FORMER Prime Minister and outgoing leader of the main opposition Democratic Congress (DC) Pakalitha Mosisili says he had wanted to quit way back in 2012 but his supporters “begged” him to stay on.
Dr Mosisili, who rarely gives press interviews, spoke exclusively to the Lesotho Times on the sidelines of his last rally as DC leader in Maputsoe this week.
Lesotho’s longest serving democratically elected Prime Minister, who had faced accusations of emulating other African leaders who cling to power, said it had never been his intention to overstay his welcome.
“When my people urged me to stay on, including some of whom are insulting me today, I heeded their plea and stayed on,” Dr Mosisili said.
“I only did that since leadership derives from the authority of the people… I had to take the mandate from the people because had it not been for their faith in me, I wouldn’t have been called to be their leader in the first place… I am nothing without my followers. One is a leader because of the followers,” said Dr Mosisili who is also slated by his critics for overseeing the splintering of the parties he has led.
But now that he is bowing out, Dr Mosisili also counselled other African leaders not to overstay in power and to avoid seeking absolute power because “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Dr Mosisili was leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) when current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane splintered from it to form the now ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) in 2007. Dr Mosisili was to in turn lead a walkout from the LCD while still being its leader to form the DC. But the DC suffered a major blow after his deputy Monyane Moleleki split from it to form the Alliance of Democrats (AD), now in coalition with the ABC, in 2017
All in all, Dr Mosisili served about 16 years as Prime Minister from May 1998 to June 2012 when he was ousted by a coalition of the ABC and his former LCD. He dramatically returned to power in 2015 after the collapse of the ABC/LCD coalition, only to be ousted again in June 2017 by a second Thabane led coalition.
Dr Mosisili surprised all and sundry when he announced last year that he had decided to call it a day and would not seek re-election at his party’s elective conference end of this month.
He formally communicated his decision to quit in a moving letter dated 9 November 2018 to DC supporters. In the letter, Dr Mosisili likened himself to a dancer who must eventually relinquish the stage regardless of how good his dance moves are.
The former premier bemoaned the “shocking levels” of infighting in his party and accusations that he favoured some members at the expense of others. This, he said, had compelled him to announce his decision to quit in writing instead of communicating it orally.
“No matter how good a dancer you may be, there must be a time to come down from the stage and such a time has come for me to step aside,” Dr Mosisili wrote.
“I take opportunity to humbly notify you that I shall not be contesting for the party’s leadership in the up-coming elective conference and therefore this means that as you ready yourself (for the conference), know that the leadership vacancy is also up for grabs and you should all be ready to elect a new leader.”
Dr Mosisili’s departure has once again fractured his party between the two factions fighting to succeed him.
One faction known as Liphakoe is said to have thrown its weight behind the DC deputy leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, in his quest to succeed Dr Mosisili. Mr Mokhothu is the official leader of the opposition in parliament and he is the member of parliament for the Qhoali #68 constituency. The other faction, known as Melele, is said to favour the DC deputy secretary general, Tlohang Sekhamane. Mr Sekhamane is a former government secretary and finance minister. He is also a former member of parliament for the Mokhotlong #79 constituency.
Had his supporters not “begged” him to stay on, Dr Mosisili said he would long have quit as party leader and Prime Minister in 2012 before the general elections that year to allow his newly formed DC to contest the elections with a new face as leader.
Dr Mosisili said political leaders should know when to let go and avoid being corrupted by power. He said leaders must know that they are chosen not because they are smarter than their subjects but because of trust bestowed by their followers.
“People who are aspiring to lead in politics should always remember that leaders are not born but instead they are made. It should also be very clear that one is entrusted with a position of power not because they are smarter than the rest but because of the trust bestowed by the subjects.
“People only choose to lend us such powers and we should learn to step down when the time comes and give others a chance. The power I had as the leader of the party and country was not mine but was lent to me by the people.”
He said his time as leader of DC and Prime Minister had taught him more about humility than he had ever imagined.
“Leadership has taught me a great lesson and has humbled me in a great way, far way more than I had ever imagined and I now know that leadership is not child’s play.
“If all those aspiring to be future leaders and all African leaders who are already in power would take heed of the fact that power is not all that matters and that absolute power corrupts, then the entire African continent would be a better place to be and the livelihoods of its people would be improved.”
Dr Mosisili said it was sad that he was stepping down at a crucial time when Lesotho was busy working on the reforms process. He vowed to remain steadfast to the process nevertheless.
“I should admit that I am stepping down at quite a crucial time but I will be there throughout the process from the back bench. My humble plea and earnest prayer is that we as Basotho won’t let anyone – and I mean anyone – set the reforms agenda for us or ruin the reforms for us.
“The reforms are not about the leadership only but they should be informed by the people of this country and be owned by them. This is a life time opportunity which we should not let go by. We have been afforded a great opportunity to shape the Lesotho we want,” Dr Mosisili said.
Lesotho was given until May this year to have fully implemented the constitutional and security reforms that are seen as crucial to achieving lasting peace and stability in the Kingdom.
The reforms were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016 in the aftermath of the report by the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led 10-member Commission of Inquiry into the July 2015 killing of former army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his army colleagues.
However, the processes had largely been stalled by the bickering between the government and the opposition over how the process should unfold. The opposition had issued demands for a government of national unity, a blanket amnesty for its leaders facing prosecution, among other things.
There was notable movement in November when the government and the opposition signed a deal meant to pave the way for the return of exiled opposition leaders to participate in the reforms process. The exiled leaders included former Deputy Prime Minister Methotjoa Metsing, his deputy in the LCD Tšeliso Mokhosi and the Socialist Revolutionaries’ Teboho Mojapela.
Dr Mosisili said he was hopeful that the reforms were going to be fully implemented for the common good of Basotho, and Lesotho as a country, regardless of their different political inclinations.
“Let’s not let party politics set out the reforms agenda for us but let us all hold hands and shape this kingdom to be a legacy for generations to come.”
Dr Mosisili said it was the absolute “responsibility of Basotho to take charge and own the reforms”. To that extent, political party leaders must “let the people speak and set the agenda for a Lesotho which shall be accommodating to all of us”.
“We should all learn to live peacefully side by side with another regardless of our political differences. We should respect one another as a people and always remember that respect is earned. It is only when we respect others that we shall be respected as well,” he said.
Dr Mosisili expressed gratitude to his wife and kids whose support he said was unwavering and had enabled him to serve his country.
“I am heartily grateful to my wife and kids for their unwavering support throughout the years since I embarked on my political journey and I have a firm belief that had it not been for their unconditional love and support, I wouldn’t have made it this far.
“It is now time to give them the attention that has always been divided between them and my political career. It is also important to thank all those who have entrusted me with being their leader. In my time I could have erred in some instances because it is only human to do so but I hope I shall be seen and regarded as a human and the leader that I was,” Dr Mosisli said.