Unpacking the historical roots of Lesotho’s political instability
“I regard conversion of Basuto into British subjects… as the best guarantee we can take against future disturbances (i.e. instability).” Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 25 May, 1868.
The aim of this paper is not to review contributions that others have made to an understanding of what lies at the root of Lesotho’s political instability. There are several of such writings, and they consist, mainly, of journal and newspaper articles.
They exist, also, in varying degrees of scholarly merit. Among the more serious contributions to this matter have been writings of the economist James H. Cobbe, who has looked at the broader issue of the economic and, therefore, political, viability of the Lesotho state. Writing specifically about inability of Lesotho’s economy to keep citizens within the country, in 2004, Cobbe wrote:
It is difficult to envisage a set of policies that could change Lesotho’s status from what it now is: a relatively impoverished peripheral appendage to South Africa from which the more talented, skilled, industrious, or desperate will increasingly migrate to more prosperous places in South Africa.
The subject has also attracted charlatanic ‘analysis’ intended to pass as scholarship. A typical example of this is a journal article by Zibani Maundeni, published in 2010. To explain political instability in Lesotho, the author has accepted colonial characterisations of the ‘native’—Basotho, in this case—as rebellious, and, in a very military fashion, he has described Basotho as lacking ‘discipline’ and ‘loyalty’.
In Maundeni’s paper, the hitherto noble and laudable Africans’ acts of resistance to colonial rule have become abomination. The phrase ‘political culture’ has been used, in the article, to hide the author’s inability to identify and analyse precisely what lies at the root of political instability in Lesotho.
So, according to Maundeni, rebelliousness, indiscipline, disloyalty, and ‘hatred’ of Christianity constitute ‘Basotho’s political culture’. Specifically, “(r)ebellion became entrenched in Sotho political culture.
Christianity and missionaries who preached peace became more marginalised . . . ” because “(Basotho) principal chiefs favoured violence . . . ” (p. 131) “(U)ncompromising was part of the Sotho traditional and modern political culture.”(p. 132) We are supposed to understand that, this is why political instability is persistent in Lesotho. In short, the History of the paper is bad; and its analysis is extremely poor.
It should be clarified, at the outset, that, this paper neither questions nor discusses Basotho’s nationhood. Issues of viable statehood and nationality are quite capable of being separated.
Thus, although a people’s possession of territory is one of the requirements for nationhood—the others being a common mother-tongue, similar historical experience, and common values—historians and political scientists know that there have been cases, in human history, when nations, nationhood and nationalism have existed without a country.
The British colonised Basotho and their territory precisely because of the political instability that was in-built in the circumstances in which Basotho were expected to live after they lost a large part of their territory under conditions of settler colonialism.
Against the background of losses of large tracts of territory to the Free State from the 1830s, in years immediately preceding establishment of colonial rule, Basotho’s attempts at a decent and sustainable living could not succeed without causing ‘inter-territorial, regional, or international’ political instability in a form of disruption of colonial boundaries.
It is this, partly—the need to establish ‘international, or regional’ political stability for the benefit of colonial commerce—that drove the British to colonise Lesotho, in the late 1860s.
By that time, the territory left to Basotho was of such quality and size that, Basotho’s violations of colonial borders, and the political instability these violations led to, could only be stopped by restoration of territory, or colonisation.
The British opted for the latter and, during years under colonial rule, used a combination of force, on the one hand, and availability of opportunities for economic dependence which acted as ‘safety-valves’—a Customs Union and income therefrom, migrant labour, and so on and so forth—on the other.
In the post-colonial era, for some time, inter-territorial political stability continued sustained by safety-valves of economic dependence and international aid. In time, however, access to migrant labour declined; income from the Customs Union fell; and international aid also dwindled. Consequently, forms of nineteenth century inter-territorial political instability—intense activity at the borders, both legal and illegal—returned.
Unlike in the nineteenth century, however, illegal boundary disruptions have not led to wars because of the security capabilities of Lesotho’s neighbour. Within the country, the conditions under which Basotho and their territory were colonised debased struggles for power in ways that led to political instability.
This became possible not only because of the weakness of state institutions, in general, but also because of the weakness, in particular, of institutions—parliament, judiciary, etc.—which ought to act as checks and sources of political stability.
Historical roots of Lesotho’s political instability
A reading of historical sources suggests that, British colonisation of Lesotho and Basotho was influenced by commercial and strategic concerns as well as compassion, or philanthropy. For a period of over twenty years prior to Lesotho’s colonisation, Basotho lost large tracts of land to the Free State via conquests, treaties and other means.
By the 1860s, territory left to Basotho was so small and so marginal that they had to violate colonial boundaries in order to live. These violations became a source of inter-territorial instability as Free Staters had to chase Basotho out of their territory; this led to conflicts that increased in intensity until they reached levels of the 1865-1867 war. In these conflicts, the Free Staters pursued an apparently contradictory agenda of exterminating Basotho, on the one hand, and conscripting them as labour, on the other.
From a point of view of British commerce in the region, colonial officials felt that these conflicts, and the political instability they caused, were inimical to British colonial commerce.
Two options availed themselves to the British as ways of achieving that stability. One was to allow the Free State total and final victory over Basotho and hope political stability would be thus established.
The other was to colonise Basotho and their territory, and bring British world-power status and influence to bear on prospects of political stability in the Mohokare valley.
The British chose the second option for two reasons, mainly. The first reason was that, the British were in some kind of competition for commercial and political supremacy with Boer Republics of the Free State and the Transvaal, and the British feared that Free State’s control over Basotho and the rest of their territory would bring benefits of a strategic nature to the Free State in that competition.
Political instability occasioned by conflicts between Basotho and Free State Boers was inimical to British commerce and to long-term British domination of commerce and politics in the region, and it had to be stopped.
As Wodehouse put it in his attempt to convince a reluctant British government to agree to his plan to colonise Lesotho, if the instability could be stopped, Basotho and the Boers would stop attacking one another, and “(o)ur commerce will no longer be ruined by their quarrels.”
From a strategic point of view, the British were determined that the Boers should not gain access to a seaport, as this would undermine British monopoly of international trade in the region, and present the Boers with opportunities to acquire arms independent of the British.
It was the view of colonial officials that Free State’s conquest of the rest of Basotho territory had to be stopped because it would enhance chances of the Free State’s access to a seaport at Port St John’s.
The second reason for choosing the option of colonisation was sheer human—humanitarian, even—reactions that can be summed-up as philanthropy.
From the very beginning, the extent to which Free State Boers showed themselves to covet, and sought to seize, Basotho’s land persuaded the missionaries that Free State wanted to exterminate Basotho.
Thus, as early as 1842, the missionary Rev. Dr John Philip warned representatives of the British government in southern Africa that, if they did not intervene timeously, soon the Free State Boers “ . . . shall have exterminated tribes (who live under Moshesh’s protection) and got possession of the country and horses of Moshesh.”
The ferocity with which the Free State conducted war against Basotho in the 1860s, and the extent of Basotho’s territory they sought to seize, were so out-of-proportion that, no less a personage than a former Free State President, Josias Hoffman, described the Free State’s war plan as “hellish”.
Central to the Free State’s war plan, he said, was “ . . . destroying, rooting out, and driving away the Basutos . . . ” If this ‘hellish’ plan was persevered with, he said, he saw no way out for Basotho —“Where can they go?” he asked — and “ . . . feared the consequences.”
