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PESA Editorial - Lesotho - 3Q2018/19

History of Conflict and its Impact on Basotho Development

Political instability and conflict has become systematic in Lesotho since independence in 1966. The country attained independence under the leadership of Leabua Jonathan of the Basotho National Party (BNP) who became the first Prime Minister. Lesotho has endured disproportionate cycles of conflict and political instability resulting in more than three interventions by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) since 1994. Some of the conflicts have resulted in, and from, coups. This includes various forms of coups ranging from the “parliamentary” coup in 1970 led by Leabua Jonathan; military coup in 1986; the “palace” or royal coup in 1994 and yet another “parliamentary” coup in 1997 under then Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle. Therefore, political instability in Lesotho manifests itself at various levels including the military, political parties and even the monarchy[1]. The intermittent phases of political instability have negatively impacted on GDP growth and development as will be demonstrated later in this article.

 

The political instability in Lesotho can be attributed to institutional crisis and constitutional disorder since independence[2]. These two are compounded by the structure of the economy given that the Government of Lesotho plays a central role as the employer of choice in the context of limited private economic opportunities[3].  The public service wages are 43.0% more than the private sector and hence the sector accounts for 60.0% of the country’s employment[4]. The foregoing explains why a significant number of Basotho either migrate, mostly to South Africa to look for jobs, or depend predominantly on government for their livelihoods. This provides an environment where the politics of patronage thrive. In addition, access to state power becomes very central as a vehicle of accumulation so much that people are prepared to use violence to remain in or take over office.

Political instability in Lesotho can be traced as far back as 1970 when the first post-independence elections were held where the ruling BNP lost to the Ntsu Mokhehle’s Basutoland Congress Party (BCP). However, BNP leader Leabua Jonathan refused to relinquish power, annulled the election, and declared himself Prime Minister, in what was Lesotho’s first “parliamentary” coup[5]. In 1973, Leabua Jonathan formed an interim National Assembly which lasted until 1986, a period that was effectively a one-party state. It was in the same era that the security sector was expanded and politicised in order to enforce repression and patronage[6]. The opposition, BCP, fought relentlessly for political space in the interim culminating in an uprising in 1974. Some party loyalists were even sent abroad for military training and returned in 1979 to launch another wave of insurgence. On both accounts Leabua Jonathan’s government responded by clamping down on BCP leadership and their sympathisers.

The waves of conflict between 1970 and 1985 are reflected in the economic sphere as shown by the annual average GDP growth rates. For instance, while in the entire period GDP growth was 5.5%, in the most turbulent period 1979-1985 it shrunk to -0.8%.  This is also a direct contrast from another four-year period of 1974 to 1978 where GDP grew by 10.3%[7]. As the clampdown on BCP members intensified hundreds of people were displaced and some were forced into exile, including party leader Ntsu Mokhehle, thereby negatively impacting on their livelihoods. Business activities were disturbed hence the poor GDP growth.

During Leabua Jonathan’s reign, the appetite for state power grew among the securocrats and the results are evident in the military meddling in politics from 1986 to 2000, and to a large extent even beyond.  After a failed election in 1985 the army launched a military coup in 1986. Between 1986 and 1993, Lesotho was ruled by the Military Council under General Justin Lekhanya (up to 1991) before he was deposed by another military strong man Major-General Phisoane Ramaema following a mutiny.  The military rulers forced King Moshoeshoe II to flee into exile and replaced him with his son King Letsie III.

 

PESA Editorial - Lesotho Defence Force - 3Q2018/19
Lesotho Defence Force

 

While the military technically ceded power to the civilian government of Ntsu Mokhehle-led BCP after the 1993 elections, their meddling in politics have become systematic. For instance, the military was heavily involved in 1994 when King Letsie III staged a “palace” coup after temporarily suspending the constitution and taking over power from BCP. Partly, King Letsie III’s gripe with BCP was that the party was refusing to reinstate his father as the king. The impasse was solved after a South Africa-brokered truce in which the legitimate government of Ntsu Mokhehle returned to power in exchange of reinstating King Moshoeshoe II.

As mentioned earlier, the constitutional crisis has not only blurred the lines between the military and civilian rule, but has also caused confusion among the political parties. Ntsu Mokhehle used the disorder to his advantage in 1997 when divisions within the ruling BCP became irreconcilable. He broke away with a following of two-thirds of the MPs to form the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). In the process he staged a “parliamentary coup” in that he remained the Prime Minister until the end of his term in 1998 at the expense of BCP that had the popular vote. The LCD went on to win the 1998 elections with a landslide victory and Pakalitha Mosisili took over as the new Prime Minister.  With the first-past-the-post electoral system, losing political parties were as good as excluded in the affairs of the country hence BCP felt disenfranchised. It was under these circumstances that opposition parties intensified protests and became violent as the SADC commission led by Pius Langa had given the election outcome a green light. Once again, the role of the military was evident when junior officers refused to take orders to quell the violence and looting following the disputed election. Eventually there was a mutiny which resulted in direct military intervention by South Africa and Botswana. The SADC military intervention ended in 1999 and in the meantime, Lesotho was ruled by an Interim Political Authority that lasted until 2002 elections.

