‘Simplify and depoliticise the reforms process’ 

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Tsitsi Matope

THE much-awaited reforms’ process has proved to be a big headache for Lesotho after the critical Stakeholders’ Consultative Dialogue expected in November last year failed to materialise. Importantly, among other issues, this dialogue was expected to inform actions that will pave the way for the implementation of the reforms that were recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.

Last week, the SADC Double Troika meeting in Angola gave Lesotho an ultimatum to fully implement the constitutional and security sector reforms by May 2019. The reforms process is way behind schedule and the government is taking too long to bring the reluctant opposition parties on board.

Some development and legal analysts this week said there was urgent need to save the process, which they said was hijacked and now turned into a tool to score some political points at the expense of Basotho, who should own the process.

In view of SADC’s ultimatum, they argued Lesotho can make some quick gains if the government works closely with the civil society, public policy and other experts in sectors targeted by the reforms.

The reforms process, they said, was a normal development that all progressive countries undertake from time to time to either develop new laws and policies depending on areas or institutions in need of strengthening and in line with new political and socio-economic demands.

Lesotho is not emerging from a war situation, as was the case with Sierra Leone, which needed support in terms of skills and funding to start from scratch to develop its security sector.

In the case of Lesotho, the analysts said, there is an urgent need to swiftly prioritise dealing with the key problem areas “to stop the bleeding” and put the country on steady ground before focusing on actions that require longer term processes.

They further explained that while it was important for Lesotho to develop new laws and policies to regulate sectors such as the media, it was not the case with other sectors which may require review and revision or amendments.

The need to simplify the process and bring all actors to understand the nature of work that needs to be done in each of the targeted sectors has become even more urgent following the SADC ultimatum. In this interview, Tsitsi Matope of Lesotho Times (LT) speaks to Development for Peace Education Coordinator, Sofonea Shale (SS) on how the civil society can help to again build the reforms momentum and make things happen. 

LT: The commitment to the reforms agenda has brought hope to many Basotho but this is not the first time Lesotho has embarked on a process to strengthen its laws and policies with support from SADC. Do you think this time around, lasting solutions will be implemented? 

SS: Let me start by explaining that Lesotho is a special country in many respects and without undermining the contribution that SADC has made since the return of the Kingdom to constitutional rule, the regional body has not understood the dynamics of this country. Well, if they understood, they have not found the effective strategy to deal with the conflicts that continue to bring them back to Lesotho. They were here in 1994; 1998; 2007; 2014; 2015 and they are back again as per government’s invitation and considering the situation last year, it is understandable that they had to come back to deal with the unfinished business.

However, when you look at SADC’s interventions, they were commendable contributions that enabled progress in some areas. What appears to be lacking is looking at the skills we have locally and combining that with the external efforts.

SADC has got the necessary political clout and authority, but at the same time, resolution of conflicts does not only rely on the authority of those who intervene but also requires the involvement of the civil society. It is about the skills and the ability to understand the context to enable designing the right actions that can facilitate the process.

For example, understanding where power lies in various groups is important because in some instances, power does not lie where it is constitutionally stipulated to be concentrated. I think SADC is lacking a deeper understanding of causes of the conflict for them to dispatch people with the quality of skills needed in Lesotho. At the moment, Lesotho needs not only conflict resolution but process facilitation experts as well to help kick-start the process. 

LT: SADC is here. How would you advise them and other actors to re-organise the intervention to effect the change that Lesotho needs? 

SS: You see, SADC is here and yet so far. Despite the oversight committee on site, it is limited in many respects. There is certain information that only the locals can have access to and unless someone tells you and accurately so, you will miss this. The radio stations for example, mirror the Lesotho conflict because they are politicised and that makes them a good source of knowledge of the situation even if they may not be so accurate on content. The social media too, is another good source to gauge people’s mood and communication is usually in Sesotho. If as an oversight committee you do not have effective mechanisms to pick all the issues for the mediums I have mentioned, excluding the communities, then for me you may not be equal to the task.

The committee came to pick the early warning signs to help inform future positive peace processes and to ensure they have a rich analysis of what is happening. The starting point would be for the experts in the SADC mission to collaborate with the local actors, including academia and the civil society. Complementarity is crucial because there is a lot that the local actors can contribute while at the same time the local actors should also acknowledge that they also need external support. At one point, when political parties were talking about the misallocation of seats in the mixed proportional representation system in 2007, what opposition wanted was a ruling coalition to lose 20 of the 21 proportional representation seats.

That would have caused a swift shift from a party or block that commands more than two thirds majority of the house to a slim simple majority of one. In that situation, where issues are highly contentious you won’t expect the locals to manage that process and yield fair results because politicians can’t just give power on the basis of a session facilitated by the NGOs or religious groups. Yet on the basis of their appreciation of the context and the dynamics they were better positioned to do the actual facilitation of talks. Therefore, the need to combine external and internal capacities becomes critical.

The SADC facilitator, President Cyril Ramaphosa engaged with the civil society and we always provided valuable analysis and propositions of what should be done. I think SADC is not fully utilising the potential civil society has in also helping the process especially if you look at how the national stakeholders’ consultative dialogue has stalled and the government obviously showing signs that they need new ideas.

In October last year when we had a post-election stakeholders’ dialogue as civil society under the auspices of Lesotho Council of NGOs, the opposition raised a few issues they wanted addressed. After we created the right conditions for the national consultative dialogue, we saw a series of government and opposition party meetings under the leadership of the Christian Council of Lesotho. While the meetings were not seen as bad, the reality is that today the situation has not only deteriorated but things have reached where we are seeing walk-outs. As the civil society, we are crying over spilt milk because we created a platform after the elections to enable future developments, but all those gains have been lost. 