Moshoeshoe I saw matters no differently. The Free State’s activities to seize Basotho’s land reached levels which he could only interpret as having the purpose to exterminate Basotho.
That this was the way he saw matters is clear in his response to Free State and British colonial officials’ ultimatums asking him to remove his people from territory claimed by the Free State.
Like Hoffman, he expressed himself as being at a loss as to where such people could go: “If I remove (Basotho), I have nowhere where I can establish them . . . ”
The representative of the British government in southern Africa—and the man who finally acted to colonise Basotho and their territory—described the Free States war against Basotho as a war “ . . . which had been converted, by the Free State, into a process of starvation, tending to drive Basutos into a state of misery . . . ”
If anything could have provided forceful evidence of the Boers determination to destroy, or root out, Basotho, it was the amount of territory that they left to Basotho, in 1866.
With the British denying them access to guns and ammunition, and turning a deaf ear to their pleas for protection against a Free State army which had access to British guns and ammunition, the Free State inflicted heavy defeat on Basotho in the first round of Seqiti War (July, 1865-March, 1866).
They seized almost all of lowlands territory to the northeast and southwest of Lesotho’s modern territory, totalling some 12 737.5km² of 30 355 km² that makes up Lesotho’s territory today.
In the northeast, they seized 8 181.25km², including all territory consisting of the country’s best land that receives highest annual precipitation. In the southwest, they seized 4 556.25km² of territory—from just north of Maseru, in the west, to the point where Tele river joins Senqu river, to the east.
Basotho remained with just over half—17 617.5km²—of territory that makes up Lesotho today, and less than 10 percent of Lesotho’s current lowlands. Close to 90 percent of what remained was foothills and mountains.
Today, 90 percent of land that the Free States had seized is home to 80 percent of Lesotho’s population, and constitutes 90 percent of all arable land.
Without violating boundaries and thereby causing instability, making a living on the foothills and mountains that were left to Basotho would have been utterly impossible.
In large part, it is this—Free State’s seizure of what remained of the best land and forcing Basotho on small marginal land—that drove Moshoeshoe, Hoffman, and Wodehouse to the conclusion that Free State’s intention was to exterminate Basotho.
From a philanthropic point view, this is what moved Wodehouse to declare Basotho British subjects and what was left of their territory British territory.
From the point of view of territorial possession, Wodehouse described the plight of the people that he declared British subjects as follows: “Basuto were in extreme difficulties, the Boers were pressing them at all points, their forces were within a few miles of Moshesh’s residence, Thaba Bosigo”.
Simply put, after over two decades of Basotho’s attempts to secure British protection from Free State’s threat to their existence as an independent chiefdom, and secure the extent of their territory, a point came when Basotho’s predicament pricked the conscience of a British government’s official on the ground, Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse, who lent a sympathetic ear to Moshoeshoe I’s pleas for help and diplomatic overtures.
Wodehouse had the fortune that, the situation enabled him to justify his action in ways that his superiors in London would view as being line with government policy—safeguarding British commercial interests—and also in ways that a philanthropic British public would understand—protecting a ‘tribe’ from extermination.
Which of these motives was paramount is debatable. However, what is clear is that, the ruling circumstances enabled Wodehouse to act as a government official performing duties he was employed to perform, on the one hand, and to act in accordance with his personal, private conscience, on the other.
Thus, in July 1869, he was able to explain his intervention on behalf of Basotho as having been stimulated by “ . . . a sense of duty…” to the Cape Colony—and therefore British Empire—and compassion induced by Basotho’s distress, or “ . . . what some would term sentimental sympathy” for Basotho.
In territories the Free State conquered to the northeast and southwest, parts were set aside as ‘native reserves’—‘Molapo’s Reserve’, in the northeast, and Letsie’s Reserve in the southwest.
This ‘bantustanisation’ is important because it reveals philanthropic and settlerism’s dominant thinking regarding treatment of ‘native’ populations: they were to be left small pieces of land where they could subsist and provide labour to the economy of adjacent European society.
This is what territory left to Basotho by the time of colonisation had become—a piece of land set aside for purposes of settling a tribe threatened with extermination.
It should not be thought that, use of words such as ‘extermination’, ‘destruction’, ‘rooting out’ by the missionaries, Moshoeshoe, and Hoffman, was frivolous exaggeration.
All these men were aware that settler colonialism—such as was being established in southern Africa—was responsible for mass murder, genocide, ‘extermination’ and ‘destruction’ of native communities in America and Australia, for example.
Here and elsewhere, natives were being hunted down and killed, or forced to live in conditions which tended to lead to their destruction.
Closer home, although, typically, he himself held more enlightened views about the Bushmen and became famous for rejecting their ‘otherness’, saying ‘Do not say to a Bushman, “You Bushman!”’, Moshoeshoe was aware that, given the attitudes of his people and white settlers towards the Bushmen, and the treatment that these communities meted out to the Bushmen, their future as a people was bleak.
He saw attitudes of white settlers towards his people, and the fact that they wanted to take all of Basotho’s land, as evidence that they wanted to exterminate Basotho. It is this knowledge of attempts at, and experiences of, extermination, locally and elsewhere, that must have filled Hoffman and Moshoeshoe with fear, and filled Wodehouse with the sympathy that made him act.
Colonisation and Annexation
For years, the British limited their involvement in southern Africa’s regional politics to maintaining their commercial and political superiority. This was done as cheaply as possible, and by means that included invocation of reputation, appeasement, and other means that avoided military confrontations to an extent possible.
Applied in situations where invocation of reputation did not work, appeasement meant that, for many years, the British watched as the Boers seized land that Africans regarded as theirs.
Indeed, in Basotho’s cases, British colonial officials facilitated such seizures to the benefit of the Boers, putting Basotho, who looked up to Britain for fairness, under various forms of pressure to sign boundary treaties that favoured the Boers.
The last of this form of injustice against Basotho had been perpetrated by Wodehouse himself, three years before declaring Basotho British subjects, and their territory British territory.
As he admitted to his son, after his intervention in a boundary dispute between Basotho and Free Staters, in 1864, “I gave my Award at Aliwal (North) and sent it to both parties.
It is quite in favour of the Boers…” This was in line with British policy in southern Africa. Thus, in May, 1868, he reminded his superiors in London that, Basotho had suffered greatly as a result of British policy and its implementation by him and his colleagues.
He blamed Basotho’s defeat and distress on a war “…in which, while professing neutrality, we were withdrawing ammunition from the Basutos and supplying [it] freely to their enemies . . . ”, and he recollected that, at his and his colleagues’ “solicitation”, “ . . . Moshesh had twice . . . consented to spare the very State which was now [canvassing] his destruction…”
It was this policy of ‘neutrality’ and its implementation which had made it possible for the Boers to seize a large chunk of what remained of Basotho’s territory, in 1866, leaving Basotho desperate on a yet-smaller strip of land described above.
It is unlikely that, the consequences of British government policy and his own acknowledged culpability, did not fill Wodehouse with a sense of guilt and add to, or increase, the sympathy which made him act to annex Lesotho.
It is important to remember that Basotho and their territory were not simply colonised but they were colonised for purposes of incorporation, or annexation, to the Cape Colony, there to join other African chiefdoms that were ruled by the Cape Colony through its Department of Native Affairs. This plan was duly executed in 1871. Lesotho was not colonised as an ‘independent’, ‘free-standing’ colony like, say, Kenya.
This was because of colonial officials’ recognition of the fact that, the territory left to Basotho by the time of colonisation would not support existing and, particularly, future populations, and that, therefore, necessarily, Basotho were going to need access to more land than had been left to them.
