‘Lesotho on a difficult road to peace and stability’
LESOTHO is in the process of implementing the multi-sector reforms to build stronger institutional systems to avoid a repeat of the past political and security instability that rocked the country from 2014 to 2017.
However, the reforms processes have proved to be no walk in the park with some political analysts calling for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to step up and help to accelerate the process. In this wide-ranging interview, the Lesotho Times (LT) speaks to the newly appointed Lesotho’s Permanent Representative at the African Union (AU), Professor Mafa Sejanamane (MS), to discuss his new role at the AU and Lesotho’s difficult road to peace and stability.
LT: You were recently appointed to represent Lesotho at the African Union. What role are you specifically going to play?
MS: The African Union is the centre of African politics and I think that being appointed to represent Lesotho at that level is a big honour. This appointment will enable me to contribute to influence decisions made and also to represent the views of Lesotho and Basotho. This is an important appointment in the African continent and especially for us as a small state, it has more impact than even being in the United Nations and other international organisations where it is actually the big powers that really play a larger role than small countries. Lesotho can play a significant role within collaborative African efforts through coordination, liaising and ensuring that the views and aspirations of African people are part of any decision that will be taken at the AU level.
LT: Do you think that the African Union has lived up to the expectations of the African people in terms of seriousness in resolving conflicts to ensure we have conditions that support good governance, peace and development in Africa?
MS: The AU has drastically evolved from the earlier Organisation of African Unity (OAU) because it is now trying to make sure that as a continental body, it effectively responds to all challenges. However, what seems to be the key issue in terms of conflict resolution is the whole question of the AU principle, which says that the regional bodies themselves should take a lead and the AU only comes in once the regional bodies request their intervention, with some matters even then taken to the United Nations. The AU has not done very badly because if you look at West Africa, through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), they have been able to handle their issues well. Southern Africa on the other hand has been seen as a model region because of low intensity conflicts experienced. The regional body, Southern African Development Community (SADC), has to a large extent been able to manage the conflicts. But everybody understands that there could be some improvements.
LT: Looking at the conflict that has affected Lesotho in the recent years, how do you intend to, through the AU, support the reforms’ processes that are currently underway?
MS: The issue really is that when you are an envoy, you are not the principal. However, you are able to offer advice, represent the views of your country while at the same time you are also a participant in the sense that you are able to see things, analyse them and try to ensure that the continental body itself understands clearly the Lesotho context. Nonetheless, I see myself not only as an envoy but as somebody with profound knowledge about the socio-economic issues, conflict and security concerns in Lesotho. For many years I have spoken and written immensely about security issues in my country. Owing to my background, I will bring in the experience of somebody who intimately understands the issues in Lesotho and even contribute when the Southern African region is discussed. Importantly, I will be able to play a role in helping the AU to understand our issues, and at the same time, advise my government on issues they will need to deal with and make them appreciate how others perceive the developments in Lesotho.
LT: How would you describe the Lesotho conflict, what are the issues and how do you analyse the underlying causes?
MS: The challenges in Lesotho are a result of a lack of strong institutions. I can say, we have two fundamental problems in Lesotho, one is about the economic crisis that causes a scramble for limited resources. You will see that with the decline in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenue and other factors, challenges may persist. There is need to ensure that at the end of it all, as a country we are able to ensure we create economic opportunities for all people, end corruption, in addition to ensuring equal distribution of wealth through efficient management of the state resources. Secondly, we have unreformed institutions; and a lack of governance institutions such as those in other African countries such as the Human Rights Commissions are a negative factor. We have a parliament, which is not properly constituted to be able to provide the oversight necessary, we do not have a judiciary that is reformed for people to have confidence in it. So, unless we reform our institutions in Lesotho, we will always have instability. The conflicts we are dealing with currently are nothing but a cry for institutional and economic reforms.
LT: At what level are we now in terms of the reforms…. SADC is here to support the process but what are you seeing, are we making any progress towards undertaking what needs to be done to reform the institutions?
MS: I think we are behind. What we should have done was to have gone quickly towards the reform process, but the process seems to have stalled. It has stalled because our politicians, as usual, are feuding about which direction to take. It is at this stage when we need SADC to begin to play a prominent role and I hope that the Double Troika Summit expected in Angola in a few weeks would be able to unlock this lock-jam by making sure that it puts it clearly to the political sector in Lesotho that there are certain things, which need to be done quickly, otherwise we will lose the support. I am desperate, desperate, and I am saying desperate deliberately because we need these reforms and I hope that at the end of it all, there will be progress. The country and the government specifically should not be held hostage by anybody as we have seen some opposition parties making some preconditions for participation. These reforms are going to resolve challenges, which the politicians are quarrelling over.
