ll come back to that), but here goes, after a bit of background information.

In Lesotho you have an insect called a praying mantis — stick-like, bright green, and with great bulging eyes. They are rather lovable, despite the off-putting fact that the female practices insect cannibalism; after mating, she consumes the male. So, now you’ve had your zoological primer, here goes.

Two praying mantises are getting up close and personal. The female says to the male: “before we have sex and I bite your head off, could you help me put up some shelves?”

Apologies to female readers, because, as I said, that joke perpetuates a gender stereotype, namely, that women are good with a vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush, but hopeless with a hammer and nails.

There are many jokes that are, as it were, much more serious than that. As I rattled on about in a couple of earlier columns, many of these are satirical — jokes that are designed to point a finger at human folly or even wickedness. In another column, titled “Should we laugh?”, I explored the question “is there any subject that should be kept out of the range of humour?”

Well, apparently not, if we take on board the following account of the Warsaw ghetto.

Historical preface first.

The Warsaw ghetto represents one of the worst atrocities in modern history. In November 1940 the genocidal Nazis rounded up all the Jews in Poland’s capital and herded them into a small sector of the city, which they euphemistically, cynically, dubbed the “Jewish Residential District in Warsaw.”

Here nearly half a million Jews were in effect imprisoned, barely subsisting on tiny food rations. An estimated quarter of a million were sent off to the death camps. An uprising against the Nazi captors was brutally crushed. Around 100 000 died of starvation or disease.

Not much to laugh about there, you might say. But then consider the following, which I’ve taken from the New York Review of Books of February 29th this year:

“In the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1941 Mary Berg, then a teenager, wrote in her diary about the improbable persistence of laughter in that hellish place: ‘Every day at the Art Café on Leszno Street one can hear songs and satire on the police, the ambulance service, the rickshaws, and even the Gestapo, [on the latter] in a veiled fashion. The typhoid epidemic itself is the subject of jokes. It is laughter through tears, but it is laughter. This is not our only weapon in the ghetto — our people laugh at death and at the Nazi decrees. Humour is the only thing the Nazis cannot understand.’”

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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