After a tumultuous two years rule by Mosisili, the voters confirmed what parliament had decided earlier by passing a vote of no confidence on him and his government. The leading party in the previous coalition government headed by Mosisili was thumped by Tom Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) which increased its seats by two while Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) lost seventeen seats. Compared to 2015 elections, the big loser is clearly the DC. The table below illustrates the point above.
Party year Number of seats Percentage Seat change
ABC 2015 46 37.8 N/A
ABC 2017 48 40.52 +2
DC 2015 47 38.4 N/A
DC 2017 30 25.82 -17
It must also be remembered that there were three constituencies which were declared as failed elections as a result of the death of three of the contestants. ABC is expected to win all three thus bringing its number of seats in parliament to 51.
With elections behind us, and Prime Minister Thabane having unveiled his coalition partners and a new cabinet, real work begins now. It is a herculean task in view of the mess that has to be sorted out. It is for this reason that lesothoanalysis this week heartily congratulates the winners and proffers a friendly advice to the new Prime Minister.
I know that the new Prime Minister brings into the job, administrative, managerial and political experience spanning several decades. He also brings with him a team of experienced political figures as his coalition partners. More importantly, Thabane is a much older man than most in his cabinet. In Lesotho we still have this reverence for age and as such one could say how dare you proffer to advise him on how he should tackle this task when you are ten years younger than him? Times have changed. Age alone is no longer the sole criterion for wisdom. I have been humbled by some of the advice I have received from people from a different generation. Importantly I dare say that I bring over forty years of administrative and academic experience to know where the traps are and how to avoid them. Indeed, if Mosisili had bothered to read and understand the issues I brought up in lesothoanalysis over the past year, he would probably still be Prime Minister of Lesotho. Instead, he listened to charlatans whose only interest was how they could flatter him into believing their fantasies rather than the reality which was starring them in the face. It would be a tragedy if the hopes of the people of Lesotho were to be dashed because our new Prime Minister did not listen to advice like his predecessor did.
There are simply too many challenges which will face Thabane’s new coalition. But the trick is to identify key pillars of those challenges and then go for others later, important though they may be. It is not because some challenges are less important that I leave them aside, but the ones I wish to advise the new government on have a potential to either intensify instability in the country or bring down the government. Amongst these are the issues about security; image of the country; and the mundane issues about administration. I know the latter is less exciting but it has the capacity to break the government if not handled well. But before that let’s remind ourselves of the past.
The pitfalls of the 2012 coalition
When the coalition government took over in 2012, hardly did people realise that it had through amongst others agreed to implement a“semi-feudal” arrangement where coalition partners shared government ministries as opposed to merely sharing ministerial positions. It was a situation where each of the coalition partners created as an exclusive enclave in government departments. Thus from the Principal Secretary to the lowest public servant, the public servants there owed allegiance to the party allocated that Ministry. Rather than have a cohesive government structure, in practice the Prime Minister could not intervene except through the party concerned. It was a chaotic system which was bound to collapse.
As a result of that “semi-feudal” arrangement, the question of appointments and everything in that Ministry ultimately was a party responsibility rather than a government one. This extended to Ambassadorial positions and the District Administrators. Need I mention that a divided public service leads to easy routes for corruption and maladministration? But more importantly, this semi-feudal” arrangement lead to a situation where two Principal Secretaries were placed in the Ministry of Communications, with one appointed by the Prime Minister in terms of the law, and another forced his way through the party which controlled the Ministry. One post was occupied by two Principal Secretaries leading to accountability confusion.
This is one of the first lessons from the past which need not be repeated. A Minister, even in a coalition government answers to the Prime Minister and not to the coalition party whose Minister controls that Ministry. Public servants should not be placed in Ministries on the basis of party affiliation. They shouldn’t even be known to belong to a political party, as long as they are public servants. I will deal with this further on the reforms.
