‘I love politics with a passion’

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Political scientist Dr Fako Likoti has just been appointed Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s Political Advisorfaku—a post he clinched two years after he was, as he puts it, unceremoniously removed from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) where he had served for five years as a commissioner.

Dr Thomas Thabane, who was premier at the time, removed Dr Likoti from the IEC in 2013 amidst allegations he was a sympathiser of the congress movement dominated by Dr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC).

However, Dr Likoti tells Lesotho Times (LT) Political Editor Bongiwe Zihlangu in this wide-ranging interview that his current appointment has nothing to do with politics but is purely based on merit.

LT: You have just been appointed Prime Minister (PM) Pakalitha Mosisili’s Political Advisor and you must be very excited to be holding this prestigious post. But before we get into it, could you tell us who Fako Likoti is?

Likoti: Fako Likoti is a Mosotho man who served the police service for a solid 24 years. I am also a political scientist who studied political science here at home, in South Africa and Europe. I studied political science mainly, a bit of human resource and some economics.

LT: What does your job entail as Dr Mosisili’s political advisor?

Likoti: Advising the PM on a host of issues before making decisions. His is to bounce ideas off me, while in return, I make recommendations to him.

LT: Tell us more about your academic and employment background and how you rose through the ranks to be where you are today.

Likoti: I started in the police service and rose through the ranks to become Planning Officer for the Lesotho Mounted Police Service. I was one of the senior officers who  managed the transitions of the police departments. These many developments you see within the police service, I was very instrumental in making them happen. All the changes in terms of the rank structure, the buildings and general transformation, I was involved. This was from 1996 until 2000 when I left to join the National University of Lesotho (NUL) as a political science lecturer.

I then left for the United States of America to study Conflict Management at the University of Maryland and I was also involved in the NGO community dealing with conflict management. I also authored a lot of publications on politics and political parties of this country, having studied the subject extensively.

LT: What would you say interested you so much about the politics of Lesotho that you had to study the subject extensively, as you put it?

Likoti:  I love politics with a passion. When I joined the police force in my youth, I had only studied Form A for two weeks. Then I went on to do a Diploma in Public Administration at LIPAM.

One of the subjects that was taught there was Introduction to Politics. It was in 1986 shortly after the military coup that ousted former Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan’s government. Through that course, I realised the importance of politics in one’s life. An apathetic community is not a good community; a community has to participate in politics. That’s when I became more politically conscious. Then even in my job, I realised the importance of politics, that politics is key to everything because when you talk about policies, you’re talking politics.

So I was the driver of the LMPS policing policy. For the first time in the history of the LMPS, I was the first person to draft the LMPS policies, as the police then did not have written policies. It was a result of the training I received from LIPAM. These included transfer, crime and promotion management policies. It was after that that I was able to go study politics further at the University of Essex in Britain and spent eight years in all studying.

From there, I left the police and moved on to the NUL where I worked for four years as senior lecturer, but resigned just before I became Associate Professor. Then I joined the IEC. I did my first five years but when the government was supposed to renew my contract for another five years, they decided they did not want me.

LT: Your departure from the IEC was clouded by political controversy. Why?

Likoti: Not only was it political, it was also unconstitutional. According to the constitution, every commissioner of the IEC is entitled to two terms of office. Usually, if you don’t get a second term, it is because you are sick or have appeared before a tribunal on disciplinary grounds.

But you will recall that at the time, I had been part of an IEC commission that had run a successful election. I was not aware initially that I would not have my contract renewed.

Even when former PM Thabane addressed his rallies, asking his supporters whether or not I should be fired, I did not take it seriously. It was only after Ntate Thabane had held five rallies in different parts of the country, that I realised he was serious about having me fired.

I was in denial as I never thought a premier, who had taken oath to protect national institutions, would act in that manner, that his government could eventually implement advice given at rallies. But it soon came to be.

I remember him addressing another political rally, telling supporters that he wanted an IEC made up of members of parties that formed the previous coalition government, those being the LCD, ABC and BNP.

LT: But surely you were not blind to the fact that the perception was you were perceived to be a sympathiser of congress parties, particularly Dr Mosisili’s?

Likoti: You see, what is interesting about the IEC’s work is that as an independent institution, it has laws and regulations that all its employees must abide by. Institutions such as the IEC operate solely based on those laws; they never act outside these laws.

So in the IEC, you cannot favour party X or work for party B. You are compelled to adhere strictly to the law. That is why our IEC in Lesotho is considered the best on the continent. Most IECs in the SADC region learn from ours, including South Africa’s IEC, on how to work and professionalise their institutions.

So for someone to say I am sympathetic to party A or party B, that is their opinion to which they are entitled. Nobody could come here even today and say Likoti favoured party X over party B, because when you say that it means I must have violated a certain law in favour of such a party.

LT: This brings us to your current post as the PM’s Political Advisor. Are you saying that your appointment was solely based on your credentials, and not political affiliation?

