‘We are living in a praetorian state’


Political analyst Professor Kopano Francis Makoa says elections are the only solution to Lesotho’s current political challenges. Lesotho holds parliamentary polls two years early on 28 February 2015, after last year’s collapse of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) alliance, which gave rise to a coalition government in June 2012. In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, Professor Makoa—a Political and Administrative Studies lecturer at the National University of Lesotho (NUL)—insists Lesotho had no other way out of its crisis but the ballot.

LT: Lesotho is currently in political turmoil and the situation does not appear to be getting any better. How did we come to where we are today? Where did it all go wrong?

Makoa: It is common to everyone now that indeed, our country is in serious political instability. And one would think, in all honesty and sensibility, that this instability is a priority area for the authorities to urgently address. But it seems it’s not that much of a priority to certain sections of the authority. Even the SADC Mission team currently in Lesotho does not seem to seriously regard this state of instability as a matter of priority. Firstly, they brokered a roadmap to the upcoming elections and that seems to be their area of priority. I, for one, and of-course most Basotho, thought the issue of security, even before you think of elections, should be addressed first to stabilise the situation. It is only when we have cooperative security agencies and a stable political environment that we can hope for free and fair elections.

We are where we are today because our coalition government was not able to hold. Personally I have learnt that our coalition government was not able to realise an exhaustive definition of this type of government. And because they were not able to conceptualise the definition of a coalition government, that on its own resulted in them also failing to contextualise it with the constitution. A coalition government is like any other government, and that is what this trio failed to establish. Instead, they adopted literal interpretation of being coalition partners, meaning they were independent units. It is true they are independent, but to a certain extent. Once they form government, they become a single whole. They failed to operate as a single whole. Even the Coalition Agreement recognises the leader of government. The constitution further recognises a single prime minister. Problems in the coalition government started when one of the three partners seemed to have his own conception of government which was totally different. And that very conception, when they tried to put it into practice, made the government fail. At some point, at least in my view, Ntate Mothetjoa Metsing (Deputy Prime Minister and LCD leader) still thought himself as rival to the other two parties he was in government with. More importantly, I need to emphasise this one that their failure to fit the Coalition Agreement into the constitution and understanding that the latter overrides the former was the main factor for the fallout.

LT: Why are we having this snap elections scheduled for this month?

Makoa: We are having elections because the coalition government can no longer govern. Going for elections is a logical step to correct things. The understanding is that as we go for elections we will be able to produce a government that will be able to function properly. Whether it will be another coalition government or not we are hoping that through this election, a proper government will emerge. We are going for this election not so much to seek mandate, but largely because it is a logical step through which we are seeking a legitimate government. The government of the day is no longer legitimate to a certain extent. Its legitimacy has been affected.

LT: What exactly has been the main problem?

Makoa: Since January last year, we have been going through a patchy history. We have the most powerful institution of government which unfortunately does not recognise the government. It is an institution which is most powerful and dangerous because it is the core security of the country. It is armed to the teeth. It is the fulcrum of the state. I am talking about the military. If we may look into theories of the military, you may realise that if we have a system where the army is more powerful than other forces, we will have what we call a praetorian state. In other words the soldiers are taking advantage. The state of praetorian arises whereby the government has become weak and the military very powerful. And if you look closely, you may realise how all of sudden, the opposition is so much dependent on the army. Even as they talk, members of the opposition are so romantic about the army. Whatever they do, they are looking up to the army for protection and support. Consequently, the army takes advantage of that. We are living in a praetorian state whereby the army is not only powerful but also influencing political direction.

LT: In a way, are you saying the army has taken over government?

Makoa: Not necessarily. They just want to direct the government without taking it over. They are doing all sorts of intimidations to influence direction. The army can sometimes behave like this not necessarily because they have been involved in politics, but due to a perceived problem that government authorities are oppressive and threatening to them. If the system threatens them, they start all sorts of things to destabilise it. In a typical praetorian state, the government becomes puppets of the army. If not that, then it will be a war of attrition between the army and government.

LT: So what is the way forward in such a situation?

