Mixing business with politics

Mixing business with politics

MASERU – WITH Lesotho inevitably hobbling towards a new general election, that would be a second in less than two years, Mining Minister Lebohang Thotanyana is a concerned man.

For Thotanyana, holding fresh elections without first carrying out the necessary reforms to “fix” what is ailing the country would almost be an exercise in futility.
Such an election might result in a change of government while leaving the fundamental issues that have haunted Lesotho for decades firmly intact.

“Even if the country calls elections right now, that will not help this country unless we pursue a reform agenda and reform all key institutions first,” he says.
Thotanyana says “we need to build the necessary checks and balances to make sure our democracy can benefit the people on the ground”.
“Nothing will cure our problems unless these reforms are done.”

In fact, Thotanyana says the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili which came into power after the 2015 election was built on a key electoral pledge –to undertake comprehensive constitutional and political reforms.

The reforms, he says, were not initiated by SADC but are a home-grown process as extrapolated in the governing parties’ electoral manifestoes.
He says politicians in the coalition government drafted a seven-point reform plan to ‘fix’ the Constitution, the Parliament, the judiciary, the security sector, the public service and the media.
“Our biggest intervention as politicians should be the reforms themselves,” he says. “The second point is that we must find ways of healing.”

That appears to be a tacit admission that the country has gone through periods of trauma. Yet, the issue of national healing appears to lie at the epicentre of Thotanyana’s vision for Lesotho.
Since independence from Britain in 1966, Lesotho has gone through what has proven to be a very traumatic 50 years characterised by toxic politics and armed conflict.
For Thotanyana, who at 42 is part of a new generation of Lesotho politicians uncontaminated by the country’s violent past, that narrative needs to change.
“The biggest cure is to engage in the reform agenda and find ways we can mend within a reformed environment.”

A qualified Chartered Accountant and a successful businessman in his own right, Thotanyana says Lesotho will never enjoy lasting peace until the fundamental issues of poverty and unemployment are addressed.

“We need a citizenry that is economically independent and once we achieve that people will find peace in the country,” he says.
Thotanyana says the looming vote-of-no-confidence in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili is a vivid reminder that “democracy is in full swing in Lesotho”.

He says Lesotho needs Constitutional reforms so that the “constitution can provide proper institutions of oversight and the necessary checks and balances”.
Thotanyana however has issues with “our electoral model” which he says sometimes contributes to an unstable political environment.

He says while the Mixed Member Proportional system “has a compensatory element so that each party has fair representation”, the model has in the past contributed to “unstable” governments.
“The fact that members can cross the floor at any time they want will create an unstable environment and political volatility.”

Thotanyana says he feels Parliament needs to come up with a “window” in which MPs can cross the floor.
Under the current situation, we have political parties that spend all their time scheming how they can “consolidate and win power”.
“We need a moment where the governing party can sit down and govern.”

Although Thotanyana formally entered mainstream politics when he stood as an LCD candidate in his home-town of Teya-teyang in the 2015 election, he says “he has always been a political animal” as long as he can remember.

The LCD was a behemoth on Lesotho’s political landscape, winning elections with thumping margins until Mosisili quit the party and formed his own Democratic Congress (DC) party in 2012.
A bitter power struggle saw Mosisili pack his bags to find a new political home. The LCD was never to be the same again. It soon morphed into a shell of its former self.

The party performed dismally in the 2012 election winning just 26 constituency seats. Thotanyana however blames the dismal performance on lack of adequate time to prepare for the election.
“The split happened too close to the election and the party could not regroup.”
However, the party’s fortunes plummeted further in the 2015 election when it could only claim 12 seats.

Thotanyana stood under the LCD ticket in his home-town of Teya-teyang confident that his popularity as a “son of the soil” and his close links with Lioli Football Club, which is based in the town, would sweep him into power.
He was wrong.

He too lost to the All Basotho Convention (ABC)’s Prince Maliehe.
In a candid assessment of why the party lost, Thotanyana says this was due to a sleek “propaganda war” waged by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s ABC and the Basotho National Party (BNP).

He says the two parties successfully used the power of incumbency to batter the LCD’s reputation.
The ABC and BNP were close allies in the last coalition government.

“The two parties had similar ideologies and they battered the party (LCD) with lots of propaganda. The LCD found itself an outsider in its own government,” he says.
He says while the propaganda war was being waged against his own party, they did not do enough to counter “the misinformation campaign”.
“I am not sure we invested enough to make sure our story was heard.”

The result, Thotanyana admits, was that the LCD was seen as a “trouble-maker”, an allegation he rejects with contempt.
He says the party’s stance on the issue of “engagement within the coalition government” was not understood properly.
“It was interpreted along constitutional lines and was too legalistic and the moral aspects were ignored. We lost the propaganda war.”
While the LCD might have lost the propaganda war, Thotanyana insists “the party won the war”.
“We had had enough and wanted an exit from that administration.”

Thotanyana says their time in government over the last 24 months has given them enough time to regroup and organise.
“All challenges have gone away,” he says boldly. “Our task right now is to rebrand the party and rejuvenate it.”
Thotanyana says the LCD is a party with an illustrious history of working closely with the poor and marginalised communities.
He cites the policy of free primary school education and old age pensions for Basotho. It is such policies that made the LCD the “darling of the masses” with its then leader, Mosisili, seen as the “poster boy” of Lesotho politics.

“This is a party with a history, it’s a party for the poor that talks their language and understands them better. Our task is to reposition the party to respond to current challenges and those of the future.”

But why would a successful businessman swap the boardroom for the turbulent world of politics, with all its attendant risks and pitfalls?
Thotanyana admits that he entered politics much earlier than he had planned. Although he has always been fascinated by politics, he says he only planned to get into full-time politics after retirement.

He says he had a change of thought after “his people” in Teya-teyang appealed to him to represent them in Parliament.
“Although I believed I was the best candidate, I lost,” he says.

He was to soon learn that voters are not necessarily appeased by grandiose policies and manifestos but base their decisions purely on emotions.
“We vote by heart and not our brains. Voters don’t care about the individual candidate, they are a lot more emotional,” he says.
“They clearly told me I was standing on the wrong side (politically).”

As a minister in charge of a key ministry for Lesotho, Thotanyana says he has become used to people making “noises over Mothae Mine”.
That is particularly true because “there are people who believe Mothae can be a springboard to great wealth”.

“They cannot see anybody else taking over the mine other than themselves. The matter has become politically contaminated, people want to politicise the whole matter. But we have been very transparent in our dealings. It is giving us the best value there is.”

Abel Chapatarongo

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