Threatening journalists will backfire in the end

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Reports this week that journalists at Harvest FM received death threats through anonymous phone calls should be condemned by all progressive and peace-loving Basotho.

It is disturbing that the radio presenter in question had not definitively named anyone.

Worse still, the issue is about suspected misappropriation of donor funds for the National Aids Commission. Donor funds are hard to come by these days and demonstrating transparency in their use is one way of ensuring a country is favourably perceived by organisations that spearhead sought-after relief interventions.

The greatest disappointment is, more than any other government in the Kingdom’s history, the plural nature of the coalition cabinet makes it the best candidate to potentially take modern governance to the Promised Land.

Like it or loathe it, the coalition government comprising the All Basotho Convention (ABC), the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) and the Basotho National Party (BNP) is an amalgamation of different, if at times opposed, party political interests.

This means inclusiveness and tolerance should be found in its DNA.

That any group or individual from this government can issue threats, whether overt or subtle is a worrying trend crying out to all good men and women in Lesotho to nip the monster of intolerance in the bud.

The country, and Africa at large, has had enough tragic experiences where masses have been slaughtered at the hands of eccentric dictators.

Single-party dictatorships have wreaked havoc in Africa after independence and the common denominator of all such rogue regimes is intolerance and aversion to freedom of the press.

Modern political analysts and economists no longer need to live in a country to understand how its democracy works.

Multilateral donor agencies, a key constituency for donor-dependent Lesotho, do not really need to fly in and live here to see how its leaders steer the ship of democratic governance.

Any country displays its commitment to democracy or lack thereof by the way its media are treated.

Besides, in the end any threat to the media is also an indirect threat to the judiciary and the rule of law.

If powerful citizens decide to take the law into their own hands and apportion themselves the task of prosecutor and judge, then such forces are simply trampling on the country’s constitution.

We must hasten to underline here that, more than any other skill, Lesotho boasts a vibrant judiciary and has no shortage of brilliant legal minds. So it would simply be unfair for politicians to usurp the role of these learned men and women of the law.

We insist that if any Mosotho is aggrieved, there is only one way to go about it; that is the legal route.

If any man or woman is unfairly published or broadcast then the country’s competent courts of law can be relied upon to ensure redress to such an aggrieved party.

Only in outdated personality cults do you have one “big brother watching” who controls all the arms of governance, including an embedded media willingly singing for its supper.

Lesotho has a small but vibrant media.

The media is much more vibrant than in many African states precisely because most of the radio stations and newspapers are not owned by government.

This means these radio stations and newspapers do not take instructions from government and are therefore not beholden to powerful political figures in the Kingdom.

On its own this characteristic of Lesotho should be a source of pride, particularly on a dictator-prone continent like ours.

In this vein, we believe Lesotho should not be dragged that one-way route to a precipice by a few self-serving individuals who would rather shoot the messenger while ignoring the message.

Africa’s post-colonial experience is replete with such dictatorial streaks which brought disastrous consequences to nations so the continent does not need to breed more bullies by turning a blind eye to such travesties.

Refusing to stand up to such bullies is tantamount to tacitly nurturing a vice.

Today, the bullies may be targeting journalists but tomorrow it will be the judiciary then another key sector and another, until the entire democratic system is completely subverted.

In the long run it is the entire nation that loses out if democratic spaces are closed willy nilly by individuals.

It is no coincidence that some of the most media intolerant nations under the sun are also stagnating in terms of development.

Whether you are talking about North Korea, Somalia, Central African Republic or Zimbabwe, the pattern is clear; there is a worrying correlation between persecution of journalists and socio-economic decay.

We call upon all patriotic Basotho to condemn these worrying signs of a monster threatening to undo all that the Kingdom should pride itself in; tolerance of divergent views which is the modern ingredient for transparent governance and progress.

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Lesotho’s widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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