Wars and treaties of land dispossession left Basotho with a small and marginal territory which colonial government recognised as economically unviable, and as a potential source of political instability, unless integrated into a larger political and economic unit.
In line with this recognition, much colonial policy-making, and policy-execution, in the first seventy (of hundred) years in Lesotho under colonial rule was dominated by plans for future annexation and incorporation.
Lesotho’s 1871 annexation to the Cape Colony was not successful, and lasted only thirteen unhappy years, until 1884. In 1884, the Cape Colony handed Basotho and their territory over to the imperial government, to be ruled directly from London.
Almost immediately, the imperial government found ways to integrate Lesotho into a larger unit, albeit a narrow economic one.
Five years after establishment of imperial rule, Lesotho became part of a customs agreement that included the Free State and Cape Colony, signed in 1889. Ten years later, a three-year war broke out between the British and the Boers.
At the end of the war, in 1902, Britain agreed to end its rule over the colonies of Natal and Cape Colony, and to grant independence to a Union of South Africa made up of these two colonies and the two Boer Republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal.
The two sides agreed that, together with Botswana and Swaziland, Lesotho would be incorporated into the Union of South Africa at some future date. This became Section 151 of the constitution of the Union of South Africa (also known as the Act of Union).
It is arguable that, running through policies of annexation of Basotho and their territory to the Cape Colony, in 1871, their inclusion in a customs union with the Free State, in the late 1880s, and possibilities of incorporation into the Union of South Africa, in 1909, was the recognition that, as was the case at the moment of colonisation and annexation, Lesotho’s material circumstances did not favour creation of an economically viable and politically stable state.
This recognition formed the basis of colonial policies that cultivated and deepened a relationship that anticipated Lesotho’s eventual incorporation into South Africa. Over and above inclusion and entrenchment of Lesotho’s membership of a customs union dominated by South Africa, features of this relationship also included absence of immigration controls between Lesotho and South Africa, until July 1963; unfettered access to Lesotho for South African security services; use of the South African currency in Lesotho; erection of South African railways structures in Lesotho; and others.
It remains to be said that, the fact that territory left to Basotho at colonisation could not support politically stable statehood was acknowledged even among African nationalists in modern South Africa and Lesotho.
Even though these groups opposed incorporation of Lesotho into the white minority-ruled Union of South Africa after it was established, in 1910, there was a general understanding, among them, that such an integration was desirable once white minority rule had been defeated, and South Africa was under African, or majority, rule.
In large part, this was also recognition that, an expectation that Basotho should continue to be confined to territory inadequate to support decent livelihoods was recipe for political instability in Lesotho’s vicinity.
Towards an Explanation of Political Stability during Colonial Rule
Apart from chiefly land disputes between Lerotholi and Maama (1893-94)—itself an indication of land scarcity—and power struggle between Lerotholi and Masupha (1898), it is evident that, particularly after 1884, there was much political stability in colonial Lesotho. Contestations and protests of the colonial period—those conducted by formations such as Basutoland Progressive Association (BPA) and Lekhotla la Bafo (LlB)—were fairly civil affairs. Reasons for this political stability must be many, and must include the fact that, having dubbed Basutoland “a prickly hedgehog” because of the level of Basotho’s political activity in the territory, the British were careful to avoid any action that might incite political instability.
However, more important reasons for political stability in Lesotho during colonial rule must be that, in administering its colonies, Britain brought to bear the enormous resources of statecraft that it possessed. Britain was the world’s superpower and, in some cases, it was enough for its officials throughout the world to invoke this reputation to secure other societies’ acceptance of British policies and wishes. Further, as a dominant player among authors of the order that was emerging in southern Africa, the British were much more conversant with the character of that order than African societies. This gave them an enormous advantage not only to shape the emerging order but also to anticipate coming changes, and to determine and provide resources that were needed.
Within the colony of Basutoland, the government maintained stability by use of a combination of force, on the one hand, and co-optation, on the other. Force took a form of establishment of a police force, prisons, and attendant institutions and processes. It should not surprise us that, in the very first requisition for material sent to the Cape Colony government by the newly-established colonial government in Lesotho, handcuffs topped the list; and that, prisons were some of the earliest colonial buildings to be constructed. Co-optation was used on Lesotho’s dominant group, the chiefs. For much of the colonial period, the chiefs had, and benefited from, a close relationship with the colonial government and a colonial policy of parallel rule which left them in charge of spheres of rule from which they created economic opportunities for themselves. This worked and, consequently, the chiefs were quiet for much of the colonial period.
Regarding voices of discontent from among organisations of the commoners, Basutoland Progressive Association and Lekhotla la Bafo, the quality of intelligence available to government was good, and enabled colonial state to snuff-out threats to political stability, and protests were largely civil. Perhaps more importantly, the policy of government was to avoid an accumulation of political and social pressure to a point of explosion. Any time pressure threatened to reach ‘boiling point’, officials made well-calculated and timely concessions to all, or part, of those involved in activity that threatened stability.
So, for example, after Basotho commoner elites established the BPA, in 1907, they demanded representation in the chiefly-dominated Basutoland National Council (BNC). The government turned down their requests, and insisted that chiefly representation was for the benefit of all Basotho. A decade later, LlB was formed, and started demanding, among others, representation in the BNC. Faced with two sources of pressure and fearing they might combine forces, the colonial government allowed BPA representation in the BNC, and responded to LlB’s demand by saying BPA representation benefited all commoners. This decreased the possibilities of the two organisations working together, and reduced any negative impact LlB’s activity could have on political stability.
Migrant labour was probably the most important instrument for securing political stability in colonial Lesotho. It enabled people who lived in a small, overcrowded territory with marginal land, to find employment elsewhere, and to support livelihoods of families and relatives left in overcrowded territory. At state level, revenues from the Southern African Customs Union, SACU—that vestige from the period of annexation—made public expenditure possible and made life in the colony not too intolerable—and even bearable—and thereby assisted colonial government’s efforts to maintain political stability.
On the whole, however, it has to be acknowledged that, throughout the colonial era, the colonial government maintained a general policy of ‘borderlessness’ between Lesotho and South Africa—signified by only minimal immigration controls between Lesotho and South Africa—until July, 1963. This must have contributed to political stability by reducing both the sense and the realities—such as ‘national’ exclusion, tighter restrictions on movement and access—that came with independent statehood.
Political Instability of the Post-Colonial
We have to start from recognition that, as Britain granted independence to Basotho, critical instability-inducing circumstances that had made colonisation and annexation necessary, in the 1860s, had not changed. That Basotho became an independent nation, and their territory an independent state, was not a consequence of any change in Lesotho’s circumstances of the 1860s. The adjustment of colonial policy—from incorporation to granting Lesotho independent statehood—was made necessary by political conditions that prevailed in South Africa as post-Second World War conditions—including growth of nationalist agitation for independence in Africa—forced Britain into a programme of decolonisation. It was a change in which political considerations predominated.
British government abandoned the plan to incorporate Lesotho into South Africa because of opposition to apartheid in Britain, among African nationalists in southern Africa and international opinion, in general. The instability-inducing economic and other circumstances which had informed policies of colonisation, annexation and incorporation had not changed for the better when the British adjusted their policy, after the Second World War, and allowed Lesotho’s attainment of independent statehood in the mid-1960s. These circumstances are very well-articulated by James H. Cobbe, among others.