LT: What do we need to do now to take the reforms agenda forward… is it technical expertise that seems to be lacking to ensure progress or is it none or poor coordination of the steps actors need to take for the country to start seeing significant results?
MS: What really is needed is for people to understand what it is we want to do, for example, the security sector reforms are not a complicated issue. The SADC Secretariat is staffed by people with expertise in that area and if you go to the AU, there is a whole unit dealing with issues of security. The security sector reform is not just about the military, police and national state security, it is also about its role in interacting with the broader society and the various institutions. If then you want to talk about the military for example, the first question you ask in a review is: do you need the military? If you do, what are your threat perceptions and how best will you deal with those, and how much investment are you going to make to make sure that you are able to counter the perceptions. We certainly would have been able to provide the technical knowledge if that was needed. At the moment, the challenge is that the hype is dying-down and my sense of the situation is that the SADC Double Troika will discuss those issues when next the members meet.
LT: Let’s talk about the implementation capacity of the government itself, this is not the first time we are dealing with the issue of reforms in Lesotho. Failure to implement policies, laws and guidelines is a problem in the bulk of African governments, do you think that is also an issue in Lesotho?
MS: The capacity is not a problem, the problem is the commitment, and also when SADC was here before now, supporting the reforms, particularly the security sector reforms, they left the job half done. That’s what happened after the 1998 instability, they left the security sector reforms incomplete because they just assumed that the answer to our problems was getting rid of the bad apples. They did not sanitise the whole infrastructure of how you control and manage threats and the sector. At political level, we went through the electoral reforms process but again, things were not finalised. For example, when we adopted this German model of mixed-member proportional representation, they left out issues of thresholds. This is causing problems because without a threshold, you run a risk of having people who do not represent any significant opinion in parliament ending up in government and at times even destabilising it.
We also have the floor crossing issue, which really has to be regulated. You cannot run this type of a government if people are free riders, they go into government as elected under this party and then the following morning you are moving to the next political party. Those are the things we need to reform.
LT: Let’s discuss the issue of power. We have a problem of “stayism” by some leaders in Africa, if you look at the political conundrums in countries such as Uganda, the DRC, Zimbabwe and others, where leaders have overstayed or extended their terms in office or attempted to do so. Do you also think this is also a concern in Lesotho if you look at the interesting political context here?
MS: We have a democracy deficit everywhere, and in each African country, we have different political or power peculiarities. The situation is far worse than in other decades when we experienced some shifts in the political landscape and we had some hope for the Southern African region. When Zimbabwe got independent in 1980, followed by Namibia in 1990 and South Africa in 1994, we could feel this wave and agitation for good governance and democracy. At the moment, there is disappointment in every corner and we are saying, there is need for better governance in the region for us to be able to deal with our socio-economic challenges. We need to reform the thresholds in our proportional representation electoral system and limiting the terms of office, in case of leadership positions in the region should be a priority area. In some countries where these were applied, they are rolling-back, if you look at Rwanda. These are the issues at the epicentre of democracy, they need to be attended to for Africa to become a better place. The tragedy is that, even if the African Union or SADC or ECOWAS, encourage limiting terms of office, ultimately, it is up to the African leaders themselves and their governments to implement and actualise this. Even when everybody sees that there is a political leadership disaster, as was the case in Zimbabwe, unless you have political leadership prepared to make some drastic democratic changes, it is unlikely that anything substantive will come out of processes of change encouraged by the civil society and international bodies. We therefore need to have a committed leadership which will ensure that at the end of it all, we can be able to address some of these democracy deficits we are witnessing.
When you talk of “stayism” the issue is very simple in that you are dealing with a situation of people who have not prepared themselves to leave office, even if you create attractive packages for them to go. At times some of them don’t want to leave because they have too many skeletons in their closets. They don’t feel that they will be safe when they are not in power. As a result, those are the challenges which Africa faces.
LT: Let’s talk about other processes underway to address crimes committed during the 2014- 2017 era of conflict in Lesotho. There has been calls for the government to engage international judges to handle cases involving military personnel. What is your position on such calls?
