Basotho are a selfish, intolerant lot: PS Mothae
LAW and Justice Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae (TM) has been in government since his return to Lesotho from an eight-year stint with the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
He joined SADC in November 2006 as director of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs.
When his contract expired in 2017, Rtd Col Mothae returned to Lesotho to serve as Defence and National Security principal secretary in former prime minister Thomas Thabane’s 2017 administration.
This week he sat down with Lesotho Times’ (LT) senior reporter Pascalinah Kabi and shared his frustrations seeing his own country dealing with one crisis after another when he has successfully assisted other countries deal with own political challenges. Below are the excerpts from that interview.
LT: It is now three years since you came back from SADC, how would you describe your time in government so far?
Col Mothae: I have been very fortunate to be part of this government after coming from SADC. When I joined the Lesotho government, I thought I would be able to do for my country all that I did for the region. Well, I did to some extent but more than anything else, I was trying to understand how things were and are unravelling in terms of governance in our country.
…My initial experience at the Ministry of Defence was dealing with a crisis (the killing of Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo in 2017). We came in after a crisis and the disruption of the rule of law. We successfully put things back to normal and focused on building the integrity of our security forces as well as restoring the normal relationship between the police and army. Before I came in, the relationship was volatile and we successfully dealt with that matter.
As I thought things were moving in a progressive manner and hopeful that we were now going to focus on the delivery of services, it just seemed like that was just not an easy task. We started seeing the wrangling within the ruling coalition. That, for me, remained the cause for concern.
Looking back now, the root cause of our challenges is firstly, disrespect for the rule of law…; just ensuring that there is compliance in maintaining the rule of law; and violations of human rights which are very basic issues which destabilised the country.
Some of those violations still remain unsolved. Some of the fundamental rights involve the provision of certain services for the citizens by the government. This is according to the conventions that Lesotho has entered into in regards to human rights…
This is because there is simply no focus on service delivery and where there is (service delivery), there are very few ministries or few initiatives geared towards the delivery of services. There have been some reviews of the initiatives such as the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP). We are now on the NSDP II. One would have thought if we did the NSDP I probably, there we would have learnt so much as we now move into the NSDP II.
But there are some challenges in terms of that. The challenges in our country are poverty, unemployment, poor health services and so many others. As a country and government, we are not really making time to ensure that we actually focus on addressing those challenges. This is because there are so many political and security issues that we are dealing with. Our focus is constantly changing. I think this has turned into a culture since coalition governments came into existence post the 1998 amended electoral model.
While some of us know that coalition governments are never stable, I think the instability of coalition governments in Lesotho is more exaggerated. We are one nation and we speak the same language. So, what makes it difficult for us to agree, understand each other and focus on some critical national demands or needs? For me, it is probably some kind of selfishness on the part of those who are given the opportunity to represent the nation on whichever platform.
LT: Some people say Lesotho is unable to concentrate on national development because the country is always dealing with one crisis after another. What causes these crises?
Col Mothae: I think we have got a number of factors… the level of tolerance. Basotho have no tolerance for each other. The level of selfishness is high. People always want things to be done their way. It is more about individuals and not about the nation. Patriotism has now been lost. Basotho are no longer the nation that we used to know and always looked after each other.
There used to be a community practice where the whole village would benefit from the success of one family… That is not there anymore and this is a serious challenge.
Thirdly, people do not have respect for the law. Basotho have lost their moral fibre… which we used to have many years ago when a chief would manage and control a village. These days people do not respect the law, even the lawmakers do not respect it.
We make laws with loopholes that will eventually break. Maybe one would say these are just the symptoms of a deeply rooted problem; the level of poverty which is the result of instability creates a very fertile ground for corruption and destabilisation of governments. If one wants to survive, they have to destabilise their neighbours or brothers for them to survive.
So, this the culture that we are looking into now and that diverts our attention from poverty eradication, economic growth and stability. We have one of the best constitutions in the region… yet we do not respect it. We are going to amend it every single day to suit our agenda.
I am here now in the Ministry of Law and I am seeing one amendment after the other. We cannot have a constitution which is amended all the time. We cannot just amend a constitution because of problems that we create. A typical example is the ninth amendment to the constitution.
Why did we bother to do that? It is because people are using that amendment to destabilise the very same nation which has appointed them to leadership positions. So, that is the problem and I think we must introspect as aa nation and agree to do things by the book.
