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ABC no closer to unity despite leadership change: Analysts

by Lesotho Times
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…Kabi’s election only opens a new chapter of infighting in the fractious party,

Bongiwe Zihlangu

THE fractious All Basotho Convention (ABC) is nowhere closer to reuniting despite founding leader Thomas Thabane recently handing over the reins to his newly elected and preferred successor, Nkaku Kabi, analysts say.

If anything, Mr Kabi’s acrimonious and narrow victory over deputy leader Moeketsi Majoro in the 28-29 January 2022 leadership elections, has opened a new chapter of infighting between the two, the analysts argue.

This has created two centres of power and given birth to a disjuncture between the party and government.

The analysts cite the contradictory statements of the newly elected leader Nkaku Kabi and his allies as a clear sign of the festering confusion and instability in the party. In the aftermath of his election victory, Mr Kabi publicly called on Dr Majoro to immediately hand over power to him. His rabid allies have also made it clear that they want Dr Majoro “gone as of yesterday”. But on another occasion the same Mr Kabi held a joint press conference with Dr Majoro wherein the newly minted ABC leader said he had no problems with the premier finishing his term.

ABC insiders insist that the reality is that Mr Kabi is anxious to take over from Dr Majoro without further ado because that way he would have access to state resources to run a successful election campaign. But all his behind-the-scenes maneuvers to get Dr Majoro to quit have hit a brick wall because he does not have support of all the ABC MPs and those of other major parties particularly the Democratic Congress (DC).

Mr Kabi and his allies have thus been engaging in this back and forth game wherein they confuse their followers with contradictory statements indicating they want Dr Majoro gone on one day and saying they are willing to let him stay on the next day. The latest example of the confusion was at last week’s Qeme rally where Mr Kabi pleaded with Dr Majoro to “go now”.

As the analysts point out, all this goes to show that the ABC’s problems have not been solved with the election of Mr Kabi. If anything, his election has only opened up a new phase of infighting and instability, says National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturer Mahao Mahao.

And unless an urgent solution is found, the disunity and instability in the lead party in the current governing coalition could cost it dearly in the national elections due anytime from September 2022, the analysts further argue.

The ABC was established as a breakaway party from the then Pakalitha Mosisili-led Lesotho Congress of Democracy (LCD) in 2006. Mr Mosisili himself was to leave the LCD in 2021 as infighting continued to take its toll in that party. He established the Democratic Congress (DC), a party which soon lost its way under his leadership due to infighting, corruption and human rights violations. The DC then handed the initiative to the then Thabane-led ABC which took power first in 2012 to 2015 and again in 2017 to date.

Now under the leadership of Mathibeli Mokhothu, the DC is enjoying a massive revival.  Commentators say credit should go to Mr Mosisili for exiting the stage and allowing Mr Mokhothu to take over in January 2019. Mr Mokhothu beat former cabinet minister, Tlohang Sekhamane, to succeed Mr Mosisili.

The ABC held its own elective conference a month later in February 2019 but the octogenarian Mr Thabane, who is six years older than Mr Mosisili, refused to emulate the latter by stepping down to allow the party to choose a younger successor. (Mr Thabane turns 82 on 28 May 2022).

His insistence on clinging on and his refusal to accept the election of Professor Nqosa Mahao as his deputy sparked a serious power struggle which only ended with Prof Mahao dumping the ABC to form the Basotho Action Party (BAP) in April 2021. Prof Mahao’s post of deputy leader was taken by Dr Majoro who had already replaced Mr Thabane as premier almost a year earlier in May 2020.

It had appeared that normalcy would finally return to the party when Prof Mahao and 10 ABC MPs jumped ship to form the BAP.

But no sooner had they departed than another battlefront opened in the party. This time the war was between Mr Thabane and Dr Majoro, the very man who he had initially supported to replace Prof Mahao as deputy leader of the party.

Mr Thabane subsequently quit as ABC leader on 31 December 2021 but he had already jettisoned Dr Majoro in favour of Mr Kabi who later won the leadership race at the party’s January 2022 special conference.

Since then Mr Kabi and his supporters have been on an aggressive drive to oust Dr Majoro and pave way for the new ABC leader to take over as prime minister.

Dr Majoro’s insistence on clinging on until the elections due anytime from September has only added fuel to the raging infighting.

“Consequently, galvanising the party and reuniting it ahead of the crucial national elections has become an elusive dream,” says Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) Executive Director, Tsikoane Peshoane.

He said instead of reuniting the party, Mr Kabi’s election and Dr Majoro’s subsequent resignation from the ABC’s national executive committee (NEC) had only perpetuated the “two centres of power scourge” which has plagued the party and government ever since the ABC forced its then leader Thabane to give up the premiership to Dr Majoro.

“The leadership election and the consequent advent of Kabi at the expense of Majoro has not changed anything for the ABC,” Mr Peshoane said.

“Now the party and the government are standing in opposition to each other. Now there’s disjuncture between the party and government. I see parallel administrations, disorganisation and polarisation.

