A Blood Diamond Kingdom : Exploring Government Failure in Lesotho
While the success of the way self governance (or lack thereof) has been conducted in Africa is debatable, I know of no nation that has made a greater mockery of the electoral process than the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Entirely landlocked by the Republic of South Africa, Lesotho holds its place as one of Africa’s three remaining monarchies, and it is for this, among other reasons that it has been glamorized among those who know of it. But is this another classic example of the fact that not all that glitters is gold?
Lesotho, at a glance:
Tourism in the country is a budding industry, despite its minimal contribution to the GDP. The number of international guests visiting the country is continuing to increase, and this may come as a surprise but it has certain appealing gems – literally, since 5 of the largest gem diamonds in history were found here. But we also have some breathtaking tourist attractions, one being the world’s largest abseiling cliff over the Maletsunyane Falls and another the highest ski resort in Africa. Known as the Kingdom in the Sky, it is also the only country in the world that is entirely above 1,000 metres (“13 Interesting Facts About Lesotho – The Blanketwrap”, 2015). Having catered as a home to Baroa (Bushmen) and Khoisan, the country also has a rich history and totems with a unique aesthetic.
Culturally, the country has begun to severely deteriorate. There is a sense of self hate inculcated within the people, while the cultures of other nations are glorified. Both the private and public school systems shun the use of the native language, Sesotho, to the extent of physically punishing students who select to use it to communicate.
There is clearly a positive and underrepresented side to the Kingdom, but with it lie other horror stories, especially in relation to the draconian rule of Dr. Leabua Jonathan, who was Prime Minister of the country between 1965 and 1986 (“Leabua Jonathan”, 2015), and is known to have orchestrated the torture of Basotho civilians and political figures. Read More .
However, the country did not leave its murderous history in the 1970s, but continues to bear this legacy even in 2019. There are frequent cases of murders and disappearances of dissidents, particularly with the army having found a way to become entangled in government affairs. Many of these murders go unsolved, leading perpetrators to believe the bitter reality that there are no consequences to crime. Yes, there are laws in place, but these play a slight role in reality, with pretty much everyone elite being above the law. Political figures and members have been able to get away with an array of crimes, from fund embezzlement to corruption on an open scale, which usually happens to the benefit of government officials and detriment of the wider population, particularly those in the rural areas, where the poorest 10% of the population earn less than 1% of the national income (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014).
In a seemingly lawless state, the legal framework does almost nothing to protect the vulnerable and marginalised, as vividly painted by the institutionalised patriarchy that seems endemic within much of the Lesotho public sphere. Despite being rumoured to be a country of peace, the complacent nature of law enforcement enables an environment that is unsafe for women. In addition to having high rates of other gendered forms of violence, the country presently occupies a high rank as one with the third highest incidences of rape in the world (“Rape Statistics By Country 2019”, 2019). Its implementation of the customary laws which perceive women of all ages as minorities also wounds and disadvantages women in relation to access to opportunities. In 2013 Princess Senate Masupha, daughter of a local chief, contested the law prohibiting women from inheriting the chieftainship (Hall, 2018) . While her effort was admirable, it was bound to be in vain because patrilineage of the throne is not only legal, but also societally condoned. Read More. What the loss of the case taught women and girls living in Lesotho was not only that there was no place for them in leadership positions, but also that the country is not as equitable and harmonious as it wants its people to believe.
The country has only ever had one female chief of justice; in 2017, only 4 of the members of the cabinet of ministers were women, and there have been almost no efforts at gender empowerment within the government. And this is not surprising, since this lack of representation is not in discord with what is happening on the rest of the African continent. The present leadership seems hellbent on giving women a toy car version of freedom, where the illusion of emancipation and empowerment are provided, with very little tangible results.
The Tragic Comedy of Lesotho Governance
In 2017, the country had had three governments in 5 years and 2 coalition governments between 2015 and 2017 (Muzofa, 2017). Despite multiple SADC and AU interventions, there was a lack of stability within the country, and constitutional reform talks were only introduced as a means of placating the tempers of the people, but were not enacted in reality. The process of voting has, to many eligible individuals, become an exhausting and redundant one. The session that elected Prime Minister Thomas Thabane may have been the worst yet. During his reign, there have been several public scandals relating to his, and the First Lady’s office. The first lady has, on many occasions, been found physically assaulting civilians and facilitating the occurrence of other crimes. Violent physical confrontations during parliamentary sessions are also not a rarity.