Lesotho’s international image
Small states like Lesotho have to work harder than others to create international linkages. Their most important asset and security rests in the creation of international linkages and support since by themselves they are vulnerable. During the 1980s for example, at the height of South African destabilisation in Southern Africa, Lesotho was able to pursue an independent foreign policy only because it had built an international support system in Southern Africa and beyond. This is why the apartheid regime’s pressure was withstood for a long time.
Since 2015 when Mosisili took over as Prime Minister he squandered all the international support Lesotho had. Innumerable SADC Summits were convened to discuss the Lesotho issue. The African Union, the European Union, and the United States among others have said it publicly and in writing on numerous occasions that Lesotho has to get back to the community of states which are accountable and respect the rule of law. These were ignored. Mosisili gave all the above the middle finger. Perhaps Mosisili will be remembered for his parting shot to SADC through its Chairperson King Mswati of Swaziland where he decried the organisation’s interference in the internal affairs of the country. Knowing full well that he was going to lose the elections, he went so far as to threaten withdrawing Lesotho from SADC which he has lost its way.
This is where Thabane and his government have to begin. Restoring the country’s image internationally is a top priority. It is also a matter of survival for the new government. The traps ahead, which took almost two years to put in place, need bold leadership and humility to the peers in the region and partners beyond. Lesotho needs international support to overcome its immediate and long term challenges.
The security dilemma
Prime Minister Thabane, more than anybody, understands that the crisis that Lesotho faces in the security arena. He has been a victim of army rebellion which started when he was Prime Minister in 2014. A junior officer by the name of Hashatsi, boldly and publicly announcing that you would not be allowed to remove Kamoli as Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF); army personnel planting bombs in the place they expected him to be at; Kamoli hosting a public conference to announce that he could not be removed in office and that Prime Minister was ill advised when he attempted to dissolve the Court Marshall which had been instituted against a Senior Officer, then Brigadier Mahao, for attempting to caution Hashatsi to keep out of those issues about who can or not be removed as Commander; an attempted coup on 30/08/2014, leading to his flight into South Africa; threats to kill him in 2015 leading to his second flight to South Africa only returning weeks before parliament was dissolved.
Other than the removal of Kamoli after he was reinstated, the Command and structure of the forces has become more complicated. Hashatsi and all that lot which has been pin-pointed to have been part of the rebellion and other serious crimes have been elevated to be part of the Command of the LDF after their multiple promotions at times skipping the ranks. To complicate it even further, most of those who were in the Command of LDF are presently in exile or are still facing mutiny charges. Moreover, Lekhooa, another suspect in the crimes committed in the past two years has been seconded from LDF to head the National Security Service (NSS). This does not end there; the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) has now been effectively dismantled. With some of its leadership suspected of involvement in the High Treason case in 2014 and other serious crimes including making other policemen like Khetheng disappear after an arrest, the security environment could not be worse.
Knowledgeable and/or good intentioned, this web woven by Mosisili, is simply too intricate to be dismantled without serious reaction. One of the key decisions of SADC on Lesotho for instance is that those in the military who have been implicated in crimes be suspended until their cases have been investigated by an enhanced and resourced police force. This cannot be implemented as long as all those in command are suspects. This is why international support is so crucial in unravelling this web.
In order to quash the army rebellion once and for all an urgent action plan to seek SADC support to implement the security related decisions immediately has to be developed. The plan should aim at ensuring that ahead of the reforms the following should have been achieved:
a) Dissolve the Court Marshall and have all those in open arrest be released from their two year ordeal;
b) Suspend all the suspects in LDF and LMPS identified to have criminal cases to answer;
c) Have all exiled soldiers indemnified and restored to their positions;
d) Dissolve the joint army and police unit immediately.
It is important to understand that the above suggested actions are only the basis for the total overhaul of the security establishment as part of the reform process. No reforms would be possible before the above are in place.
