“Let’s not shy away from debating succession”

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Tsitsi Matope

A STATEMENT by the deputy minister of Home Affairs, Machesetsa Mofomobe on the need to limit terms of office for political party leaders and in government touched some raw nerves last week. His thoughts also kick-started an important debate on a subject that has remained taboo in most African countries. For the first time, political lines were blurred with many people agreeing that a succession plan should be introduced at party level right through the constitution to deepen Lesotho’s democracy. A participatory succession plan will ensure the selection of quality candidates not hand-picked deputies who in most cases in the African political sector, are selected based on their loyalty to the leader and not to the people and constitution. In this interview, Tsitsi Matope (Lesotho Times: LT) speaks to Mr Mofomobe (MM) on why it is important for Lesotho to start a vibrant national debate on the issue of succession. 

LT: Why you think Lesotho should have an open debate on issues to do with succession for the Premiership position and leadership at party level? 

MM: The time is ripe for us to hold such discussions, looking at the ongoing reforms’ agenda. It would make sense if our constitution can guide us towards actions that will deepen our democracy. As a patriot, I strongly feel that after all the security and political upheavals the country has gone through, it’s high time we leave nothing behind in our efforts to strengthen our governance systems and institutions. People are hungry for peace and political stability and therefore, when we talk about such issues, we cannot remain in a mode where succession is excluded or viewed as an act of rebellion towards those who are currently holding the fort. I did not express my opinion out of malice and therefore it should be analysed in a constructive way because at the end of the day, there should be succession whether we like it or not.

It should not be when one feels I have done enough and so I have to go, but should be an issue that is grounded in the constitution at both political party and government level. If we look at South Africa, which has presidential and party leadership terms stipulated by their national and party constitutions, ANC to be specific, President Mandela just took one term and left, reflecting smooth transition, President Mbeki was there and later recalled by his party and no guns were fired. The issue of succession in South Africa last year took centre stage and there were vibrant debates around Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. Eventually one emerged victorious.

I think as a democracy, we should copy good and progressive democratic practices to improve on our governance. There is a lot to benefit if you look at the fact that we do have people interested in coming to our country as development partners and investors, they should also know who is going to hold their purse after the present incumbent. We should help them plan longer-term.

Some people might view it in a negative way, maybe because in their political parties these issues are not discussed, but I believe there are also a lot of Basotho who would want us to discuss the issue of succession to help political parties grow, in addition to strengthening participatory governance. It’s an issue we should not shy away from because it will help us in many ways.

LT: From the feedback you have received after you threw the issue into the public domain, do you think Basotho and the political fraternity are ready to discuss succession without some people feeling offended? 

MM: Yes, Basotho in general have no problems discussing succession. But looking at the political sector, I think we can comfortably talk about succession if all political parties can create an enabling environment that would make members free to discuss the future of their parties without fear of being victimised. During the Easter holiday, at Ntate Tsehlanyane’s birthday party where I raised the issue of succession, the former Prime Minister, Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili, who was also present, responded positively saying he was not available for premiership anymore. In politics we hold you accountable based on what you committed to do; and I trust that Ntate Mosisili meant every word he said.

LT: What benefits do you see if the issue of terms of office becomes constitutional? 

MM: There are a lot of benefits and chief among them is stability and a predictable political future, which can help people to plan better. I think if some of the political leaders we have now had quickly passed on the baton to others, we would not have some of the party splits. It’s important for leaders to come and go because it brings stability, growth and improves performance of parties. New people come with fresher ideas and a lot of energy to take the party forward. When political parties are stable, the country will also be stable. Look, for the current coalition government to be stable the four political parties must be stable.

The international community pushing for good governance in all countries also wants participatory governance to create space for the active participation of young people. There is need in Africa to groom young leaders who are of substance and with new ideas to take struggling economies forward. As people, we develop and as we develop, our needs also develop. If we look at technology and other innovations, we also need to upgrade our systems, including the the way we govern. However, if you have one person ruling for 30 years, as we have seen in some African countries, there is a danger of creating demigods who will cling onto power and continue distributing wealth among a select few at the expense of the majority. These are challenges that can be collectively resolved if you set good governance systems.

