Lesotho’s female Members of Parliament (MPs) have often been accused of failing to contribute to critical debate in the august house, which could lead to the transformation of the lives of their fellow female citizens.
These concerns have also been raised regarding the conflicts in the coalition government — a situation which led to the nine-month prorogation or suspension of parliament early this month.
While male politicians dominating arguments and public debate, their female counterparts have taken to discussing issues privately, or so it seems.
The Lesotho Times (LT) this week met with the Basotho National Party (BNP) Chairperson, Dr Lucia Nthabiseng Makoae (MP through Proportional Representation), to understand what could have led to the female MPs’ largely inaudible stance on the issue.
Dr Makoae, who is also the Deputy Minister of Health, further shared her views on why female politicians appear to be contributing very little to the general political developments in Lesotho.
LT: We are not hearing female politicians commenting much about the current political situation in Lesotho. What could be the reason behind this apparent indifference?
Dr Makoae: There are several factors, but I think it’s because the different parties’ Women’s Leagues are not strong enough to mobilise other women at grassroots level and come up with the expected reaction in a situation like this.
At women’s league level, most of us lack the capacity to know what action to take or what role to play in difficult situations.
After this experience, I think we have now all seen the need to re-organise women at various levels and build their capacity so they can effectively lobby and advocate for peace-building processes and systems, good governance, reconciliation, trust and unity.
There is a lot of collaboration needed to strengthen all women structures at every level of society.
This also includes the caucus for women parliamentarians which should bring together female MPs from different political parties so they can plan on what action to take in cases like the situation we are now in.
Unfortunately, the caucus for women parliamentarians is not functioning properly or effectively.
LT: What about the role you can play as women in leadership positions within the coalition government? Why are you whispering and not speaking publicly about issues that have brought the tripartite government of the BNP, All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) on the brink of collapse?
Dr Makoae: It’s because we also have a low composition of women in key decision-making positions in the government.
This can affect our level of contribution and our audibility.
There is a lot of work we need to do and more support is needed because, politically, we have not developed much as women in Lesotho.
LT: What do you mean? You are the chairperson of your political party, which is part of government, and also a deputy minister which are both very influential positions.
Dr Makoae: Yes, I am, but how many women are occupying such senior positions at party level?
I am looking at the bigger picture here. Since Lesotho became a democracy, we have not had a female Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.
That tells us how far we have come as women in politics in Lesotho. If you look at the current government, you can see that there are three male leaders.
Sometimes there is need for their deputies to make contributions and not even a single woman is a deputy.
So what I am saying is we, as women, are not yet in the real decision-making sphere or spectrum.
As far as governance matters are concerned, we are still weak and, therefore, cannot stand up and claim that we are playing a significant role because we are not there, we are not participating fully.
We need to start promoting women at party level because if we can have many women in the National Executive Committee (NEC) at party level, then they stand a better chance of holding higher positions in government.
That way, women can re-organise themselves and have more say, particularly on issues related to uniting against enemies of peace, good governance and unity of the nation.
LT: Who is preventing women from getting elected to their parties’ NECs?
Dr Makoae: I think there are several factors but what I have noticed, over the years, is that as women, we are also our own worst enemies.
So I can say in some instances, it is other women failing to support their colleagues at that level.
Despite constituting the majority of the electorate, I have also seen how, generally as women, we tend not to trust each other.
There is this sense that we don’t want to be represented by other women.
Other factors are lack of confidence in ourselves, fear of society’s negative perceptions about a woman who is into politics and generally, an environment that is unreceptive to female political leadership.
LT: Let’s talk about the conflicts in the coalition government, which came to power in June 2012. Is your political party, the BNP, still committed to this alliance, which was rattled early this month when the LCD openly accused Prime Minister Thomas Thabane of making unilateral decisions?
Dr Makoae: As the BNP, we are still committed and personally, I have not given up hope that any concerns that might be there, can be resolved amicably.
I have a deeper trust that the good spirit and understanding that led to the formation of this coalition government will eventually prevail and help us find each other again.
LT: As a seasoned politician, where do you think the coalition might have gone off the rails?