The question, then, becomes: if the British colonised Basotho and what remained of their territory on recognition that, without resources that British colonial rule over the territory brought, there would be political instability in the Mohokare valley, why did they grant independence to the people and their territory under the same material circumstance that had suggested colonisation, annexation and incorporation as the best strategies against political instability?
The argument made in this chapter is that, the decision of the British to grant independent nationhood to Basotho, and sovereign statehood to their country, did not imply that, matters had changed from what they were in the 1860s. It would seem that, in granting Basotho and their territory independent nationhood and statehood, respectively, the British were leaving Basotho to consider realities that had forced the British government to annex Lesotho, and determine the fate of their nationhood and the independent statehood of their country. This is what the country’s ruling elite have failed to do in the last 50 years: to initiate, and provide leadership on, discussions of what to do in the face of Lesotho’s circumstances. Instead, it has been much easier for them to pretend, or assume, that Lesotho’s circumstances are ordinary. Persistence of political instability of the country strongly suggests otherwise. Without circumstances that persuaded the British towards annexation being addressed, it has meant that, struggles for power in Lesotho take-on a character whose intensity leads to political instability.
How can we explain Lesotho ruling elites’ failure to initiate and lead discussions of what lies at the root of the country’s persistent political instability, and the search for lasting solution? It is clear that, part of the answer to this question lies in the country’s political elites’ motivated lethargy, and lack of both political will and imagination. The status quo serves them better. In his consideration of options available to Lesotho in post-apartheid southern Africa, Jim Cobbe identified ‘vested interest’ of the country’s ruling elite as a stumbling block to coming up with a solution likely to benefit Basotho. Given this vested interest, he pointed out, Lesotho’s ruling elite will want to keep things as they have been, and resist any change that threatens their positions, even if such change has potential to end political instability in Lesotho and benefit majority of Basotho:
…why would a Lesotho government seek to continue the status quo, and what are the alternatives? The simple answer to the first question is that those controlling and employed by the state apparatus within Lesotho benefit from it, and are widely assumed to want to continue to obtain those benefits. The unstated assumption is that the alternatives would necessarily involve costs to these elites in Lesotho as compared to their present situation.
Not only have the country’s ruling elite failed to start discussions aimed at determining arrangements that can answer challenges facing Basotho’s nationhood and their county’s statehood but they have failed to seize opportunities which had a potential to bring about political stability in the country. Examples of these failures would include Lesotho governments’ failure to do what was necessary for implementation of the Joint Bilateral Commission for Cooperation (JBCC) agreements of 2001; and failure to initiate discussions on multiple-citizenship.
Their strategy of resistance is to block any discussion of ideas that threatens their position, by quickly labelling them as ‘selling the country’, or as ‘incorporation’ of Lesotho into South Africa. A response by a section of Lesotho ruling elites to a request by South Africa to Lesotho government to clarify Lesotho’s position on multiple-citizenship provides a good example of this resistance.
Currently, Section 41 of Lesotho’s Constitution is intended to prohibit multiple-citizenship. Because of their insecurity, Lesotho’s political elite have met the idea of multiple-citizenship with intense hostility, invoking narrow nationalism and the ‘spectre’ of Lesotho’s incorporation into South Africa. The rhetoric always avoids raising and addressing the concrete issues the direct and indirect consequence of whose subsistence, alone and combined, is political instability. Thus, in April 2013, Pakalitha Mosisili (several times Prime Minister but, then, out of power) sought to persuade followers of his party, Democratic Congress, against discussion of the idea of multiple-citizenship, telling them:
There are 46 million people in South Africa comprising Basotho, Shanganis (sic) and Zulus. If we were to allow for dual citizenship, they would swallow us raw because they will also seek Lesotho citizenship…This is one way this… government is intending to hand us over to South Africa. I therefore urge you people to be careful, very careful.
Note how, in the illogicality of this narrow and self-serving nationalism, even Basotho who live in South Africa are presented as a threat—enemies, even.
At the heart of British government officials’ decision to colonise and annex Lesotho were the twin-aims to provide political protection to a tribe faced with extermination, on the one hand, and to secure political stability necessary for British commerce, on the other. Without such colonisation, political instability would be the order of the day, as their circumstances would force Basotho to eke out a living by violating boundaries imposed through war and conquest. Ideas and plans of annexation and, later, incorporation, were informed by material circumstances that militated against independent ‘colony-hood’.
During colonial rule, political stability was established and maintained, largely, through use of resources that were available to the British Empire. British government’s granting of independence to Lesotho, in the mid-1960s, was neither a sign that conditions that generated instability in the 1860s—and dictated colonisation—had vanished nor a sign that political stability maintained during colonial rule would continue after independence.
It is argued here that, in granting Basotho and their territory independent nationhood and statehood, respectively, the British were leaving Basotho to determine the fate of their country in the face of material circumstances that militated against political stability. Faced with these circumstances at colonisation, in the 1860s, the British had responded with annexation and incorporation. Whereas the political instability of the immediate colonisation era took the form of invasion of ‘others’, across colonial boundaries, the post-colonial political instability takes the form of a nation that has turned on itself, as groups in possession of the machinery of state use state institutions and processes against their opponents and those considered enemies.
A large part of the explanation for Lesotho’s persistent political instability lies in the material bases out of which the country emerged in the nineteenth century. These material bases have meant that, the economy is weak and unable to provide to majority of society. In these circumstances, struggles for power to control and access the little that the economy can provide take-on an intensity whose consequence has been persistent political instability.
Trouble in Zimbabwe
The situation in Zimbabwe is tense. There has been a wave of spontaneous protests mainly in the capital, Harare and Bulawayo, the second city.
The protests turned violent, with government properties including at least a police station, toll gate and police vehicles burnt by protesters. Some private vehicles have also been burnt, with rocks and mounds of sand dumped on some roads.
For the second time in six months, armed soldiers have been deployed in the streets and suburbs in order to contain protests. Several people have been injured in running battles between security forces and protesters. The situation remains taut overnight.
The last time soldiers intervened in August 2018, six people were shot and killed, while 35 others were wounded. An official investigation blamed the police and military, but no one has been brought to book. This is ominous in light of current protests and the latest military deployment.
A “Sarajevo Moment”?
The immediate trigger of the current storm is the dramatic and unpopular announcement at the weekend of a big increase in fuel prices.
Flanked by his deputy and senior ministers, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that price of diesel and petrol had risen to $3.11 and $3.31 per litre respectively – a rise of more than 140 percent. It sparked anxiety and panic, given that fuel is one commodity whose pricing has a multiplier effect in the entire economy.
The government argued that it was necessary to raise the cost of fuel to contain consumption levels which have risen beyond sustainable levels in recent months. It has previously accused foreign truck operators of taking advantage of hitherto cheaper prices in Zimbabwe compared to regional prices.
It offered relief to businesses in only four sectors, but the effect is muted by the exclusion of the retail sector which directly interfaces with the public. Besides, the conditions of relief appear hard to implement and given the deterioration in the local surrogate currency, the relief might be worth little when the refund comes. So businesses are likely to forgo the relief and charge higher prices instead.
Critics argue that the government is merely trying to raise funds by raising taxes under the guise of raising fuel prices. This is because according to one fuel retailer excise duty on fuel had risen by around 68 percent. Of the $3.11 per litre of diesel, $2.11 is tax that goes to the government, an increase of 358 percent on previous levels. The government did not say it was raising tax. It simply buried it in the high fuel price.