The political upheavals of 1985 to 2000 are reflected on the economic front as shown by a drop in negative balance of payments (BOP, at current prices) and GDP growth. These respectively declined from USD 142.2 million and 9.4% in 1985 to an average of -USD 62.5 million and 4.9% from 1986 to 2000[8].  In fact, from 1990 to 2000 Lesotho had a continuous negative BOP. At the height of the conflict in 1998, property worth ZAR 160.0 million (approx. USD 29.1 million) was damaged; 246 firms were shut down with 400 workers losing their jobs, and 100 people including soldiers died[9]. Manufacturing which had picked to 60.5% in 1984, deteriorated to an average of 7.5% in 1985-1999[10]. Therefore, the period of conflict and political instability affected local production as factories were closed thereby forcing the country to import more than it exported. In addition to that, infrastructure was damaged, and with more people losing jobs, it negatively impacted on internal spending resulting in poor economic performance.

In the post-2000 epoch, the constitution was amended to allow for a proportional electoral system. Through it, additional 40 proportional representation seats are distributed to contesting political parties. The move was plausible as it brought relative calm from 2000 to 2010. It led to two successive peaceful elections, in 2002 and 2008, which were both won by LCD.  It must be noted also that the new electoral system also gave birth to the politics of coalitions whose intricacies are tackled later in this article. The political stability in this era is mirrored by the confidence in the economic sphere as shown by the improvement in FDI which increased from an average of USD 20.26 million in 1986-2000 to USD 50.48 million in the period 2000-2010[11]. The GDP growth also improved in this era from 3.3% during 1995-2000 period to 4.8% in 2005-2010[12]. More so, incomes also improved as shown by the GNI per capita (current) which moved up from an average of USD 630.66 during the period 1986-2000 to USD 1030 during 2001-2010. In other words, a peaceful epoch encouraged more foreign investors to plough their money in Lesotho and it also gave domestic industries a new lease to improve on production thereby leading to positive GDP growth.

PESA Editorial - Lesotho Defence Force - 3Q2018/19
Lesotho Defence Force Emblem

In the post-2010 period, political instability at micro-level in Lesotho has become synonymous with the names of Pakalitha Mosisili and Thomas Thabane on the political front as well as Lieutenant Tlali Kamoli and Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao on the military side.  Besides the four strong men, coalition politics have also led to instability in the same period. Thomas Thabane assumed office as Prime Minister after the 2012 elections through the All Basotho Convention (ABC) led coalition. His term was cut short as elections were brought forward to February 2015 instead of the scheduled 2017 due to the ructions within the coalition[13]. At the heart of the misunderstanding between Thomas Thabane and his coalition partners was the demotion of Tlali Kamoli as Lesotho Defence Forces (LDF) commander and his replacement with Maaparankoe Mahao without consultation.

When Pakalitha Mosisili returned to office as Prime Minister in 2015 under the Democratic Congress-led coalition, he immediately reinstated Tlali Kamoli as commander of LDF and in the process demoted Maaparankoe Mahao. The move divided the rank and file of the military with the younger recruits (better known as Intake 21) said to be behind Maaparankoe Mahao, while the old guard sided with Tlali Kamoli[14].  Under Tlali Kamoli, impunity on the military front intensified as shown by the refusal to submit to civilian rule and it was under these circumstances that soldiers who committed crimes were not handed over to the police. The problematic nature of the security cluster overlap into politics can also be noticed in the SADC Mission on the Kingdom of Lesotho recommendation to send Tlali Kamoli, Maaparankoe Mahao and then Police Commissioner Khothatso Tsoona to exile on what was later called leave of absence in the aftermath of the skirmishes in 2014[15]. The three were only allowed to return home after the 2015 elections. Maaparankoe Mahao was eventually killed on 25 June 2015 in an operation to arrest him following trumped up mutiny allegations[16].