However, what is perhaps the most outrageous aspect of it, is the careless consumption of taxpayer money. A 2019 study discovered that 700,000 out of a population of almost 2 million people were living under extreme poverty conditions (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014). In addition, the National Manpower Development Secretariat, under government instruction, released a statement that funding for scholarships to local tertiary institutions would be reduced, while the financing for international scholarships would completely be terminated due to “budget constraints” (Mohau,2019). What is ironic is that a local newspaper article had earlier made the locals aware that the first lady had spent over 500,000 Maloti (about 35,000 USD) on a weekend “medical trip” to the neighboring Republic of South Africa (Pheko, 2019).
The lack of opportunity and rife nepotism within the country has become instrumental in contributing towards the large incidences of brain drain. Many skilled Basotho have begun to leave the country in pursuit of better academic and professional pursuits.
What provides a safe haven for corruption in Lesotho?
In 2013, she was ranked the 55th least corrupt country in the world, but this value was at 78 in 2018, which indicates that within just five years, the country had moved down by 23 spots (“Lesotho Corruption Rank | 2019 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast | News”, 2019). In addition, the Ibrahim index of African governance also showed that between 2009 and 2013, government accountability had decreased by 14% (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014). Notably, within the same time period and between 2009 and 2019, poverty levels almost doubled (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014). The undoing of this process is faced with certain challenges. For one, there are complicated regulations which give public officials the leverage to halt processes so that clients can offer bribes. Government officials, even at the lowest ranks, are responsible for facilitating corrupt practices and soliciting compensation for basic public services.
There is also a strong lack of transparency in the way the government conducts its business, since access to public information is prohibited by law (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014). The legal framework is another tool which has been used by the government to foster corruption within the state. Two constitutional acts allow government censure of media organisations, which means that civilians seldom ever find out about acts of corruption, which are continuing to become more brazen with time. Law enforcement also does not allow people to speak out (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014). A 2013 Afrobarometer study found that 70% of Basotho viewed the police as the most corrupt institution in the country. Additionally, witness protection programs for people who do report crimes do not exist (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014).
In addition to fearing the retaliation of the perpetrator, whistle-blowers also fear the likelihood that the police may be involved in the crime (“OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO”, 2014).
The deep – seated roots of corruption affect many other sectors of civilian life. Because of the funds that are redirected towards personal government pockets, healthcare, education and arts and culture have begun to suffer. There is also a wave of social discontent looming, as people become more and more dissatisfied. Lastly, there is fear of the unknown. In order to stay in office, leaders are willing to repress any kind of opposition and this is used as a tool through which power is maintained.
While much of it rests within the government, it is important for civilians to never neglect the role of the power they wield. Through a wave of protests, Basotho youth were able to get the government to repeal the tertiary education budget cuts, and there has been an increase of vocality on the part of the private sector, with influential entrepreneurs publicly criticising the government. It is therefore important to be willing to berate injustice and unfair behaviour. The situation has become too dire for us to pretend not to be aware.
Hall, L. (2018). Senate Masupha fights for change | The Post. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://www.thepost.co.ls/local-news/senate-masupha-fights-for-change/
Leabua Jonathan. (2015). Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leabua_Jonathan
Lesotho Corruption Rank | 2019 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast | News. (2019). Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://tradingeconomics.com/lesotho/corruption-rank
Lodge, M. (2015). 13 Interesting Facts About Lesotho – The Blanketwrap. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://lesotho-blanketwrap.com/2015/lesotho-stories/13-interesting-facts-about-lesotho/
Mohau, N. (2014). NMDS LIMITS SPONSORSHIP FOR FIRST YEAR STUDENTS AT NUL, FOKOTHI. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://www.gov.ls/nmds-limits-sponsorship-for-first-year-students-at-nul-fokothi/
Muzofa, N. (2017). History of elections in Lesotho – Lesotho Times. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from http://lestimes.com/history-of-elections-in-lesotho/
OVERVIEW OF CORRUPTION AND ANTI-CORRUPTION IN LESOTHO. (2014). Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://knowledgehub.transparency.org/assets/uploads/helpdesk/Country_Profile_Lesotho_2014.pdf
Pheko, L. (2019). M536 000 for Maesaiah’s trip | The Post. Retrieved 16 December 2019, from https://www.thepost.co.ls/news/m536-000-for-maesaiahs-trip/
Rape Statistics By Country 2019. (2019). Retrieved 9 December 2019, from http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/rape-statistics-by-country/