Zimbabweans are frustrated by the tax policies of the current regime. The fuel tax increase comes on top of a controversial 2 percent tax on electronic money transfers, announced last October. Other taxes and charges were introduced in the Finance Minister’s maiden budget last November. And all the while, the government has maintained an unrealistic currency policy under which a surrogate currency is supposedly equal to the US Dollar. No-one believes this fiction, not even government itself.
Despite all this, wages have remained stagnant and, in many ways, have been eroded. Clients who had pre-paid fuel coupons woke up to be told that they would be getting less fuel than they had paid for in the wake of the price increase. If one had a coupon for 200 litres, they would now get just 80 litres. State workers have threatened to go on strike, rejecting the government wage offer which they believe is paltry.
Major companies have been shutting operations, citing foreign currency shortages. Government intervened to stop the major drinks manufacturer from charging in US Dollars. A food manufacturer recently announced closure, citing the same challenge.
In all this, the government has preached the gospel of austerity. The theme of the Finance Minister’s budget was “Austerity for Prosperity”.
And yet, for many they see little effort among political elites to live by their own gospel. Many have been incensed by the allegedly high cost of hiring a private jet for the president’s current trip to Russia and former Soviet satellite states. The nation faces a crisis, and he has gone ahead with his trip on a luxury jet. Meanwhile, the national airline does not even have a single operating plane – the two it remains with are both grounded.
The government has in the past splashed out on vehicles for traditional leaders ahead of critical needs at hospitals where patients have to bring their own provisions. About 90 percent of medical drugs in public hospitals are donated by foreign donors. Meanwhile, political elites, including the president seek treatment in foreign countries, South Africa being a favoured choice.
The gap between the political elites and the ordinary people has grown too wide.
So when the president convened a press conference late on Saturday night to announce the fuel price hikes, it merely drove people further into a tight corner. Sun Tzu says do not drive an opponent into a corner without leaving a way to life, because the only option for them is to fight to the death. Mnangagwa did not heed this advice and he drove desperate Zimbabweans into a wall, without an escape route.
To be sure, the situation has been incendiary for some time and the price hikes are best seen as a “Sarajevo moment” – the spark that triggered an inferno. The powder-keg was already there. It didn’t help that Mnangagwa promptly left on his trip to Russia hours after the price hikes. It suggested insensitivity to the plight of the people. Did he have to do it on the eve of his departure?
He knew or ought to have known that the price hikes would spark trouble. That he chose to leave at this time instead of resolving a predictable crisis is not a good sign. It suggests a man with a tendency to run away at the first sign of trouble. He has left the mess to his deputy, a military man, who has struggled in the past to handle lesser crises. A man holding a hammer thinks every problem is a nail so goes an old cliche. No wonder the first option is command and use of force.
Zimbabweans are disheartened by the apparent failure of the Mnangagwa regime to arrest the deteriorating economic situation. Comparisons with the Mugabe regime, whose ignominious departure most people welcomed euphorically in November 2017, have been a serious indictment on the Mnangagwa regime.
After Mugabe, the only way was up, or so it seemed. But the decay is palpable while the regime looks and sounds clueless with each passing day. They have even latched on to an old Mugabe strategy, which Mnangagwa had previously disavowed. It is called take no responsibility and blame Western sanctions.
As I have said before in these pages, the Mnangagwa regime overpromised but it has under-delivered, leaving many citizens underwhelmed and disappointed. Where they were calling for Mugabe to go, now they say Mnangagwa must go. It is a massive fall from grace for a man who came in amid so much goodwill.
Mugabe used to say he stayed so long in power because he failed to identify a successor. It was a self-serving excuse and annoying, but now some joke that the old man was right after all. This does not mean Zimbabweans think Mugabe was great or that his rule was better, no. Merely a damning indication of their utter frustration with the Mnangagwa regime.
The current unrest has a lot to do with the dire economic situation, which affects all regardless of their political inclination. But part of the frustration in opposition circles also stems from the controversial election last year, which they still feel was stolen. The opposition has never officially acknowledged the validity and legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s victory. This is a source of bitterness between the parties.
For the opposition, they see the failure of the Mnangagwa administration as a vindication of their position. They always argued that ZANU PF had no viable plan for the economy and they could not do it alone. They have strategically proposed dialogue in recent months but this hand has been spurned by ZANU PF, which is not amused by the opposition’s refusal to accept its controversial victory.
So what is the position of the opposition in the latest wave of unrest? The opposition has been very careful not to be at the forefront of the protests. The leaders are mindful of the fact that their rivals are always looking for scapegoats. Last August, the government blamed the MDC leaders of inciting protests. A controversial commission of inquiry set up by Mnangagwa to investigate the post-election violence also made a similar finding.
With that in mind, the opposition knows it must tread carefully, lest it is blamed once again in the court of public and international opinion where the battle for the moral high ground is ever-present.
In fact, some citizens, have accused the opposition of not grabbing the opportunity and leading from the front, which ironically, adds weight to the view that the opposition leaders have nothing to do with the current protests. This is not something that favours the ruling party’s strategy of blaming the opposition leaders of fomenting and leading violent protests.
Instead, this is a broad response of ordinary citizens. It is a conflagration of diverse interests, which include workers, formal business, informal traders, millions of unemployed youths and a general citizenry that has become desperate and sees little hope under the current regime. The next election is not due for another four years but more significantly, after the farce of the last election, many young people have lost hope in the electoral process as a means of affecting political choices.
Generation with nothing to lose
The government has underestimated the enormous challenge posed by the growing numbers of the young, unemployed and desperate. Their parents and older brothers and sisters may have been patient over the years but this is because they had memory of a better past and always clung on to it.
On the other hand, the younger generation does not have that memory because they have never had good times. The older generation might have had something material to lose, but the younger generation has nothing to lose. It is not surprising that it is the young and unemployed youths who appear to be at the head of the current wave of unrest.
Mnangagwa himself should know. Back in 2015, when he was interviewed by Baffour Ankomah, he was asked for his opinion on today’s youth. He was quite dismissive. “In the 1960s, our leaders decided that we must take up arms, and the youth were very enthusiastic to go to war. We had nothing to lose at the time. We had no wives and no property.
The only property we had was the clothes we wore,” Mnangagwa said. “Now the generation out of school, they have wives and children, they have homes and mortgages, so to tell them to sacrifice and die for the nation [laughs], they think twice.”
He may have to revise his opinion because the generation which their leadership has produced since 1980 is not what he described in 2015. Some may have wives/husbands and children but they have no jobs, no homes, have never held a payslip all their life and might not even know how to spell the word “mortgage”.
In short, it’s as highly combustible a generation as his was in the sixties. They too have nothing to lose and it is Mnangagwa’s generation that created this incendiary generation. The chickens are coming home to roost.
From Russia, with love?
It is ominous that Mnagagwa travelled to Russia and a other regimes with no tradition of democracy and tolerance. For Russia, Zimbabwe is probably ripe for the picking, given the regime’s desperation. For Mnangagwa, he may be goading the West by cosying up to a major geopolitical rival after the apparent rejection last year. Seeing Zimbabwe fall into Russia’s arms may not please either the West or China.
But Russia’s leader Vladmir Putin is cunning operator. We are a pawn in a larger game. He was not even at the airport to receive his counterpart. Not even Sergei Lavrov, the heavyweight diplomat was there. A grim sign perhaps of how the guest is regarded. It remains to be seen whether anything will come of that expensive trip apart from more headlines of mega-deals.