Likoti: What most people in Lesotho don’t appreciate is when you do national work, there are rules and regulations that guide your conduct. In Human Resource Management, one is given a job description and it doesn’t specify which party one should be a member of. You are just given the purpose and objectives of your appointment.

You hear people coming up with loose talk that someone is being compensated for certain things. Well and good, if that’s how they see it. But as far as I’m concerned, there is no truth to that.

This is a very professional job I am doing. It is a very political scientist-oriented type of job. It is not a job that can be done by anybody. I am a political scientist and recently there have been developments in this country and people have been asking me about my views and the way issues are being managed.

As a result, there’s this perception that I got this job because the PM appreciated the way I have been explaining some of these issues. I don’t remember asking permission from the PM to go and explain some of those things.

LT: How have you taken to your new job?

Likoti: I’ve been all over Africa, the world and seen politics in practice, elections being run and political scientists in action. There is a lot of things that I know, although I am not saying I know everything. But the reserve of knowledge is there.

LT: What challenges would you say Dr Mosisili is faced with?

Likoti: One of the challenges we are faced with is that our democracy has become too vibrant, which is very good. But that vibrancy needs to be guided in the right direction.

LT: Please elaborate.

Likoti: Most people seem to think that because democracy emphasises freedom of speech, they think this freedom is absolute. They don’t understand that freedom can only go to a certain extent.

In today’s Lesotho, anybody can call a radio station and say things without any evidence whatsoever. People are not cautious at all. They make radio programmes and create issues out of nothing, in exercise of their freedom of speech.

For instance, one of the speakers at the Memorial Service of the late Brigadier Mahao, said he was to teach this government a lesson. He rallied his men thereafter to block the Maseru Border Gate. When he was asked to remove his men and cars, he dared the government to “bring the head of the army to kill me”.

These are some of the excesses that need to be controlled. People even abuse social networks to peddle lies against the government. The list is endless.

LT: What would you say are the priority areas the PM has to focus on?

Likoti: The key priorities vary. For one, we should find a way of engaging the media so that we don’t fight all the time. We have to create an environment conducive to us all to make a success of our democracy. Our democracy is bigger than us, and even much bigger than our PM. We only have one country that we have to build; this we can only achieve by working together.

People should also be sensitised about the manner in which government works, how government institutions work.

For instance, this issue of government not calling the military to order, that is not how things work. There are laws in place regulating the way our institutions are run.

We all know that our civil service is highly politicised. We need to come to a stage where we say, enough is enough. We need to come up with reforms to strengthen our civil service. These are just some of the challenges we face.

LT: What is government’s take on the media? There seems to be this animosity from government directed at the media.

Likoti: The development of journalism in Lesotho should be one of the areas that this government focuses on as a priority. It is the responsibility of government to source funds to train journalists so that we are able to produce professional media practitioners.

Journalism is very important in any democracy. We need to have good, qualified, factual journalists. Journalism is another arm of government; there are things that the media sees that we, as government, don’t.

But it’s unfair for some people to masquerade as journalists. This is not to say we should not be criticised as government, but the criticism should be constructive.

LT: There are reservations within some sectors of the public that this coalition government will not succeed. But does it have the capacity to reach the prescribed five-year term of office?

Likoti: I have recognised a high level of commitment and consultative approach in this government. If the seven parties in government (DC, Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Popular Front for Democracy, Marematlou Freedom Party, National Independent Party, Basotho Congress Party and Lesotho People’s Congress) adhere to the principles and standard they have set for themselves, I don’t see why not.

If they continue to work together in harmony, making agreements and all decisions together as they do now, their chances of success in the next five years are very high.

They are very solid; I don’t see either one of them pulling out.

LT: There’s this widespread speculation if I may put it that way, that Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Mothetjoa Metsing calls the shots while Dr Mosisili, as head of government, looks on. Who really cracks the whip here?

Likoti: DPM Metsing is the overseer of all ministries and reports back to the PM. I think his name has been muddied too much by people who were with him in the previous coalition government. They have portrayed him as this villain, a challenging character who can break up this coalition government any day.

Ntate Metsing’s position in the coalition is very clear as it is written down. He cracks the whip over all the ministries, then reports back to the PM on a daily basis, period. I wish people could stop painting Ntate Metsing in this manner because we all know they are hiding what they did in the last coalition government and want to shift the blame.

Just because he complained about non-consultation in the past doesn’t mean he will do it here. Let me tell you this: sometimes I feel there’s just too much consultation here.

LT: Describe Dr Mosisili? How do you perceive him?

Likoti: He’s very soft, understanding and listens like all humble human beings do. He’s a very humble human being. He values people’s advice. When I was Planning Officer of the police, Ntate Mosisili was Police Minister.

The law that the police have now, the Police Act, we drafted that law under his supervision. I was working with him then. We also worked together in party committees within the IEC. We worked very well because he scrutinises everything carefully before giving his approval. We never had problems with him even then. I am very comfortable with him.

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