Mundane issues of administration
Prime Minister Thabane must know that he is surrounded. Mosisili made sure that he would rule from the grave by placing his relatives and associates in all the key positions in the government. Even a week before the elections, he continued to deploy people in foreign missions. That means that he will be talking issues through them to the international community. There are ways of course in the modern era to short-circuit those, but there will always be bottlenecks until the obstacles have been removed. In dealing with the obstacles, firmness, fairness and dexterity will be necessary. This is why questions of administration must not be neglected.
As Lesotho moved to elections, all political parties signed a pledge to implement reforms. Key amongst those reforms is the public sector reforms. We have a public sector now which was not characterised by appointments based on merit. It was all patronage. This ensures that the system as a whole lacks credibility. The backbone of any government is a professional public service which continues even after the change of government. Indeed, even when you have a week Minister, as long as the professionals in that Ministry are strong, it will not be obvious. This is why it is important to ensure that the reform process begins. But the reform process should not wait for the formal process itself. Prime Minister Thabane can ensure that there is credibility in the system if he shows by the appointments of senior officials that he is committed to reforms.
The quality of the people who will be appointed will be a good indicator. Let him forget about political party stalwarts and opportunists who will bring nothing into the system. If he wants to be credible, he must be able to say, this second round as Prime Minister, he will focus on merit and not whether people have been close to him. He has a golden opportunity to appoint people who are better skilled than those in Mosisili’s government.
Perhaps I have to say that the rule of thumb of judging whether the new administration has prospects of surviving long enough is to see whether it is able to differentiate government administration from both the political party and the family. The political party anchors the government, the family provides social support, but they should never be seen to be fulcrum on which the state revolves. This is more so when you have a coalition government. The advice to the new government is that government business is not a political party or family affair. It is sacrosanct and must not be compromised by any outside interests. Failure to do that will doom this government to failure.
Lesotho is also plagued by corruption and this government must dedicate itself to ridding the country of that scourge. The starting point is to recognise that Ministers in our system of government are not Chief Accounting Officers. They must at all times avoid invading the territory of the Principal Secretaries. Ministers must not try to be Principal Secretaries and vice versa. Once there is no clarity there, the struggler about tenders will begin and inevitably there will be the beginnings of the fall of this government. Had the Bidvest scandal not emerged there is a good chance that Mosisili’s government would still be limping on. Ministers have no role in the award of tenders and that should be emphasised from the beginning. Chief Accounting Officers must be made aware from the beginning that they will be held accountable when things go wrong. That is administration.
Conclusion and going forward
Sustaining a new regime requires strength, decisiveness and dexterity in dealing with issues. The need to be decisive is required now that Thabane has won decisively against Mosisili. Delaying to take action now will dilute the legitimacy that he now has. If Thabane had been decisive in January 2014 when the roots of the rebellion began to show, we probably would not have had an attempted coup of August 2014. The rebellion was left alone to chart its direction without serious attempts to quell it. The utterances of Hashatsi and Kamoli later indicated clearly that they no longer regarded themselves to be under civilian control. This was confirmed later in Sechele’s testimony to the Phumaphi Commission that the military was a law onto itself.
I’m aware that the circumstances of 2014 were different. Thabane had to also deal with a third columnist at every stage who sought to undermine him. Thabane now has the power and authority working with his partners to act decisively to ensure that the key issues about security are sorted out. I would like to conclude with the words of Machiavelli in his The Prince where he underlines that strength, which electoral victory has given you, is not sufficient to sustain your rule; you also need to be cunning.
A prince must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.”
Mosisili imitated the lion, using the military to suppress all those opposed to him, but never recognised the traps. The new Prime Minister must be strong and wise!
As we go forward we must ensure that over and above these, we recognised critical issues like youth unemployment which is now beyond an economic challenge but a security challenge as some of the things which the new government has to defeat if it is to survive. That is a time bomb which could explode at anytime.
As we go ahead with other programmes we must remember that we have to salvage international assistance which is dependent on accountability and rule of law.
Let ones again congratulate the new government and hope it listens.