OPINION: Six urgent things to do for the new Lesotho PM

Outgoing Lesotho Prime Minister, Tom Thabane and his wife Maesaiah. (Getty Images)
Outgoing Lesotho Prime Minister, Tom Thabane and his wife Maesaiah. (Getty Images)

It would be ideal to reconsider and re-arrange diplomatic missions according to what Lesotho can economically benefit in a post-Covid19 era while also exploring more free-trade areas.

While Lesotho outgoing Prime Minister, Tom Thabane still ponders when exactly to vacate office, it will be imperative for incoming leader of the Mountain Kingdom, Prime Minister-designate Dr Moeketsi Majoro to prepare for office in earnest.

As a current finance minister, Dr Majoro is definitely not new to the political system of Lesotho.

Nevertheless, Dr Majoro comes at a critical time in the history of the totally-enclosed kingdom.

As if the corona virus pandemic was not enough, he honestly cannot offer any miracles to improve the economy of Lesotho at this stage as if there was a proper succession plan.

After all, the only reason Thabane is vacating office is that he is taking the bullet for his wayward wife; otherwise he would be going nowhere.

He is not doing it for Basotho.

Therefore, this means the political system is not changing at all.

Any political party that cannot form a government of its own is in essence weakened by the coalition it embraces, and record has proven that coalition politics never succeed in Africa.

If history is anything to go by, the Democratic Congress (DC) and All Basotho Convention (ABC) marriage is headed for acrimony. Political tensions are unavoidable in such arrangements and have so far been unmanageable.

For what it is worth, they both are splinters from Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

Both being personality-driven splits instead of ideological ones, as a result the new leader cannot promise to do anything ideologically drastic.

Against this fleeting background, it will be incumbent upon Dr Majoro to consider the following six action points as his immediate priorities in order to save the US$2.73 billion landlocked economy: 

Contain Covid19 

With at least one positive case of coronavirus having been confirmed, Lesotho may not afford to rely on South Africa to test cases for far too long.

Capacity must be developed internally to facilitate such services including the private sector option. Otherwise it makes a mockery of the political autonomy Lesotho purports to have over South Africa.

This is not to undermine the socio-economic challenging realities faced by Basotho.

However, it makes no sense for both countries not to innovate new methods of testing in Lesotho if they can afford to courier specimens across the border regularly.

Since it has been alluded that the pandemic is going to be a lengthy phenomenon, investing in a long term plan and infrastructure capacity that will ensure some form of independence will be politically-savvy for the newcomer.

The 2.7% projected growth for this financial year will in any way not be realised.

Therefore it is important to curb a possible economic contraction that may be brought by an infection outbreak in an unprepared and incapacitated nation.  

Re-institutionalise the public administration service 

The administration of Lesotho has fallen to political temptations in the past. Being the biggest formal employer, government employment has been used as patronage and political reward for loyalists.

In the process, the 47 000 service men and women who were supposed to do government work often reflected the political mood of the country.

While it may be inevitable to avoid a level of political deployment in government, it is upon the public employees to uphold institutional values and standards.

In this case, to work for Basotho regardless of political developments and affiliations.

Besides political sectarianism in government departments, the morale among Basotho public servants is very low, and it is understandable.

For example, the Communications Department, with a capital budget of M95 million could unashamedly afford not to service an autocue computer system for Lesotho Television News, leaving newsreaders to utilise printed scripts on-air for many months.

Meanwhile, the same department can organise a workshop for politicians and civil servants spending M100 000 on alcohol only. It is only a caring government that can reignite the patriotism and pride of national servants to serve their people.   

Ensure the independence of the security cluster and the public broadcaster 

The security cluster was politically-aligned and got muddied in the process.

The 3 000-strong national defense force in particular, has for once taken a commendable stance of staying out of politics this time around. The same attitude was adopted by both the police and intelligence service.

This, in a way, is a shot in the arm of an image that was gradually dirtied by selfish politicians. The new Prime Minister should now ensure that the security cluster is permanently kept out of politics and into the service of protecting Basotho.

Bearing in mind that his predecessor has tried in his last days to manipulate this critical sector, it is appreciable that they resisted what could have been a coup to remain in power by Thabane.

Dr Majoro should therefore not interfere with this newly-found objectivity. The same with Lesotho National Broadcasting Service (LNBS).

The plethora of media outlets in Lesotho does not undermine the dominance of the public broadcaster in the country. It is still the preferred means of entertainment and information.

Credibility would be to allow for freedom of the media, and in particular, freedom of LNBS. Thabane did a terrible job of subtly imposing his will on the output services of state media.

It is highly regrettable that in this age, there is a government that would still want to suppress critical news coverage about its under-performances and failures.

A strong and objective public broadcaster will strengthen democracy in Lesotho.  

Re-arrange foreign missions and explore more into Basotho in the diaspora 

Lack of diplomatic presence in South America and the Oceania means Lesotho has no direct representation in a market of almost half a billion people.

It would be ideal to reconsider and re-arrange diplomatic missions according to what Lesotho can economically benefit in a post Covid-19 era while also exploring more free-trade areas.

A country like South Africa also deserves more representation in all strategic areas where Basotho are economically active.

One of the reasons many Basotho opt for illegal cross-border tactics is because they are not receiving consular services next to their locations in South Africa.

A registered citizenry would improve the socio-economic status of Lesotho government.

There also needs to be a formal unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations which will coordinate the economic goodwill of Basotho in the diaspora.

With the amount of talent and skills the tiny country exports to the world, a coordinated drive to collate human and financial resources for the development of Lesotho would be an achievable mission.   

Strengthen Basotho agro-economy in favor of Basotho  

Around 30 000 farmers are in mohair production and wool farming in Lesotho.

However, the country is losing out on revenue because there is no beneficiation for Basotho in the sector, leading to traders travelling to the coastal cities of South Africa to sell their wool in order to maximise profits.

They opt for this solution because selling their products in Lesotho is counter-productive.

They sell at a loss. This leaves many who can’t afford to make the cross-border trip to under-sell their wool to mainly Chinese middle-men in Lesotho.

The new prime minister should curb the influence of the Chinese brokers who are running cartels that undermine the livelihood of lihoai.

Government-sponsored trading ports should be established to ensure that Basotho benefit from this trade.  

Let the law take its course on Thabane murder case 

The new prime minister must not enter into deals that will see Thabane evade his day in court to answer for his alleged crimes. Rather, he will pardon him if the need arise following his trial.

To undermine the jurisprudence of Lesotho in favor of one man will be political suicide for Ntate Majoro. 

Molimo a boloke Lesotho le Basotho, khotso, pula, nala. 

- Mpho Tsedu, CEO: Institute of Foreign Affairs, @MphoTsedu, Institute of Foreign Affairs is a private research company concentrating in foreign policy, diplomacy, international relations and international political economy.  

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