Lesotho’s smelly politics

 

by Mahao Mahao

WHEN a new coalition government took control in 2012, many chanted and ululated in anticipation of a newly-invigorated country after decades of disappointment by those the electorate kept giving the mandate to prolong their fruitless stay in government. But today the situation could not be so different. The rotten political stench currently emanating from this tiny Kingdom of 1.8 million people has been felt both locally and abroad. Even Pope Francis felt its nauseating intensity in his nostrils as he recently stood on the balcony of St. Peter Square in Rome and made an impassioned plea to solemnly “pray for peace in Lesuto”.

It is truly regrettable that the situation has fermented to such an intoxicating level and that the country has been on a knife edge for longer than many would tolerate. That only a handful of selfish individuals can hold this country and its citizens to ransom is unacceptable. The few politicians and parliamentarians currently dominating this circus do not even represent one percent of Lesotho’s population but they are straddling about like mighty colossi and treating our beloved Kingdom like their personal possession.

It is disappointing that the votes we spend hours queuing to cast sometimes turn out to resemble a poisoned chalice; very attractive from a distance but in actual fact a rotten pumpkin that can poison and decimate an entire village. The one thing I have learned about politics and some of those who pursue them is the rarity of those who are genuinely honest about giving citizens a better life and transforming whole livelihoods in the process. Politics is full of unfulfilled promises, selfish and self-centred individuals who join not for the good of all but for their own selfish ends. What they gain personally is always more important than what the nation gains. Parliament for many is not seen as a platform to better the lives of the multitudes but a gateway to paradise and a comfortable ride in the gravy train. It is ironic that even those claiming that Tom Thabane was trying to save his job by not re-opening parliament were actually, like hawks, eying the position themselves. That’s the nature of this often dishonest political game: the never-ending quest to unseat and occupy (re-occupy in some cases).

Nothing can be more disrespectful to the many citizens who keep looking beyond the distant horizon but never ever see even small rays of light that promise a better life and future. Which then begs the question: who exactly is the master between the politician and the voter? Any politician who thinks they are masters to the voters should write a corresponding article of five thousand words to convince me that they are more important than we the voters. I am throwing a challenge to all of them. Even though our votes catapult them to lofty positions and unimaginable perks, the kind some of us can only dream of, we – the voters – remain the masters and the makers or breakers of political careers. This is something that some politicians seem to lose sight of once they start swimming in the warm pool of political power. Any politician who wants my vote should know that I am the master and he or she a servant to me. It’s as simple as that. No further justification needed. We, the voters, are more powerful than we think but many of us simply have no clue how to use that power more profitably.

Whenever I cast my vote, I do so after a long careful analysis of my life and the direction the country is taking. My decision has nothing to do with the politically opportunistic, short-sighted and divisive congress or national doctrine. If all Basotho – no matter where they live – had a similar approach to an election, we would easily weed out the individuals who go to parliament to waste our time and hinder the progress of this country and its people.  If a donkey was made to stand next to a ballot box draped in the colours of some political parties, you could bet your last penny some of our people would vote for it even though soon thereafter the donkey would just be howling funny and scary noises once it gets to parliament.

It is obvious now that the terrible smell currently emanating from our political arena is doing a lot of psychological and emotional harm to those whose dream is a better country as opposed to the current spats, accusations and counter-accusations coming out of the mouths of some of these politicians. Of course they are entitled to their opinions but some of them have done more harm than good to their careers in the process. They lack the simple diplomacy to know what to say or not to say.

Everything that is currently happening has absolutely nothing to do with service delivery such as more access to clean water and electricity, improving our education and infrastructure, creating jobs for the countless disheartened citizens (graduates and non-graduates) and inviting more tourists to our country to boost the economy. If politicians debated such issues it would make sense since they would be rightly demonstrating willingness to put citizens’ interests first on the agenda. Instead theirs has been a verbal war which creates even more people who despise the selfish tendencies of some politicians. Imagine the negativity that exists in some of our businesses which had to close earlier than normal during the height of this madness! Right now they are counting their losses instead of gains; this in a country that should be doing more to boost job creation and retain the few that are available. Some may well reconsider their continued presence in this country; one that’s richly blessed with political buffoonery.

A prominent NUL scholar told me recently that when Chris Hani lived in Lesotho during the years of apartheid, he observed how amicably Basotho gathered around the table to resolve their differences whenever there were any. Burning issues would be put on the table, discussed and resolved. But almost as soon as the meeting had dispersed with a positive spirit, disagreements would flare up once again. Hani then noticed what the real problem was. The issues that had been brought forward for discussion weren’t the ones causing rifts; the actual bones of contention were hidden and never addressed. It may well be the case that the current standoff among the coalition partners bears the hallmarks of the Hani experience about Basotho. If that’s the case, the negotiations were a complete waste of time.

In 2016, Lesotho will probably be in a festive mood celebrating fifty years of independence. I always try to maintain a positive outlook to life but having seen how slow (or non-existent) social and economic developments have been in this country, in my view there will hardly be anything positive to celebrate in 2016 except a hugely embarrassing backlog of non-delivery under misguided and short-sighted politicians. The Malawian President Peter Mutharika recently made a bold statement – almost unexpected from a leader – when his country celebrated fifty years of independence since 1964. He told Malawians they are now poorer than they were during British rule. The older generation of Basotho will make their own judgement in 2016. The signs are already disturbing and instead of confronting socio-economic matters head-on, our leaders would rather reserve that energy for petty squabbles. Throw into the mix the main opposition party which seems to believe they have a divine right to the reigns of government and the stench gets even worse. We cannot bear this horrible political smell anymore. This country deserves better.

 

Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho.      

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