For the region, Zimbabwe is a hot-spot which cannot be ignored any longer. The military deployment has to be monitored. As we have seen, the last time it happened people died and many were injured. And the failure to hold individuals accountable could prove to be an incentive for impunity. Human rights and freedoms are at stake and it is important to remain vigilant. Civil society has a key role but it will need broad support.
Any further chaos will have major regional implications, particularly for our southern neighbour, South Africa. We have had a coup before and it is often said coups beget coups. SADC cannot bury its head in the sand and pretend all is well. This latest wave might be put down by sheer application of force but such action will not heal the ailment. It’s important to keep a vigilant eye and better still, to lend a hand to steer the country away from permanent trouble. – www.bigsr.co.uk
Dr. Alex T Magaisa
There is nothing called ‘free aid’
THE shades and the hues of colour at dawn and at twilight are exactly similar and their melding into one another follows the exact same pattern: what differs is the pattern of their flow with one being the progress of another and the other being the regress of another.
Dawn precedes the day, and dusk precedes the night and the skies of both states of the day are governed by stars, there are just more stars to see in the navy blue sky of the night than the one star (the sun) one gets to see in the course of the blue clear skies of the day.
However different we may see night and day to be, the reality is that they are more similar than different with certain creatures in creation naturally being diurnal (of or belonging to or active during the day), and others being the nocturnal kind ( that is, belonging to or active during the night).
Nature so dictates that the creatures of the world be one type, that is, they should belong to the diurnal sphere of existence or to be the creatures of the night being able to see even into the inky blackness the naked diurnal human eye cannot see into.
Only us human beings have the benefit of being able to see into the night, having developed or invented instruments that enable us to see into the darkness in most of its forms. This means that the darkness of the night cannot be used as an excuse not to pursue a given entity or duty.
The brazen light of the day too cannot be used as an excuse not to perform certain tasks because there are tools that help the individual to guard against the brightness of the rays of the sun. We human beings have the benefit of being able to function in both light and dark to get whatever it is that we want or that our hearts wish for.
Should there be an argument to the contrary, such an arguer should perhaps tell me how human beings somehow managed to crawl into the belly of the earth in search of the minerals of the world that they use for different aesthetic pursuits such as jewellery and for industrial purposes as is seen in the mining of such metals as iron and copper.
The inner spirit of curiosity that drives the human being towards a goal gives such an individual human the benefit of being able to pursue the given goal despite or inspite of the various challenges nature in its form presents. This means that in essence, we cannot shy away from that which we want to follow simply because the day is too bright or that the night is too dark. There is no excuse.
I have read of the history of this continent and observed the political trends as they unfold with the passage of each era. The age in which we are in finds Africa at a point where there is some kind of a journey of self-discovery going on and there are many challenges that pop-up and all of them stem from the dilemma of the individual that does not understand their past.
The understanding of the past is the root to one understanding their place in society but even more importantly, it helps one to understand their true identity. It is only when one knows who they are that they can make decisions that serve their best interests, for the rationale is simply that one first has to know who they are to know what they want or what is suitable for them.
We are a continent that has for the larger part of modern history served as the labour reserve to extract natural resources but who sadly are not involved in the processing of such natural resources into finished products.
This means that we do not know how the raw materials become what we consume, the manufacturing phase is elusive to us as a continent, and the leadership we have does not have the wisdom to insist on us having the means and the resources to actually become full-time manufacturers of that which we get off the land in the form of natural resources.
That there are various disputes in this land over the ‘sale’ of wool and mohair to foreign companies does not wash with me, in fact, I think it is a flimsy ruse invented by those with interests to run away from the truly pertinent question: when shall we ever process wool and mohair products to sell them away as finished products on the international market at a better price than what is currently being made off these two raw materials?
It is weak political speak to tell the poor farmers that their previous agents or brokers actually skimmed a lot off their earnings from the sale of wool and mohair on the South African market and that the new benefactor offers a better deal.
Basotho are known to be “beautiful blanket wearers” and most if not all of the blanket brands that they wear are made from either wool or mohair.
What vexes my understanding is why the Mosotho blanket wearer has ever wondered why those blankets are not actually manufactured locally. I do not wear the blanket because I find it the most foolish piece of raiment to put on my shoulders and I find it the ultimate symbol of our stupidity as a nation.
It is made from the wool and the mohair of our sheep and goat herds, but we actually have no hand in its making, but then we now find the audacity to argue over the acquisition of the profits from its sales. What a bunch of clowns in a Scaramouch!
I grew up reading Paliso ea Sesotho and in one of the volumes is the story of the blanket (Pale ea Kobo) and it is a beautiful tale of how the blanket is made, and though patronising in its tone, it however does justice to defining the whole process of how the blanket is made from the first stage as a the wool on the backs of a flock of sheep to the point where it becomes a blanket.
Such tales may seem of little benefit to the ordinary reader that does not bother to question their true essence, but they do serve to sharpen the understanding of the figure that bothers to understand their true and full meaning. They are also relevant when one poses the Thomas Sankara question that could see most of Africa get out of the clutch of servitude the continent finds itself in. Thomas Sankara said:
“I think the most important thing is to bring the people to a point where they have self-confidence, and understand that they can, at last …be the authors of their own wellbeing.”
We fail to progress as a continent because we rely on everything foreign, from the basic stage of fashioning economic strategies that can lift us out of poverty, to adopting policies on governance that are relevant only to the donor and not the local masses that are forced to adopt them.
The truth is that we can never get beyond the door to true freedom if we keep on adopting neo-colonial policies that serve the interests of the donor nation at the expense of the local masses.
It is true the British may have left the continent at the point of independence (if they did, which I believe they did not do), but the truth is that Africa looks like a juicy piece of steak on a dinner plate for many of the nations of the world in the so-called First-world.
With abundance in terms of natural resources, there is just no sense in believing that we are being saved when foreign powers come and present their ideas in this continent. What those foreign powers should come with are materials that enable the continent to process the natural resources into finished products.
Other than that, we shall remain a continent that sees only the beginning, never the end of that which we claim to ‘own’ in terms of natural resources.
In my recent research, I have come across the reality that many of the papers from the colonial times are actually missing from the national archives, and if they are still present, rest in some foreign museum or archive.
This means that some of the arguments that can be made with regard to issues of land ownership and territory cannot be made, issues related to the status of Lesotho as a sovereign kingdom cannot be fully addressed because the evidence is missing or rests in some foreign archive where it cannot be accessed.
There is reliance on paper evidence in courts, and without the papers, we cannot have clear cases to present on issues that need to be addressed in terms of land and ownership of resources.
What we need are governments willing to follow the paper trail to understand where we stand, but the sadness is that our cabinets are oft made of individuals that can only sign their names on agreements and nothing more.
Independent researchers are deliberately deprived of the financial resources that aid with the search for truth as is found in those leather-bound archive volumes, meaning that the paper trail cannot be fully explored.
The pursuit of any truth becomes personal for the researcher at some point in time, and the frustration that comes with a lack in terms of funding makes one realise that perhaps there are some intentional omissions in some of the papers our governments sign with regard to the making of policies said to be geared towards poverty alleviation and economic emancipation.
We can only get out of this rut history and colonialism placed us in if we learn of the true worth of self-reliance. This attitude that one needs to depend on some big brother from somewhere will keep us chained in the clutches of poverty and perpetual debt.
There is just no thing as ‘aid’ for any kind of donation comes with conditions attached, it is in effect just a lure for one to fall into the trap of debt or indebtedness.
