A decade ago, African countries met in Abuja, Nigeria and agreed on a resolution to enhance the continent’s governance infrastructure.
This they did with intent to respond to the African continent’s greatest challenge of poor governance, which they realised was the major obstacle to the continent’s economic, political and socio-economic development.
The countries, acting under the banner of the African Union (AU), adopted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which later became a buzz-word in the corridors of power in Africa as a panacea for all the ills of the continent.
On top of this MOU on APRM, the countries also endorsed a Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance.
The sole intent, which received international acclaim, was to foster adoption of policies, standards and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration.
Later, participating states under the aegis of the AU acceded one-by-one to the APRM, which was then broached as the first and only home-grown peer-review mechanism in Africa.
The APRM was intended to ensure that AU member-states share experiences, reinforce best practices and identify deficiencies, while at the same time assessing the needs for capacity building among one another’s own country as the APRM Base Document of 2001 spells out.
Lesotho acceded to the APRM in June 2004, becoming the 12th country to join continent’s only peer-review mechanism.
By this undertaking, the sub-Saharan country was committing herself to ensuring that her policies and practices would conform to the agreed standards and codes as stated under in the APRM’s MOU and Declaration.
A mode of operation was that a country conducts a self-assessment under four thematic areas; political and democratic governance, corporate governance, economic and social governance and social and economic management.
Under each theme, there is a litany of indicators through which a country is reviewed as to how it fares to satisfy the requirements for that theme. Here, citizens of the country under review express their own views on how they feel their country fares on each of those thematic areas mentioned above, looking at the indicators.
For example, Basotho state categorically how they feel about the levels of corruption under the theme of political and democratic governance, about the delivery of justice under the same theme.
They also have an opportunity to say how they rate their country regarding relations between South Africa and Lesotho under the theme of economic and social management.
After this extensive self-assessment where citizens critique their own country, the APRM secretariat based in Midrand, South Africa come and undertook an assessment by picking randomly only a few districts of the country to verify the findings of the self-assessment.
Then a report is written on the findings of the ARPM on Lesotho.
This happened between 2009 and 2010.
A Country Review Report (CRR) is produced, that details the findings of the exercise, with clear recommendations for future action to remedy the deficient areas identified by the APRM assessment.
This CRR is a Bible of reference for the country as it implements the APRM and also has a section on how the country plans to respond to the challenges identified.
The latter area of responses is named the National Programme of Action (NoPA) with clear targets and time-frames as well as budgets allocated for the exercise.
Lesotho was supposed to have produced annual Country Progress Reports, which detail the country’s response to remedying the deficiencies identified by the APRM in each theme under review.
However, since accession, only one Country Review Report (CRR) has been released and one progress report published.
Since then, there has not been an attempt to record lessons learnt from the exercise and to determine change brought about by the APRM.
Lesotho’s NoPA promises much regarding changes that Lesotho intends to effect following her self-assessment and the shortfalls that were pointed out by the exercise.
Since the release of the first Country Review Report in 2010 and the one Progress Report published in January 2011, no research has been undertaken to determine the levels of governance following the APRM that states how far Lesotho is regarding building its corporate, economic, political and democratic governance infrastructure as well as its social and economic development.
Lesotho’s civil society still remains dormant as it is not monitoring the country’s compliance with the principles of good governance that it vowed to uphold when it signed the APRM Declaration and MOU.
Lesotho is far from the mark with regard to effecting any changes in the manner the country conducts its affairs.
However, the picture is not completely gloomy though as the country has some best practices that are even worth emulating by its peers in the southern Africa region.
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy that gained independence from Great Britain in 1966.
One of the remaining monarchies in Africa, the country has a bicameral parliament, which is comprises the Senate (Upper House of Lords and Review Chamber) and the National Assembly (Lower House and House of Representatives).
Lesotho follows the Westminster Abbey model, which observes separation of powers between the three organs of state namely; parliament which is the supreme body, the judiciary which interprets laws and administers justice and the executive, which executes the decisions of parliament.
Under the Latimer House Principles of the Commonwealth, to which Lesotho religiously subscribes, there is a provision for observance of the separation of powers between the three organs of state.
However, the Lesotho’s Country Assessment report reveals that the principle of separation of powers is not upheld in Lesotho, since the executive has assumed supremacy over the other two organs of state.
The executive undermines decisions of the parliament.
Parliament is supposed to exercise oversight over the executive branch of state, but it has historically remained too weak to do so.
In a parliamentary reform exercise undertaken in 2004 during the life-span of the sixth parliament, there were reforms undertaken to revamp the country’s then weak parliament by establishing portfolio committees. However, portfolio committees still lack the requisite political clout to hold the executive accountable for its actions.
Lesotho is a multi-party democracy with more than 20 political parties that are registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and contest national and local government elections.
However, the impact of these parties on political democracy is not felt by citizens.
This is mainly because their objectives for establishment are not to contribute to building political and electoral democracy, but see politics as a career and a source of exercising power, which is in turn, a gateway to accessing economic fortunes in the country.
They are fraught with intra-party and interparty conflicts emanating from power wrangling that has torn them apart.
Electoral competition is free and opportunity is granted to all citizens to participate in elections.
Lesotho adopted the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral mode in 2001, which allows inclusive participation of political formations and individuals in elections.
Since its adoption and its application in 2002 elections, Lesotho has realised a fair representation of people and parties in parliament.
In 2011, political parties pushed for amendment of the National Assembly Elections Act of 1992 that now provides for a zebra model to allow more women to be represented in Parliament.
According to the new amendment, political parties should ensure that there is an equal number of men and women when they submit their PR lists to the IEC.
Since 2002, there have been a few instances where political parties have accepted election results, but pockets of dissatisfaction have also surfaced.
A notable shortfall is that the post-election period has historically been characterised by incessant inter-party conflicts (from street protests to court cases) that shift the elected government’s focus on development to dealing with conflicts, some of which it has to fight in the courts of law.
The CRR states that Lesotho lacks powerful peace architecture and strong conflict resolution mechanisms.
Under the political and democratic governance theme, forums and platforms for debate and dialogue for voters to participate in governance by expressing their views should be created, and these take the form of media talk shows, seminars and conferences, political assemblies and rallies as well as parliamentary causes.
However, these fora are too weak to steer government, which has a phobia for criticism.
Opposition parties are weak to hold the executive branch accountable. It is either they are so fragmented that they cannot speak with one voice or they lack the political clout to face government. There are weak national debate forums which are opened by civil society, non-governmental organisations.
This throttles democracy, particularly the right to freedom of expression of opinion and undermines good governance practice.