PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has left a highly contested legacy characterized by more negatives than positives, analysts say.
Mr Thabane formally quit this week after he had initially resisted calls for him to resign, insisting he would only do so end of July 2020 at the earliest. He has been succeeded by former finance minister Moeketsi Majoro.
Analysts say Mr Thabane’s legacy is typical of most African leaders of his generation, who start off well and as darlings of the masses only to disappoint when ensconced in the seat of power.
Mr Thabane has consequently earned himself a number of firsts. He is the first prime minister to resign in Lesotho’s 54 years of independence. He is the first to be stampeded out of the premier’s office by his political party. He is also the first sitting PM to be stripped of the prerogative to dissolve Parliament. Mr Thabane is the first leader to be disowned by high profile family members, his own daughter Advocate Nkoya Hlaele, and son-in-law, Lebohang Hlaele, who openly urged him to quit. He is the first leader in Lesotho to be charged with murder, after he was fingered in the killing of his former wife, Lipolelo.
While the list of Mr Thabane’s firsts is seemingly long, it would be wrong to only see his dark side. He has some positives.
For instance, some analysts credit him with fighting to break former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s long uninterrupted reign and stranglehold on power. This when he first assumed the reigns, leading a four-party coalition government, after the 2012 general elections.
Mr Thabane had also ensured the arrest and jailing of rogues like former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, who had unleased a reign of terror in Lesotho and caused untold suffering. His strong actions against them had sent a clear and loud message that no atrocities would ever go unpunished.
Still, overally Mr Thabane records more negatives than positives, the analysts say. Rampant corruption, human rights abuses by the police, a poor and lackluster economy and endemic poverty, bad policies like in the wool and mohair sector, among other things, have all underpinned his rule.
“Although Thabane today leaves power under the shadow of disgrace and humiliation, he has left some imprints in Lesotho,” says Hoolo Nyane, a law professor at the University of Limpopo, South Africa.
“His greatest legacy is that he managed, after so many players tried without much success, to dislodge the political hegemony of the former prime minister (Mosisili). Mr Mosisili had accumulated so much power since 1998 to the extent of being a threat to Lesotho’s constitutional democracy,” he said.
Prof Nyane said Mr Thabane’s formation of ABC in 2006 and his ultimate ascension to power in 2012 heralded the era of plurality and diversity in the political landscape in Lesotho. He also said Mr Thabane can be credited for championing the advent of coalition politics in the country.
But still, the former premier had not covered himself in political glory. Prof Nyane said Mr Thabane’s failure to ensure cohesion in his own ABC party as well as the two coalitions he had led counted against him.
“Mr Thabane is the pioneer of coalition politics in Lesotho. But those same coalitions systems exposed his inherent weaknesses…He was not effective in leading these coalitions,” Pro Nyane said.
“He will also go down in history as the most indecisive Prime Minister who ruled by proxies. His decision-making was sublet to a small group of people who included his own wife. In the end, government was run by proxies to its detriment.
“Furthermore, while he did not start cronyism in Lesotho, he perfected it. We saw him blatantly preferring preferring to elevate cronies in all public services: in the judiciary, in the police, in the army,” said Prof Nyane.
Whenever key appointees tried to do their work professionally, such as in the instances of police commissioner Holomo Molibeli and Court of Appeal president Kananelo Mosito, and in the process crossed Mr Thabane’s path, he “abused” his powers by trying to dismiss them.
Thus, Mr Thabane has not left any good legacy, according to political scientist Kopano Francis Makoa.
Prof Makoa says he in adamant Mr Thabane “has not done anything good for the country.” The former prime minister had a double-pronged approach to governance in which he would set up policies today, only to go against those policies the next day.
“Mr Thabane has left a legacy of paralysis of the government system leaving it without any hope for recovery. His government was plagued with corruption, starting from the top to the bottom. His confidantes looted the economy and left nothing for the common man in the street,” he said.
Prof Makoa said Mr Thabane had allowed his wife, Maesaiah Thabane, to meddle in the affairs of both the state and the ruling ABC to the extent of paralyzing the two institutions. He had allowed her to play a key role in the appointments and dis-appointments of key officials contrary to the law.
Prof Makoa said Mr Thabane has also left important arms of government such as the judiciary in a quandary by his incessant attempts to meddle into their affairs. His unrelenting efforts to dismiss Judge Mosito while trying to elevate Judge Masefaro Mahase, who was seen as his stooge, had destroyed the reputation of the judiciary.
Economist and political commentator Arthur Majara said he had no kind words for the former prime minister, who he described as “someone who was put in place to distabilise his own people.”
Mr Majara said police brutality was rife in Mr Thabane’s rule than during any other regime yet he did nothing to stop it.
National University of Lesotho lecturer, Mahao Mahao, said when Mr Thabane came into office for his second stint in June 2017, he brought much hope to many people who had been disappointed with the previous Mosisili government.
High profile Basotho such as former army commander Maparankoe Mahao, had been murdered under Mr Mosisili’s watch. Hunger was widespread. Mr Thabane was seen as a savior upon his second return. He now leaves an even worse situation.
“The coming of the ABC government seemed to be a welcome relief to many as they believed Mr Thabane would solve their problems, but unfortunately he didn’t,” said Dr Mahao.
Dr Mahao said during Mr Thabane’s tenure, the economy deteriorated further after he introduced unpopular policies such as the Wool and Mohair Regulations of 2018 that damaged that industry. The former prime minister had a haphazard approach in tackling governance issues as he rarely consulted his coalition partners.
The NUL lecturer also said there was a big difference in the way Mr Thabane conducted business in 2017 than during his first stint in 2012. He was now showing signs of advanced age and was less energetic.
“He seemed to be getting advice from his wife than anyone else and those who spoke against her were being reprimanded. In addition, Mr Thabane had picked up a group of hangers-on whom he appointed as ministers yet they were criminally incompetent,” he said.
Dr Mahao said there were many valuable lessons that Dr Majoro should learn from Mr Thabane’s legacy. One of them is the need for a governance structure that delivers on its promises and that is based on consultations with other stakeholders, especially the private sector.
“This is the fourth coalition government we have had in eight years that has collapsed because it was not people centric… Surely, Dr Majoro wouldn’t want to follow the same footsteps,” he said.
Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations (LCN) executive director, Seabata Motsamai, also said Mr Thabane’s negative deeds far outweighed his positives. He, however, said it would be good to look at some of his achievements.
He claimed Mr Thabane had left behind a “conducive environment for democratic activities to flourish”. He had also done a good job in ensuring the arrests of those who had committed atrocities during the Mosisili era.
“Because of Mr Thabane’s open democracy, Lesotho was accepted for financial assistance under the Millennium Challenge Compact initiative and the social welfare benefits for vulnerable groups such as the elderly continued to take place.
“The health delivery systems, although designed under Mr Mosisili’s rule, also continued to improve under Mr Thabane and there were no reports of journalists being arrested for carrying out their duties,” Mr Motsamai said.
However, Mr Motsamai said Mr Thabane’s constant interference with the judiciary and the police was a bane to his legacy.
Mr Thabane should have learnt a big lesson from the downfall of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a result of the constant meddling of his wife, Grace Mugabe, and unilateral decision-making. He hadn’t to his detriment.
The incoming leader should thus avoid all of Mr Thabane’s costly mistakes and respect the independence of critical roles of key state institutions. He must desist from politicising them. turn around Mr Thabane’s bad deeds into positive, for the benefit of the nation.