LT: Can you give us examples where as the civil society you worked with others and played a critical role in managing conflicts in Lesotho? 

SS: In 2010, when former Botswana President, Ketumile Masire abandoned his SADC mission here in Lesotho, the civil society picked-up the process. However, in our own intuition we said that we may not facilitate but technically support facilitation of the talks, without doubting our capacity.

We thought the churches would be good partners as they would bring their moral authority to convene the talks while the civil society remained a technical team and back-up. It was that cooperation that not only resolved the tensions but also made sure that the very same issues that the opposition were complaining about then resulted in the reforming of the electoral law.

That was the major success we have seen with the local actors cooperating and agreeing with SADC that all work should remain as a SADC process with the actors on the ground providing progress reports. It has not happened in the region that non-state actors enter the Heads of State Summit to present a report that is taken as a SADC report. Maybe for some of us that explains why we are optimistic that should things be done differently we can see progress. 

LT: The National Stakeholders’ Consultative Dialogue is a critical first step to the reforms process, and it’s five months late, what are the issues really; and as the civil society, how can you help ensure all actors, including the opposition comes to the table? 

SS: The issues that have stalled the dialogue are not unique and could have still happened had a different coalition government was in place. The commitment towards the dialogue was secured because actors including the Non-Governmental Organisations, Lesotho Council of Churches, the Independent Electoral Commission, the European Union and other actors started a process to save the reforms commitment beyond the 2017 elections.

The then government, which is now in opposition were the most difficult and did not want to commit, as compared to actors in the current coalition government. We worked hard until we had everyone on board and agreed that after the elections, let us start with the national dialogue and after that then move-on to the reforms process.

I can tell you that those in government now were the most excited about the commitment but instead of the dialogue they suddenly introduced a Reforms Bill not validated by all stakeholders. I think the real processes are not happening according to the timelines because for the opposition that would mean a loss because they identified reforms as a platform they can use to make their demands and to be heard by SADC. They have been playing hard to get for SADC to mount pressure on the government on reforms while making it difficult for the process to happen. If not effectively managed, the end result would be the development of a conflict that would be even more complex to manage and resolve.

By definition, the reforms process should be inclusive, but we have seen that it has not been easy for the government to get the opposition on board.

On the other hand, the government has proved that they are not wise enough to understand exactly what they should do to get the process rolling. It is that deficit in strategic thinking, planning and implementation that they continue running in circles.

Where we are right now reflects lack of clarity on what the government can do in the face of demands by the opposition, some of which happen to be of great importance for the opposition but which the government cannot meet.

The government has agreed that some of the demands were understandable, arguing that they should however not be conditional on reforms. That explanation is not sufficient enough to resolve an impasse because the government needs to indicate when and how the issues raised by the opposition can be discussed and addressed. This is where one would think that the government would be wise enough to say these issues are not conditions for reforms but then find another convincing reasonable way of dealing with them.

In addition, the government is yet to realise the civil society’s potential, although after the 2017 elections we demonstrated our capacity when we called for the post-election meeting representative of all the sectors. We organised this meeting amid concerns over the election results by the opposition. After that meeting, all actors were ready for the national dialogue, which never took place because government could not convince all actors to come on board, including the Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader, Mothetjoa Metsing. As the civil society we have our own approaches, which the government can take advantage of to resolve this impasse. 

LT: Other than the dialogue what other issues do you think Lesotho should look out for and how has or is Development for Peace contributing in the reforms process? 

SS: What is primary now is not only the dialogue itself but to ask ourselves that suppose the meeting is tomorrow, what is it that we are going to talk about, in what manner, so that at the end of the dialogue we have what results. There is need for that conceptual clarity. In the October meeting, I referred to earlier on, we had agreed on a steering committee that will deal with all issues, which we did not convene because we did not want to be seen to be too pushy or too forward. We left that to the government to deal with but to assist, gave them the composition of such. However, seeing where we are now, next week we are going to convene the steering committee, which will comprise of different sectors represented in the October meeting.

We need to work towards agreeing on the process, which is informed by the specific areas we want reformed. Development for Peace Education has been working in the 80 constituencies educating people about the reforms and picking up on a number of issues.

Through our community approaches, we have extensively engaged with communities to help us understand their expectations while also educating people on issues to do with good governance, human rights and democracy. People are really excited about the reforms and their expectations from the current government are very high.

We have done similar engagements with the legislators and various sectors, and the issues we raise were informed by our interaction with various experts during workshops through other platforms. We have also created a citizen debate around the issues but decided not to launch what we call “Voices Report” because we realised that what was even more important at the time was agreeing on the reforms process that is inclusive and participatory.

Therefore, we decided to use that information to develop a reforms process document, which we shared with the previous government and the then opposition political parties.

We also presented the report at the October meeting and it was validated by all actors as one of the tools that can help inform the direction of the reforms process.

Importantly, all actors should understand that Lesotho’s reform agenda is multisectoral, meaning there are a number of issues we need to tackle. The issues do not necessarily need us to apply the same mechanisms because some issues may not necessarily require constitutional reform, some may need a Parliamentary Act, while others may require us to develop regulations or just do some amendments. Those are some of the pertinent issues that have to be discussed during the consultative dialogue for us to then discuss ways of understanding what we want to reform, what should come immediately and what should be on-going.

We are seeing poor thinking and therefore we need to help each other to come up with practical solutions. Actors can collaborate where we have in place platforms that enable participation. While there are efforts by some actors to support the government, through which the road map was developed, most people are not sure what is happening and usually where we hear no different communication other than the usual “we need to work on reforms”, then chances are that there is no progress.

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