“Majoro and Kabi are respectively in charge of two separate formations. Majoro is in charge of government. His resignation from the ABC NEC was a clear signal that he no longer wanted to be held accountable by the party for the decisions he makes in government,” Mr Peshoane said.

He said given the disjuncture between the ABC under Mr Kabi and the government under Dr Majoro, it was a misnomer to continue saying the ABC was the largest party in government.

The “cold and painful reality” for the ABC NEC is that it has effectively become an opposition party because Dr Majoro and ABC members in his cabinet neither take instructions from the party nor take its admonitions seriously.

“The ABC must accept that although it has the highest number of seats, it is not in control of government. It must accept that although Majoro is nominally a party member, his refusal to take instructions from it has somewhat rendered it an opposition party. It is an opposition in denial. It is an opposition party in everything but name. How can it continue calling itself the governing party when the prime minister, his cabinet ministers and other senior officials are not accountable to it? Kabi and the NEC must just accept that they can’t influence any government decision because ministers and most ABC MPs are siding with Majoro who doesn’t see eye to eye with the party’s national executive committee,” Mr Peshoane said.

Fellow Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) Executive Director, Seabata Motsamai, concurs.

He said the ABC infighting and factionalism was deeply entrenched and would not disappear anytime soon because of Mr Kabi’s election.

“The ABC’s problems are deeply rooted as they started in the national executive committee, filtering down to the supporters then moving up to the National Assembly.

“When former deputy leader Mahao came into the picture, there was a huge storm in the party (with Thabane and his allies refusing to accept him). They ganged up against him and when he eventually left, the NEC had created this illusion that his departure would heal the party.

“But then a new war broke out not long after the elevation of premier Majoro who was fiercely attacked by founding leader Thabane and his allies for allegedly neglecting the party and its members. Majoro appeared to have smoked the peace pipe with Thabane and he was even co-opted into the NEC as deputy leader (in April 2021) but the peace didn’t last,” Mr Motsamai said.

He pointed to the role of Mr Thabane’s wife, ‘Maesaiah, in fueling the divisions between the former ABC leader and the premier. The controversial Ms Thabane has been likened to other villainous wives in both history and folklore who caused the downfall of their husbands and even governments. The list of the villains include the Biblical Jezebel whose meddling negatively affected her husband King Ahab’s reign; 18th century France’s Queen Marie Antoinette who contributed to the fall of her husband King Louis XVI; 1980s Philippines’ Imelda Marcos whose corruption and lavish spending (she boasted of her 3 000 pairs of designer shoes) led to the fall of her husband Ferdinand Marcos and most recently Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe who masterminded her husband Robert Mugabe’s estrangement from his erstwhile party and military allies. Mr Mugabe was subsequently overthrown by his protégé, Emmerson Mnangagwa in November 2017.

“At the end of the day, one can say the ABC continues to be ravaged by a deadly virus in its DNA. This virus eats away at the party and it has caused the leadership to be at war with itself.

“One will recall that all ABC deputy leaders to date and other senior NEC members to date have not had it easy with the leader. The likes of the late Sello Machakela, Tlali Khasu, Molobeli Soulo and most recently Mahao, all left after being battered and bruised by the infighting.

“Majoro hasn’t fared any better. Even though he remains in the party, his resignation from the NEC is as good as a departure. It was a constructive dismissal because there were machinations employed by the NEC to goad him into leaving.

“But unlike the others before him, Majoro continues to be a thorn in the side of the party and its leadership. He’s got them by the balls because while Kabi has popular support in the party, he (Majoro) enjoys the advantage of incumbency in government. Majoro also enjoys the support of ABC MPs in parliament, the majority of whom he has made ministers.

“What is more, Majoro has the external support from other parties in the governing coalition, most notably the DC, Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and Basotho National Party (BNP). Even Mahao’s BAP has no appetite for a no confidence vote to oust the premier,” Mr Motsamai said.

NUL lecturer, Mahao Mahao, said with the election of Mr Kabi, the ABC had simply entered into another phase of disunity, “more so because the latter was viewed as a perpetuator of the interests and divisive politics of the Thabanes”.

He said the fact that Mr Kabi and Dr Majoro had failed to find common ground and work together for the unity of the party would simply hasten its demise which had started in the wake of the infighting which engulfed it from the time of Prof Mahao’e election into the NEC against Mr Thabane’s wishes.

Ultimately, the disunity and instability will cost the ABC in the upcoming general elections, Dr Mahao said.

Mr Motsamai said although Dr Majoro had for now outmanoeuvred Mr Kabi and his party allies, the premier’s political future in the party was bleak. Either Dr Majoro had to change tack and mend his relations with Mr Kabi and the NEC or leave the party altogether if he wanted to continue his political career, Mr Motsamai said.

“As things stand, I don’t see Majoro’s future in the ABC. He must change his approach if he still wants to continue with the party beyond the elections. But having said that, the ABC’s problems are far from over despite Kabi’s election,” Mr Motsamai said.

In the final analysis, the situation in the ABC is akin to having a different cast playing out the same script of bickering with the inevitable result being a perpetuation of instability.



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