Reforms are not a panacea

Reforms are not a panacea

When Lesotho transitioned from single-party politics to volatile coalition politics in 2012, it became apparent to all and sundry that the post-independence constitutional design had lost its elasticity. Consequently, the reforms agenda emerged to occupy the centre-stage in the public discourse.

It took some time to be accepted by all the political players, but now it is indisputably the only buzzword for not only politics, but the entire public life in Lesotho.

The saddest reality is that we no longer have politics; both from government and opposition. The ruling parties tout reforms as the only programme of government politics and the opposition use the same agenda as ransom to coerce government to give in to the many demands they have.

Thus, effectively we no longer have politics because of the programme which is not only non-existent, but has also been hugely exaggerated; its usefulness is unfortunately blown far out of proportion.

In other words, a picture is being created that after the reforms, Lesotho will be the “land of honey”. It is good to paint this rosy picture of the reforms in order to mobilise support for its across the broad section of society.

But it is equally important to forewarn that reforms everywhere, regardless of their magnitude, have never been the panacea for all the ills of a country; not even political ills.

There are countless examples to buttress this warning. In this country, reforms have been done several times since independence.

When the country returned to electoral politics in 1993, after a long haul in the political wilderness since 1970, there was a lot of euphoria created around the new dispensation in general, and the new constitution in particular.

This over-excitement became the fodder to none other than the politicians who could not simply wait but to snatch power from the servicemen.

Regrettably, a golden opportunity was missed to use the transition as the rare avenue to think deeply about the future that the country would like to chat. The achievement of periodic elections by politicians was paraded as the most important victory for the country.

It never took long until disappointment took toll. Just a year after elections, the army took to the hills to challenge one another with a veiled plan to reject the civilian government.

Since 1994 (the year the army started antics against civilian rule), it never rained but poured for Lesotho.

The strife culminated with the 1998 tumult when the country was brought down to ashes in protest against the election outcome.

After the said election of 1998, another dose of reforms was proposed. The political elites, yet again, paraded the electoral reforms as the panacea.

The entire country fell for the prank; electoral reforms were instituted. It never took long until the same reforms ruptured in a grand plan by the major political parties in the run-up to the 2007 election.

They duped the very mixed electoral system they presented to the nation as the solution to the electoral ills of the country; in fact, the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili dubbed it “the pearl”.

The list of examples is endless.

At international level, Kenya is the shiny example. After the 2007 election, the country saw the electoral dispute of unprecedented proportions across the whole of sub-Sahara.

When the dust settled, the country started the process of constitutional reforms which were popularly adopted on a referendum in 2010.

The constitution that came out of this process was world class, rivalled only by the constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Today, hardly a decade after the adoption of the new constitution, Kenya has “two presidents”. The country is back to 2007.

The lesson is simple; when a country is undergoing a crisis like it is the case with Lesotho today, populists normally win by suggesting kneejerk solutions. And they run fast to popularise the same solution as the panacea; thereby missing the rare chance to deeply reflect about the future of the country. Lesotho is at the same risk today.

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