Beyond the call of duty

Beyond the call of duty

MASERU – WHEN Tseko Bohloa, 63, was informed that King Letsie III had appointed him to serve in the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Council, he was pleasantly surprised. Without any hesitation, Bohloa quickly accepted the appointment. He was immediately after elected chairman of the Council for a three-year term.

That was in August 2016. Bohloa, a respect Chartered Accountant, says he considered it both an honour and privilege to be of service to his country.
Yet it was not as if he was not aware of the immense challenges he was getting himself into.
At the back of his mind was a fierce determination and belief that he could bring some difference to Lesotho’s oldest university, an institution that for years had become a byword for mis-governance and instability.

Years of bitter infighting had stalled progress at the NUL. This was a university that had been bedeviled by instability. The result was that it had allowed itself to be overtaken by its peers in the southern Africa region. “I told myself that I could make a difference,” Bohloa says. “That was what drove me to accept the responsibility.”

It was almost like a calling. And so with missionary zeal, Bohloa took up the challenge and quickly put his hands on the deck.
He says the NUL should not be “where it is right now” because it was started a long time ago, way before other universities in the region were set up.
The university was established in 1945.

Bohloa says to achieve change, the Council’s first port of call was to ensure there was stability at the NUL.
“The turbulence, the protests by both students and lecturers did not augur well for the stability of the organisation to deliver high quality education,” he says.

“The question we had to grapple with was how do we stabilise the institution to create conditions that will permit learning?”
Bohloa says he and his colleagues in the Council have acted as a sounding board for NUL Vice-Chancellor Professor Nqosa Mahao as they embark on a journey to modernise the university.

He says the university had not moved to align itself with modern trends. “We are doing what we were doing 30 years ago,” he says.
To ensure the university remains relevant in the 21st century, Bohloa says there is need to modernise the university’s corporate governance structures.
The university also needs to modernise its course offerings.

“I could see a gap and I thought I can be able to lend a hand so that we move from this point, and the first step was to create stability,” he says.
“We have to make sure the policies are fair and that the university’s processes are fair and are applied fairly.”
Bohloa says it is tragic that the NUL is ranked a lowly 161 out of 300 universities in Africa according to a survey by UniRank University.
“We are close to the bottom while our sibling institutions such as the University of Botswana and University of Swaziland are miles ahead. Why did we drift and slide that low? It shows there is something wrong.”

“Our facilities are archaic while our student population is very low. We also have a limited portfolio on our course offerings.”
Bohloa believes the root cause of the malaise that had crept into the university was the dire lack of funding.
He wants an overhaul of the current funding model for the university.

“We must develop a strategy that we can sell to the government as the key financier.”
He believes the government has an “obligation to fund the institution”.

“They must be compelled to inject sufficient funding to ensure we have enough funds.”
He says while the university can do its small part to generate revenue through research projects, the biggest financier will remain government.
Bohloa says the university will always seek to “provide the best education that can compete with the best in the region”.
It’s a daunting task Bohloa is prepared to take.

He says by the time his three-year term as chairman ends next year, he wants “to point at something tangible” he together with his team in Council would have achieved at the university. “I have a dream but it is being driven by the Vice-Chancellor to tap private sector financing to develop student hostels. That will take pressure from the government.”

Bohloa says he is deeply concerned by what appears to be a “disconnect between ourselves (at the university) and those doing manpower planning for Lesotho”. “We need a coordinated strategy to ensure that whatever strategy we develop at the university fits in with the national strategy.”
He cites, for example, the agriculture sector.

Bohloa says while the university has been busy churning out graduates with skills in agriculture for decades, we have not tapped that expertise to ensure Lesotho revamps the key sector for the national good.
“What you see on the ground does not match what we have,” he says.

“We need to change the people’s mindset about the rewards in agriculture. This is not something that the university can achieve on its own.”
He believes that agriculture is one key sector that can dramatically change Lesotho’s economic fortunes.
Bohloa says the problem has been that the university has been designing programmes in terms of demand instead of in terms of the needs of the country.

That disconnect must be urgently addressed, he says.
He says for years, stakeholders at the university had “channeled all their energies towards fighting small battles”.
“We need to harness that energy and channel it towards worthwhile goals. We need to work on the mindset of our people to make them realise that we are a privileged institution that is operating in a difficult environment where resources are limited.”
The university, he argues, must go back to its original mandate –addressing societal challenges.
“The university must be solution-oriented.”

Away from the cut-throat world of academia and business, Bohloa has kept a healthy interest in the political affairs of his country.
And he has been thoroughly disappointed.
“There are people who thrive in crisis and where there is no crisis, they will create one,” he says in a withering assessment of the crop of leaders Lesotho has had since independence in 1965.

He says Lesotho has had a generation of leaders who see politics as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement.
“They are competing for state power so that they can accumulate resources for themselves.”
Tragically, that acquisitive spirit has become a sub-culture in Lesotho that must be dismantled for the national good, he says.
Sacrosanct national interests have now been subordinated to the whims of a select few, he says.

“We need to protect our institutions – the chieftainship, the police service, the public service, the education system and the judiciary – to ensure a better standard of living for our people.”
“We must create economic benefits that will trickle down to the people.”
Not only should we share the “national cake” equitably but we should “grow” the cake so that everybody can get a share, he says.
Bohloa wants Basotho to go back to the basics as epitomized by community initiatives of the past.
The idea was that when you are doing it for yourself, you are doing it for your own benefit, he says.
“We lost the momentum because of our own internal conflicts.”

Bohloa says Lesotho “needs an honest broker to bring us together as a people”.
He is pinning his hopes on SADC to help usher in a new political dispensation for Lesotho under the reforms.
For the reforms to succeed, Bohloa says Basotho “must minimise our natural tendency for suspicion”.
“We must approach these reforms with an open mind.”

Bohloa, a devout Catholic, graduated from the NUL with a BA in Accounting in 1977. His dream was to be a high school teacher.
He says Catholic priests at Mazenod and the values they stood for such as honesty and trustworthiness left a deep impression on his young mind.
More than six decades later, he remains a Catholic at heart.
Bohloa has extensive experience in the private sector.

Perhaps his stand-out experience came while working for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project between 1989 and 1997.
He says “it was a very fulfilling job that saw him mobilise funding for Phase One of the project”.
“I can look back with satisfaction that we were able to secure funding under very difficult circumstances as South Africa was still under apartheid and subject to economic sanctions.”

“We were doing what had never been done. The budget of the project was much bigger than that of Lesotho and I was heading a team of professionals which was very fulfilling.” “As an assistant to the chief executive managing stakeholder relations, I formulated strategies to help the project gain the necessary acceptance.”

He says that was not easy because the communities around the dam felt they had been short-changed and were getting a raw deal.
“We had to make sure they became viable partners in the project.”

Abel Chapatarongo

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