Who has seen a free woman or man that depends on others to free himself/herself from their squalid state of being? Africa should free herself from this mentality that aid is free, for the truth is that aid is just in short a business transaction where the recipient is given temporary short-term relief that ensures that the donor’s long-term goals are achieved.
There is nothing such as free help, no good Samaritans out here in this world, unless one believes that the manna of the Mosaic times still rains, which actually never happens.
We are a nation that considers itself smart simply because we manage to reach a certain level of literacy, but the truth is that we only possess the ineffective type of smarts from the rest of the world.
The knowledge of books is an endless travail as was said by Ecclesiast, and it does not serve one anyhow when it comes to being practical about poverty eradication measures.
The truth of the matter is that we did not progress because we depended on external understanding and not the essential self-understanding one needs to get to a point where they can establish veritable points of progress.
Politics are often blamed for the state of things, but I think politics are just used as the scapegoat in the case of a nation made up of individuals that do not understand who they are in terms of serving others.
We do things just because there is visible evidence in the form of instant gratification and reward. Where such evidence is not so visible, we quickly lose interest and lose the long-term benefit that comes with holding on to a dream inspite of or despite the prevailing circumstances.
Promises are just that, promises. They can never be reached if one does not bother to follow them through to the point where they become visible benefits all can get to enjoy at the end of the day.
This continent seems an unfulfilled promise only because the citizens never actually get to taste of its fruits, for someone from somewhere always comes along and takes such promises away. What happened to the diamonds, to the water, to the ganja? You tell me of their end and I will begin to think I am only rambling and not talking.
Tšepiso S Mothibi
Imperatives of professionalizing public service
Continued from last week…….
Prevalence of Political Patronage in Lesotho Public Service
Lesotho’s attainment of independence was achieved through negotiations between Basotho’s representatives, on the one hand, and British Government officials, on the other. Basotho’s representatives were divided between proponents of ‘congress’ and ‘nationalist’ political ideologies in Lesotho.
Ideological differences between proponents of ‘congress’, on the one hand, and proponents of ‘national’, on the other, were deep and characterised by an animosity that filtered down to followers of the two sides.
Given this political polarisation, it came not as a surprise that, political patronage became a policy of distribution of public service jobs for any political party that seized government powers.
Just as in any transition, there were inherent challenges experienced when the British bureaucrats gradually handed over government functions to the local personnel. Some of these challenges were related to the lack of requisite competencies among the local public officials. This challenge later affected the machinery of government and, thus, led to declining efficiency in public service.
Political patronage significantly influenced public administration operations as employment opportunities and procedures for senior public officials were overtly politicized. In many cases, individuals appointed on political grounds are recruited from outside the public service. Warhurst (1983: 184) contends that politicisation of public service is mostly manifested in the appointment of senior public officials whose commitment to a successful political party is known.
After the Lesotho’s general elections of May, 2012, there was no political party that won an outright majority in order to form government on its own. This period formally marked the dawn of coalition governments in Lesotho.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) split, which gave birth to Democratic Congress (DC), weakened LCD as it managed to retain only twenty six (26) parliamentary seats out of one hundred and twenty (120). This loss brought to an end fourteen years of LCD in power.
It is on this basis that the coalition government was formed between LCD, All Basotho Convention (ABC) and BNP.
Consequence of all this, for the public service, was that, the coalition government did not renew the contracts of Principal Secretaries and senior public officials who served in Lesotho’s diplomatic missions and who were not members of three political parties that formed government.
The same thing happened after February, 2015 general elections when the seven party coalition government, led by DC, seized power. The Prime Minister, Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili, made it clear in the government public gatherings that the position of a Principal Secretary is political. He indicated that in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts it was important to amicably terminate the contracts of Principal Secretaries who served in the previous regime.
As a result, the contracts of all Principal Secretaries, except three, from the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology, Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation and Ministry of Energy, were terminated.
An attempt was made to recall the senior public officials deployed in Lesotho’s diplomatic missions. Two Lesotho high commissioners in the Republic of South Africa and India, ’Malejaka Letooane and Bothata Tsikoane, respectively, contested the termination of their contracts in the High Court of Lesotho, arguing that it was politically motivated. These two commissioners won the case and continued with their responsibilities.
Patronage works against bureaucrats who are deemed to support the opposition parties. As Warhurst (1983: 184) contended, more confusion and conflicts are perpetuated by appointment to the senior public office of persons from outside the ranks of the career of public service (1983: 184). As it is, the appointment of a principal secretary and other senior public officials who serve as accounting officers in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) is largely influenced by party politics affiliations.
The Constitution of Lesotho, Section 139 (1), clearly stipulates that the power to appoint a person to hold or act in the position of a Principal Secretary shall vest in the Prime Minister (PM), acting after consultation with the Public Service Commission (PSC).
This is also enshrined in the Lesotho Public Service Act of 2005, Section 11 (1), which makes reference to Section 139 (1) of the Constitution on the prerogative of the PM to appoint both the Government Secretary (GS) and the Principal Secretaries.
The idea is that, the PM consults with the PSC to establish the suitability of the candidate to hold the office of a Principal Secretary. In practice, however, the Prime Minister just informs the PSC about the candidates.
This implies that, candidates are not subjected to any competency assessment to establish their abilities to assume the task of being day-to-day managers of ministries’ operations. As opposed to the current practice, before the introduction of the 1993 Constitution, Permanent Secretaries were recruited from a pool of experienced public officials.
It has been the case, on numerous occasions, that, appointees to the Principal Secretary’s office have come from outside the ranks of the career of public service.
This has devastatingly retarded continuity in government projects and developmental agenda. Since the appointment of such officials is predominantly influenced by political affiliation, it fundamentally compromises key attributes such as fairness, merit and competency.
This skewed approach in appointing senior officials has virtually permeated the recruitment system within the public service in Lesotho. It has become a common phenomenon that the recruitment system within the public service is spoiled by political influence to a point where it has noticeably affected professionalism and the commitment of public servants.
As Camilleri and van Der Heijden (2007: 241) argue, factors that enhance organisational commitment and public service motivation include, among others, the perception on how well the public service is managed. Failure to effectively manage the key functions and systems of government will negatively affect the morale in the public service.
Weak Government Systems
Commitment to effective systems is a trademark of successful modern organisations. Good systems have the potential to sustain organisational operations even under challenging circumstances. This is because they are carefully designed in order to optimize organizational performance. Bertalanffy (in Palaima and Skarzˇauskiene, 2010: 332) gives a classical approach to a system.
He says that it is “a combination of two or more elements, when every element of the whole influences a behaviour of other elements and the behaviour of each element influences the behaviour of the whole.”
Just like any system in the public service, government systems have a capacity to influence, either positively or negatively, the performance of government. The systems in the public service should be aimed at improving service delivery as this has a positive bearing on economic growth, development and political stability of a country as a whole.
For systems to be functional in the public service, they also require unreserved commitment and willingness by the highest political and bureaucratic offices within the government.
This would sustain good governance whereby government continues to be an important conduit towards delivering prompt and responsive services to the citizens (Bajaj and Sharma, 1995:73). It is through commitment towards constant improvement of quality service delivery that citizens too are empowered and become active participants in governance and not just remain as spectators.
The public service in Lesotho has some dysfunctional systems, and reference can be made to performance management system (PMS) and Electronic Access Control and Time Management System.