For instance, we have embarked onto a very ambitious programme of the national reforms and there is a National Reforms Authority (NRA) established by the law. Why are we doing so many things that are pushing this programme into a corner, ignoring that we have a mechanism that we think is going to help us? Why do we want to forget about that? The NRA is a creation of the very same nation. There have been a number of efforts put into this mechanism yet we want to ignore it.
We had an interim political authority in 1998. Not much time has passed and we now have the NRA. All these initiatives are a result of our differences resulting in some many loses of live; destruction of property and many others just because individuals want to take a shortcut in accessing wealth of this country; ignoring the poor citizens.
LT: What must be done to ensure that Lesotho deals with these challenges decisively and concentrates on what matters the most?
Col Mothae: I think the people who are crying should also avoid, as much as they can, wasting their votes. They should know that their finger is so powerful that once they deep it in ink, they must know why they want to vote for that particular individual. I think Basotho must understand why they are voting. Voter education must be improved.
Secondly, once you are a leader or a head of government and has put in place a cabinet, just be hard on real issues. This is not to suggest that one has to be a dictator or authoritarian but stick to the roots and stand by the rules. If you do that, things will start happening. Appointments to any government positions should be specific for the assignment envisaged by the leader. I think I am looking at the reforms which I have been involved with and seen what was intended to achieve.
We must look back at the last 50 years of our independence and see if there is anything to show for that independence. If the answer is no, the question must be, what went wrong? Let us be realistic about things. I look into the NRA membership and sometimes one doubts whether or not we are serious about this programme. Are we saying 50-70 percent of the NRA membership seriously wants to ensure that changes desired by the nation will be effected or are some of them there for their own agendas and not interested in change?
The NRA has a mammoth task of changing the democratic governance landscape of this country. It must recommend laws which will now go into our constitution and other laws that will shape the future of our country. Do we have the best team? I do not know. I am just leaving it to the readers to think about and look into it seriously.
All of us as citizens of this country have a responsibility of ensuring that the country’s problems are addressed in a such a way that all of us are going to benefit. If that is not the case, we will still come back to yet another NRA with a different name to deal with the same issues. Now the law must prevail. As a leader, you should not find yourself trying to cherry pick people for prosecution. Law and discipline must prevail.
A disciplined nation will always focus on the real issues for the survival of the country. Maybe it is my military training which says people must be disciplined. In the military, it does not matter who and where you are, once you are ill-disciplined, you will be disciplined…
It may be nicer in the first few days or months but at the end of the day, the military will bring you to order. That is what must be done in this country. Basotho must be a disciplined nation. Citizens must love their country…
We are a member of so many organisations like SADC, the African Union (AU), the Commonwealth and the United Nations among many others but are we really a disciplined member of these organisations? I would challenge anyone who said yes because we have SADC here now. Even if we do not see them physically, they are here now.
They assist with our issues. We have got the Commonwealth; AU and they are all ceased with our issues simply because we are a delinquent state. Is that delinquency acceptable, who creates that delinquency, it is us as the citizens.
LT: What is the missing ingredient for Lesotho to succeed?
Col Mothae: Like I said earlier, we are a very small but lucky country because we speak the same language. We are all related… What enabled our founder King Moshoeshoe I to unite us, that time he was uneducated compared our current educated leaders, is because Basotho were tolerant, respectful and law-abiding citizens. Resources can be there and we can compete for them but the question is, are the resources the only thing making us unruly, the answer is no.
Look at Rwanda, it almost went to the brink of collapse as a nation because of the genocide of 1994. They are back now and one of the best countries in Africa. There is not a single day you can hear that the Rwandans are intending to overthrow government in parliament. It is because they want to see a Rwanda which is better than that of 1994 and they have moved forward. Why are we still having a problem as a country? We have had problems from 1960, 1970, 1973/4 up to today we are still experiencing the same problem of intolerance, disrespect, quarrelling and fighting for power.
What was there to fight for in 1965 which is not here now? It was the same thing in 1970. You look as such issues and wonder if we are really serious as a country. This is why I am saying, we must sit down as a nation and question ourselves… Unfortunately, there is no traditional doctor who will heal us. We have to heal ourselves just so that we understand our obligation to this country. The country’s leadership must strive for excellence.
Leaders must set targets and work to achieve them. I was impressed by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s recent statement that “we will clean Lesotho…” that is the kind of leadership we strive to have. One must forget about progress if they lead from behind… this mentality of thinking that all of us must be chief executives, principal secretaries, ministers and everything cannot work like that.
Every state has got key institutions that run the state. You go to America or elsewhere and you will still find the legislature, executive and judiciary as key institutions because the three make the chain run smoothly. We cannot have a situation where everyone wants to be part of the executive, where do we leave the role of the legislature…?