Makoa: It depends on whether we have any other choices considering our crisis. In my observation, we have no options. We are in a dangerous situation where common sense dictates that we should find a solution. The elections become a solution now because through them, the entire nation is given a chance to participate by voting for a legitimate government. Honestly, elections solve a political impasse precisely because the people don’t just vote; they determine the new government or endorse the present coalition government. That’s how hopeful we are with the elections. Lesotho has rapidly drifted towards a state whereby there is no accountability, no rule of law. It is only the rule of the powerful and the powerful do not even hold the official power. In a typical situation like this one, one does not even know where the official power resides. People have rapidly lost their citizenship rights because of the situation. We have the whole system distorted. If you have a government that has lost control of the army you have problems. The first problem is that even as you intend to hold elections, you are not guaranteed the security and protection of the resources you are going to use for the polls. Soldiers and the police play a very critical role in elections and under the current situation, one wonders whether the army will conduct its role effectively. Who is going to instruct them to perform their roles when government has lost control over them? If they make mistakes, who is going to account for them and to who? This is why I mentioned earlier that though elections are important, the issue of security and stability needed to be addressed first. My fear is that we might end up in a situation where, if the government cannot control state institutions such as the Lesotho Defence Force and others, we will not be able to protect the electoral process itself. There is no guarantee that the army, which is currently in a war of attrition with government, will be reliable in the elections.

LT: Can you highlight key events under the coalition government, according to your assessment?

Makoa: The first highlight was when former Energy Minister Timothy Thahane was dismissed from Cabinet (last year) following a corruption-related case pending finalisation before the courts. We will also remember the incident of 27 January 2014 when households of three families were bombed. Strangely, when the soldiers became aware the police had evidence that they were involved in the incident, suddenly there was a strategy to create tension between the two security and law-enforcement agencies so that there is shift of focus from the 27 January incident. The narrative, as we speak, is that there is a fallout between the army and the police. Even as the SADC mission intervened, among others, it was under the pretext that the underlying problem is that the two agencies are fighting. But all the police wanted was for a few members of the army to go and account or assist them concerning the events of 27 January 2014. But the army was not interested. They were supposed to be the first people to abide by the law but they chose not to do so. They basically started marauding. They were seen mounting road blocks, which is not their mandate but that of the police. They have no power to arrest. They have no power on their own to even stop somebody on the way and interrogate him. They can only do that during state of emergencies. They can only arrest you if they find you trespassing in their own premises. The culmination of this highlight was when the army attacked the police on 30 August 2014.

LT: So in your view, how has the army figured in Lesotho politics?

Makoa: They have already played a very negative role whereby they held the government hostage. They were supposed to protect the government, as a positive role, but they are not. They are assertively pushing their way into controlling the government and influencing the governance. Other roles include casting a shadow that if we have the army there will automatically be stability. That is the important role. They should maintain peace and stability. Their duty should include assisting the police by the latter’s invitation. Ceremonially, the army plays another positive role of officiating and entertaining at most important functions of the government including the judicial year opening ceremony and others. When there is no war, the army’s duties are largely ceremonial.

LT: Briefly can you give us the history of the monarch in Lesotho’s political system?

Makoa: The chieftainship has been part of our historical development. It is not just embedded in our culture. It is the epitome of the Basotho culture. The whole history of the monarch in Lesotho is the same history of Basotho and our own cultural development. Now colonisation, as an agent of modernisation, came and transformed our culture into modern politics. And then came our independence in 1966. As we got independent from colonization, we had to move along with modern politics on the way we were going to govern ourselves. We could not then go back to pre-colonisation where we were only governed by the monarch. But at the same time, we could not let go of our monarchy. We have always had the King as head of state and fortunately the colonisation did not change that. But now it was arranged that much as the King is head of state, he would not govern the nation directly. If you ask whether the monarch is political, then my answer is yes. The monarch being the apex authority makes it political. It is the institute of government and as such, cannot be apolitical. Any public institution, not figure, is political because it has authority. But we cannot say the King, as a person, is political. Now as we embarked on this new system of modern politics, it has been a turbulent history for the monarch in that the functions of the King were not well set out. So since independence there has always been a stalemate. There has never been an unequivocal acceptance of the monarch by the modern political system.

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