The choice of these systems is informed by their perceived relationship towards improving performance of the entire public service. The rationale for adopting a PMS and Electronic Access Control and Time Management System was that, it is important to first ensure that the public servants report to work on time and remain present in their workstations in order to effectively deliver on their duties.
Under an Electronic Access Control and Time Management System project of 2012, it is clearly indicated that the Ministry of Public service had four main priorities to implement between 2007 and 2012, which coincide with the life span of Lesotho’s seventh Parliament.
The fourth priority is specifically about instilling discipline and professionalism to ensure good ethical behaviour and improved efficiency and effectiveness within the Public Service.
It is from this priority that Electronic Access Control and Time Management System ensue. The justification for the system was the absence of a decision support tool to support management decisions.
The Electronic Access Control and Time Management System became operational in the Public Service in 2007. It was first installed at Qhobosheaneng Government Complex to service four Ministries namely Public Service, Prime Minister’s Office, Law and Constitutional Affairs, and Foreign Affairs.
The system was further installed at the Lesotho Institute of Public Administration and Management (LIPAM) and Ministry of Home Affairs, Public Safety and Parliamentary Affairs.
The system was also meant to curtail uncontrolled movement during working hours. The United States General Accounting Office (2000: 5) on maintaining effective control and employee time and attendance reporting demonstrates the importance of controlling employees’ time at work for accurate recording of hours worked, hours in pay status and hours absent.
A reliable system is important towards accurate computation of employees’ payment, leave and allowances.
Even though this system could be deemed ideal for promotion of good performance in an organisation, it requires effective management. The noticeable deficiency in the implementation of an Electronic Access Control and Time Management System in Lesotho was that, it was not linked to employees’ payment and allowances.
It can also be observed that the success of such a system largely depends on constant monitoring which would inform decision or any course of action on public servants who failed to comply. Public service in Lesotho did not realize the utility of the system because it was not effectively monitored.
Disciplinary cases for those who constantly arrived late at work and/or left before time were inconsistently conducted and as such attracted no sanctions.
Another problem that exacerbated the failure of this system was the poor maintenance policy that has left the one at Qhobosheaneng Government Complex dysfunctional. As it was proposed, the Electronic Access Control and Time Management System was supposed to rollout to government working stations but has encountered serious financial challenge and a negative attitude in the public service.
The inevitable effects of this system’s failure led to a myriad of challenges, which negatively impacted the implementation of the performance management system in the public service.
The performance management system in the public service in Lesotho gradually evolved under different phases. It started as a confidential report appraisal system in 1970 whereby a supervisor had a prerogative to appraise the performance of a supervisee without consulting him. Lewis Dzimbiri (2008: 46) highlights that the confidential appraisal system did not prioritise performance targets and as such had a limited potential to objectively improve performance in the public service.
With time, it became obvious that the approach failed to improve performance because it was overly biased. As a response to this problem, a performance management system with more emphasis on the joint appraisal system was implemented in 2003, while performance contracting for senior managers was introduced in 2004.
A concerted effort to fully operationalise a performance management system for enhanced efficiency in the public service has always been undermined by lack of political will, whereby the highest political offices failed to own the system.
In 2014, there was a concerted effort to make all Principal Secretaries sign a performance agreement but only seven out of twenty-five Principal Secretaries signed. Had there been enough political will, all principal secretaries would be compelled to sign performance agreements because they are political appointees.
There also existed unnecessary bureaucracy that hindered capacity building initiatives for strategic officers that would oversee a proper implementation of the performance management system in the entire public service.
The team that was responsible for performance management had to be dissolved, in 2015, as it was composed of members from different ministries and departments, namely Public Service, LIPAM, Development Planning, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Since performance management is a vital accountability tool in governance, it ought to be owned by the leadership because accountability should always trickle downwards. Armstrong and Baron in Dzimbiri (2008: 47) give a comprehensive definition of performance management as “a strategic and integrated approach to delivering sustained success to organizations by improving the performance of the people who work in them and by developing the capabilities of teams and individual contributors.”
On the basis of this definition, successful implementation of performance management system requires proper management of an organisation, individual employees, performance improvement, employee development, stakeholders’ satisfaction and communication as well as their involvement (Armstrong in Dzimbiri, 2008: 47).
This comprehensively integrated approach on performance management requires a vibrant coordination and inclusion of all key stakeholders. This would ensure that constituent parts of government (ministries, departments and agencies) move in unison towards a comprehensive enhancement of public service performance.
The intensifying political challenges in Lesotho call for comprehensive reforms informed by inclusive participation of all key stakeholders. Reforms should also focus on improving professionalism and the efficiency of the public service, for it is when the public service competently executes its mandate that efficiency in service delivery will be maintained even amid politically volatile conditions. Sherwood (1997: 211) makes reference to the declining level of professionalism in the public service as a result of many political appointees in the bureaucracy and unsupportive environment.
Political patronage has been a springboard of a declining professionalism in the public service in Lesotho. The dominance of political appointees in the strategic positions in the public service has not only tainted professional competence but it has also disturbed continuity of projects and programmes in the public service.
It is apparent that prevalence of political patronage in the public service in Lesotho will not only perpetuate disservice to the citizens but it will also continue to threaten the stability of the country because the beneficiaries prioritise, above everything, the interests of those who have appointed them.
Based on the discussed challenges of the public service in Lesotho, it is imperative for the Government of Lesotho to adopt feasible and effective systems that will promote public service efficiency. The systems should be owned and driven from the highest political and bureaucratic offices. This approach would ensure optimal compliance with government systems as accountability tools. In order to realize the utility of government systems, the top public officials’ recruitment should be conducted fairly and be based on merits. Their continued tenure in office should be solely based on satisfactory performance.
Napo C. Khasoane
The beauty queen of Lesotho
The stock-theft menace
Purge of was long overdue
Matekane to launch microchip project
We need to hear of redemption plans
Varieties of African women’s poetry
We’re stuck to our old habits
Shao resigns from SR
Big blow for Sekata
Machonisa on fire
Mahao murder witness grilled
The queen Mampara
Lephema spooks Muslims
Matekane whips dissenters into line
LEC to switch off households over debts
Weekly Police Report
I made Matekane rich: Moleleki
The middle class have failed us
DCEO raids PS’
No peace plan, no economic recovery
Musician dumps ABC
Reforms: time to change hearts and minds
We have lost our moral indignation
MP dumps party, joins Matekane
Coalition politics are bad for development
MP charged with stock-theft
Literature and reality
Row over army secrets
The ABC blew its chance
Bofuma, boimana li nts’a bana likolong
Mahao o seboko ka ho phahama hoa litheko
Contract Farming Launch
7,5 Million Dollars For Needy Children
Ba ahileng lipuleng ba falle ha nakoana
Ba ahileng lipuleng ba falle ha nakoana
Weekly Police Report
Mahao o re masholu a e ts’oareloe
‘Our Members Voted RFP’ Says Metsing
Matekane’s 100 Days Plan
High Profile Cases in Limbo
130 Law Students Graduate From NUL
Metsing and Mochoboroane Case Postponed
News2 months ago
How MP’s wife was killed
Business2 months ago
2 more students win scholarships from Letšeng Diamonds
Business2 months ago
Trade Minister rejects textile unions’ charge
Business2 months ago
Directorate suspends applications to build access roads
Business3 weeks ago
Farmers cry over cost of livestock feed
News2 months ago
Kabi to stay on as ABC leader
Business2 months ago
2 more students win scholarships from Letšeng Diamonds
Sports-pst2 months ago
Likuena’s international matches woes continue