The challenges I see in some African countries are caused by failure to appreciate the importance of putting in place efficient systems that can work for us all whether you are in power or you are not close to anyone in government. We need to work towards creating conditions that can make us thrive whether we have friends and relatives in power or not, systems that work for everybody. With corrupted systems, we will always feel very insecure and would worry who is in power, which is why there are always some people working day and night to perpetuate dictatorship in some countries. We need people who are bold enough to point at bad practices that are no longer relevant to our modern-day democracy and not responsive to our needs. Through corrupt means, some people are busy amassing wealth for future generations, out of fear that change will bring suffering to their children and grandchildren, which is suicidal. We are creating lazy future generations whom we are not expecting to do anything for themselves because they already have houses and cars.

LT: Do you think that following the Arab Spring in 2011, there is that consensus in Africa that terms of leadership should be limited as one of the ways of promoting democracy? 

MM: I think Africa woke up from its slumber and like you have said, the Arab Spring was a good example of how people had become frustrated such that they decided to take matters into their own hands. Africa understands that the underlying causes of most of her problems are bad governance systems, which have seen many countries’ economies bleeding because of unprecedented levels of corruption. In such countries, in most cases, an open debate on issues of succession is taboo, especially if the discussions do not point to the leader’s relative, wife, brother or child as successor. Africa is dealing with a combination of issues, including countries doing well in upholding democratic principles and other new developments happening, such as José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola leaving office voluntarily. On the other hand, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was pushed out of office through a soft coup, and the Rwandese and Ugandan Presidents have extended their terms of office despite some concerns. Believe me, in Africa once you overstay your welcome, people will know you are imposing yourself on them.

LT: Do you think African regional bodies are showing the capacity needed to tackle the issue of strong men who want to overstay their welcome? 

MM: They are trying but some have limitations in terms of the approaches they employ mainly due to issues that speak to sovereignty. Some bite more than others. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was strong in resolving the Madagascar conflict following a coup in 2004.  If you look at the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), it decisively handled the situation in The Gambia when the then President, Yahya Jammeh wanted to refuse to leave office after his defeat in an election in 2016.  However, we have seen some weaknesses in resolving other conflicts, many of which are structural.  There is definitely more that the African regional bodies can do to help countries lagging behind to transition to real democracy. The regional bodies are also affiliated to the African Union and therefore, I do not see why they should not speak with one strong voice when it comes to issues of ensuring that member states abide by the true principles of democracy.

LT: You spoke about grooming young people for leadership positions, starting at party level, so that we can begin to see many making it to the top. Do you see young people themselves showing interest in filling that space if it’s created? 

MM: We need to invest in education, which is focused on issues that promote good governance. We should start in schools, for an early start in building the capacity and the quality of leaders our country needs.  Africa is full of young people who became heroes because they were inspired. Our very own Ntsu Mokhehle was in his 30s when he formed the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP); Leabua Jonathan was only 23 years old when he became a member of delegations to London that sought self-government in the then Basutoland. We also have the likes of Stevie Biko, Nelson Mandela and many other revolutionaries who fought for the independence of various African countries from colonialism. They waged these wars when they were still very young.

Owing to this rich history, we need to create the necessary conditions that can allow meaningful participation of young people. We do not want young women and men to be used as instruments of violence by some leaders who want to remain in power; but want them to be real patriots and serve their countries well.

They should reflect hope for our nations through their understandings of issues that matter the most. Sadly, the political instability in our country and others in the region has discouraged many of our young people from participating actively in politics. However, talking to them from the terraces, you can feel their passion for change.  I think politics can be more vibrant if we can also have young people participating. As political parties, we also have the power to attract young people, and when they come, let’s give them a chance to demonstrate what they can do, and support them where they show some weaknesses. Young people should also respect the political stalwarts already in the game, they can learn a lot from them. I started politicking when I was only 17 years of age and was even elected as secretary general for the Maseru Central Constituency because I listened and respected my elders. I was one of the lucky few who got politicised at a tender age because I came from a political family. At family level, we can also play a role by encouraging our children who show potential, to pursue studies in areas that can significantly contribute to us becoming a more enlightened society, politically.

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