Dr Makoae: A lot of strange things have been happening, despite us having a coalition agreement that details how issues should be handled.
I think the agreement was just not enough to sustain the complexities that generally emerge from a coalition government.
I also think the formation might have been hasty and the system itself not properly and adequately legislated.
LT: You mean there is need for laws to support and provide guidance on how coalitions should be run and not just have an agreement?
Dr Makoae: Precisely. This is because we have seen how developed countries have managed to successfully run such fragile government set-ups.
They take their time in the formative stage for all parties to be certain and achieve a win-win situation.
But of course, before we replicate such models, we need to restructure them to ensure they suit our own context.
What is a challenge is in the current situation, the constitution does not make a lot of issues clearer.
For example, I don’t understand what the position of senior minister means, which our leader, Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane, holds.
The constitution does not also tell us what should happen in the event that more than two political leaders decide to form a coalition.
Do we call the leaders of the other parties, deputy prime ministers, for instance?
So these are some of the issues that stick out although maybe without necessarily warranting a break-up of the government.
There should be a legal framework that addresses such matters to help us continue improving on our management skills, managing the systems and also b able to protect the establishment.
LT: Personally, when did you suspect that all was not well in the coalition government?
Dr Makoae: What really struck me was when some fired senior officials crossed the floor to join other political parties but at the same time, remaining Members of Parliament.
I mean, I did not understand the logic because if you won an election on a BNP ticket and then become a minister, in the event that you get fired and then retaliate by crossing the floor, does it make sense for you to still keep the parliamentary seat or it should automatically be vacant?
I also noticed some elements of mistrust that developed into something that seemed to push for the destabilisation of the government.
I failed to see any strong logic in some people who appeared to be forming new alliances and considering the dissolution of the government.
Yes, I heard complaints but for me, they were not strong enough to justify destroying what we had worked so hard to build.
I think there could be other reasons why they were doing this, which also seem to be making some people feel they are no longer comfortable in the coalition government.
These reasons are not being explicitly explained and it would help if we all get to know them.
LT: Do you think there could have been another way of dealing with some of these concerns?
Dr Makoae: I believe something could have been done but the problem also is it is difficult to know exactly what steps to take in a coalition situation.
I think the prime minister did all he could and suspending parliament was his last resort. He might have been overwhelmed with what was happening at the same time.
When I look back, I fail to understand what he (the prime minister) did to warrant the criticism.
When we formed this coalition, we all knew that it was not going to be an easy journey but we told ourselves that what bound us together was the need to serve the people and not to relax.
I think the prime minister has compromised a lot over the past two years and also a lot in the beginning, considering the way ministries and foreign missions were allocated.
He never complained and we all accepted things as they were for political stability and for our people.
LT: In the event that conflicts persist and the country has to go to the polls early, do you feel that as the BNP, you are well-prepared for elections?
Dr Makoae: I think that would be a sad development because of the tag we will always carry as the coalition government that failed to run its course.
As the BNP, we are still in the process of revamping our party structures and an early election would mean us accelerating our efforts to meet the challenge.
We are doing a lot of work in as far as strengthening the grassroots is concerned and will need to work even harder to cover a lot of ground.
LT: What lessons have you drawn from the conflicts in the coalition government and the turn of events?
Dr Makoae: That we should not take the serious business of governance for granted.
This coalition is not about us, egos and all that; it’s about economic development, creating jobs, ensuring better health for all our people and striving to better all aspects of their lives.
I have learnt that everything we have worked for in the past two years could suddenly go down the drain if we are not serious enough to see, understand and critically analyse the bigger picture.
What we need to do now is reflect on what has happened and see how we have been performing and how our actions might have contributed to the current state of affairs.
LT: What are you currently battling to understand with regards to the coalition?
Dr Makoae: Honestly, it’s the flow of information in some quarters.
I don’t understand why there should be different views and positions on one serious issue from one political party, which we are supposed to work with.
That really baffles me and I think it confuses other people too.
It creates a weak link in the coalition. I seriously think politically, we should all grow up and be sensible.