MS: Earlier on, I spoke about the brokenness of the judicial system in this country. Even if you arrest people now you never know whether the trial would have started three years down the line. Judgments come after five years in some cases that are not necessarily complicated. The criminal cases involving military personnel need to be handled quickly as part of ensuring peace and justice after a difficult period experienced in the country.
We are having victims, who are aggrieved by the continued postponement of cases and have somehow lost trust in the system. Some of these suspects might end up being released on bail and the victims’ family may feel that justice is not being done. The suspects also have a right to a speedy trial, and remember that our court system is not only about these high-profile cases, it is also about all cases that go to court and sometimes spent many many years before there is an outcome. Some cases may need the assistance of the court of appeal, which has not been sitting for a full year because of the wrangling which is going on. This is a sign of a failing state, and I think the situation has to be arrested quickly to ensure that at the end of it all, victims feel justice was done and suspects also feel they were treated fairly. There may be cases of people who were arrested and are not guilty and you do not want to have a situation where they languish in prison for a long time before the cases can be finalised.
LT: Is Lesotho applying an appropriate mechanism by making cases involving the military to go through court processes… if you consider the circumstances of the cases?
MS: The problem is that there is no alternative at the moment and if you analyse the allegations, we are not dealing with military crimes, which would warrant court martial processes. Ordinary crimes spelt out in the constitution were committed. Let’s then say based on the circumstances we may have opted for a special tribunal, then a law would be required, in the form of maybe a constitutional amendment to create provision of a tribunal. We do have some challenges, if you look at the ordeal of coming up with the best mechanisms to best deal with issues of rebellious soldiers suspected to have, in some cases, worked in connivance with some politicians amid a broken judicial system. It’s a toll order.
In view of all this, we need stronger institutions, stronger institutions, and stronger institutions to effectively deal with these problems.
LT: What immediate measures can the coalition government take to survive the challenges it is facing? We are seeing that the reform processes needed to stabilise the government are dragging and a lot is happening at the same time.
MS: I think what we really need to do is for people to understand that coalition governments are fragile by nature and therefore they need nurturing by the politicians themselves and other actors. I always tell my students at the university, that coalition governments are the best school for politicians to learn how to work with each other. It is a process, which they have to master because I don’t see coalition governments going away anytime soon in the case of Lesotho, considering our electoral system in this instance, there is a need for our politicians to invest in coalition building and maintenance processes. It is not something that can be solved by law or by dictate but it is requires learning how to work, compromise, tolerate and understand each other.
The critical question if there may be need for external support in nurturing the coalition is whether the parties involved understand the need for such an intervention and are they willing to listen.
LT: Tell us a little bit about yourself, when did you start the fight for democracy, the passion that you have for good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights?
MS: It all started with education, I did my primary education in the mountains, I am from Malibamatso near Katse dam in Leribe. I attended my secondary school at Sacred High School in Leribe before I moved to the then University of Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland where I studied what was then called Government and Law. I moved to Tanzania where I did my Masters’ in Politics with International Relations as my specialty at the University of Dar es Salaam; and then did my PhD in Politics at the Dalhousie University in Canada. I have worked in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. For the most part of my life, I largely worked in managerial positions, including acting as Vice Chancellor at the National University of Lesotho for more than three years, and as the Executive Director for the Southern African Political Economy Series Trust (SAPES Trust). My managerial positions then did not allow me to actively participate in advocacy for good governance. I became free to champion issues to do with governance and politics some few years ago when I left the management area and went back to academia. Here at home, I was horrified when I saw what was happening after the 2015 coalition government came into power. It was chaotic, and people were being silenced through various means. There there was virtually a break-down of the rule of law. I saw institutions including media harassed and the law society had gone underground. Some people were killed. That is when I said, “I have to stand up”. I thought it made sense to take the risk, put my head on the block than to go underground like what many people opted for, remaining silent and pretending there were no problems. So, I became an activist, not for the first time, because even before that, during the military era, I was one of the key people who would campaign against the military regime.
LT: There is always a price to pay for speaking out against injustice and human rights abuses, what did you suffer as a result of your courage?
MS: I received many threats and my house was attacked. I was threatened through the media, radio stations to be specific and by some government ministers. I lost friends who felt associating with me placed them in danger. It affected my family, but I soldiered on, because there is always a high price to pay for standing up to oppression and doing the right thing. I remain a champion for good governance and democracy and would like to see my country prosperous and all citizens living in peace.