LT: What are your thoughts on the parliamentarians who seem bent on destabilising the government by demanding ministerial positions?
Col Mothae: It is very unfortunate seeing things unfolding the way they are… this has never happened before. It is just happening now in the 21st century. Parliament has always existed from 1959 up to date.
When all election processes have been concluded and once becomes a member of parliament (MP), the law states that the party that wins the majority of constituencies will be instructed by the Speaker of Parliament to nominate their leader or a person who is going to lead the government. The law further states that the prime minister will nominate MPs for ministerial appointment by the King based on the premier’s vision.
There are only a few ministries compared to the 120 parliamentary seats. Not all 120 MPs can be ministers. Parliament is a very senior institution in any government or country because that is where all the laws are crafted. It is an oversight institution looking into what the executive is doing.
So, ministerial posts are not even supposed to be an issue because being an MP is not an automatic promotion for one to be a minister. It is the decision of His Majesty to appoint one on the advice of the PM. MPs are serving their constituencies and it is very unfortunate that Lesotho remains stagnant because of such practices.
Other countries have now moved away from MPs becoming ministers. The PM or President just appoints people with the appropriate skills to do the job. It is no longer about being an MP or being closer to the PM or President. That does not work in other countries. Look at America, appointees go through a rigorous screening process and if they do not deliver, they are dropped. For me that is the best practice but the most powerful people in this whole process are the electorates.
The electorate votes people into parliament expecting that one pays back by bringing services to them and in our case, they get nothing. We quarrel from day one up to the last day and the culture of changing governments after every two and half years is a serious challenge. Every government does not concentrate on implementing the national programmes because they are being destabilised every single day by people threatening to cross the floor…
We have the NRA as an important entity meant to look into the challenges that the country has had over the past 50 years, why are we ignoring it and wanting to do things differently… I do not think it is proper. For me this is lack of patriotism. Do we love this country or do we love ourselves more than the country and if I love myself more, I should not be part of this process?
…But if I love this country, I must always work for the country and ensure that Basotho are happy and are getting services. This is what patriotism means for me. If you do not have that kind of love for the country, I should not even join politics because I would be the wrong person for the job…
LT: How is Lesotho faring in terms of addressing issues of human rights violations?
Col Mothae: We are faring very well taking into consideration that we do not have as yet the human rights commission, which is actually the one that is responsible for reporting the issues of human rights to the international bodies. But as a government, even if we have a human rights commission, we would still have the obligation to report because we are a member of those bodies as a government.
We are doing well and that is why we are working hard because one of the outstanding issues was the establishment of the human rights commission… The Minister of Law and Justice, Professor Nqosa Mahao wants to see the commission up and running by end of this year.
There is law already, which establishes the human rights commission; I think it’s the Human Rights Commission Act of 2016. There are amendments which have been agreed upon and as I am sitting with you here, we are tying up loose ends.
I must indicate that we report each and everything that comes our way because our report is prepared as a consultative report. We bring on board almost every stakeholder so that we understand and know where we stand. We work closely with the Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations and particularly close with the Transformation Resource Centre, which is much more focused on the issues of the human rights. So, we are always looking into all other challenges that the country has had and we report them as they are.
I think we do not hide any violations but I can tell you that the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the African Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are also excited by our reporting and the manner in which we present our issues. There are human rights challenges in the country, a number of violations that we have gone through but we are working with almost all stakeholders to address some of the challenging issues.
Ministries of Law, Water, Finance, Education, Gender, Police and Defence all meet on different occasions with one focus of ensuring that all of us understand our responsibilities, the conventions that require us to follow up on a number of issues. We may not be 100 percent there but we are also up to date with our reporting, which has to be in line with the requirements of the UNHRC reporting standards. We have just reported on the Universal Periodic Reporting recently. There are few other small things that we are working on but we are highly commended by the international community.
LT: What are the key violations that Lesotho experiences?
Col Mothae: Punitive murders and lack of access to services such as water, sanitation, health and education. Those are the issues affecting our country but we have moved a lot of things because now the elderly are accessing their pensions. We have got some of the issues in the elderly sector, particularly the murder of older women and being accused of witchcraft.
In terms of protocols, we are the only country in Africa that has signed and ratified the protocol on the elderly people. We ratified the protocol in 2018. That means we take things seriously. We are the only country in Africa that has done that and that is to show that we recognise that the elderly are our asset… and we must treat them respectfully. The pensions have gone up and there are a few other things that we must implement.