Pakalitha Mosisili’s new reign only lasted slightly above two years (13 March 2015 to 8 June 2017) when yet again the coalition partners turned against him and passed a vote of no confidence. An election ushered Thomas Thabane back into the office under yet another coalition of four political parties in September 2017.  A year later, Thomas Thabane was at odds again with his coalition partners this time over the sacking of Motlohi Maliehe as tourism minister in August 2018, and his subsequent suspension as chairperson of ABC[17]. In addition to that there are ructions over rights given to the Chinese national to be the sole buyer of mohair, a major means of livelihood for the subsistence farmers. Opposition parties are also at loggerheads with Thomas Thabane after the discharge of the chief justice. To demonstrate their displeasure the parties pulled out of the peace building initiative, SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho, which was deployed in December 2017. These latest misunderstandings are a fertile ground for another political impasse in Lesotho.

Political fragility does not augur well on GDP growth and has made the situation worse in the development arena.  As noted by the minister of finance in his 2018 budget speech, peace and stability are the bedrock on which to formulate successful development policies and hence the current coalition sort to secure rule of law[18]. Invariably, GDP growth takes a knock when there are political upheavals. While in the period 2005-2010 the growth rate reached its peak at 4.8%, it fell to an average of 4.2% in 2010-15; and worse still as political instability intensified from 2012-2017 the GDP growth went down further to 3.3%. Similarly, GDP per capita PPP (constant 2011) shows that it improved from USD 1626.8 in 1991-1999 to USD 2002.9 during the peaceful period of 2001-2009[19]. The rapid turnover of government – three administrations in five years- brought policy uncertainty which in turn destabilises economic activities. That had a bearing even on BOP which plummeted from an average of USD 128.1 million in the peaceful years of 2001-2010 to -USD 184.7 million in 2010-2017. As the economy continues on an unfavourable trend, unemployment has remained high with a direct variation to poverty which remains high in Lesotho estimated at 57.0%. To compound the situation, Lesotho is one of the most unequal countries in the continent ranking in the top five with a Gini Coefficient of over 55[20]. Wages have also continued to tumble, for instance in the manufacturing sector, a decrease of 19.1% was observed in the fourth quarter of 2017 compared the third quarter of the same year, with indications that the private sector salaries have remained stagnant since mid-2000s[21].

The negative GDP growth has a bearing on education and health indicators. Education outcomes have either stagnated, or even worsened. For instance, literacy levels for people above 15 years which stood at 86.0% (adults) and 91.0% (youth) in 2000, dropped to 76.0% and 87.0% respectively in 2014[22]. Life expectancy is at 56 years with health coverage of 67.0% and the government targets 100% by 2020, a target that might not be reached if the current ructions in Thomas Thabane-led coalition continue and lead to yet another vote of no confidence[23].

While internal socio-political dynamics have impinged on growth and development in Lesotho, it is important to highlight that the country is exposed to a lot of external shocks. As an enclave, entirely surrounded by South Africa, it is no surprise that the bigger and only neighbour has disproportionate influence on GDP growth and even political stability. South Africa has been at the forefront of interventions in Lesotho to try and bring peace in 1994; 1998 and post-2014. Recently when South Africa increased its VAT to 15.0%, Lesotho followed suit in what the minister of finance said was an effort to preclude smuggling[24]. That underlies the fact that Lesotho does not have a unilateral financial and tariff system but a multilateral one that hinges on its neighbours, especially South Africa. Lesotho has also heavily depended on SACU remittances, as part of the country’s revenue mix, which have however declined in 2018/19 by LSL 616.1 million (approx. USD 45.0 million) from its 2017/18 level. In fact, as percentage of GDP, SACU revenues fell from 20.3% in 2015/16 to 13.5% in 2016/17[25]. The IMF has noted that there has been a volatility in the SACU revenues as a percentage of the GDP since 2013. Lesotho’s SACU revenue income averaged 20.2% of GDP from FY2013/14 to FY2017/18 and is projected to decrease to 16.3% in FY2018/19; before decreasing further to an average of 14.36% of GDP from FY2019/20 to FY2022/23[26]. Planning becomes challenging when any part of revenue declines from as far as 24.0% to 13.2%. Therefore, while internal dynamics affect GDP growth and development in Lesotho, it must be pointed out that the country is susceptible to many external shocks, especially coming from South Africa.

To redress the challenges that Lesotho has been facing, there is a need for political stability which in turn will inform sound economic policies that can enhance development. The major sources of conflict have been the constitutional and institutional crises bedevilling the country. These have manifested through; fights for political participation, legitimacy of government and distribution of resources[27]. At micro-level, military personnel and political elites have been at the centre of all the conflicts. The most turbulent period was between 1986 and 2000 in which military, royal and parliamentary coups occurred. Three military mutinies were also witnessed.  In the same period lives were lost and unemployment increased to 37.0% compared to 32.5% in 2000-2009.

For the military, a constitutional and policy mechanism ought to be found to define their mandate and stop the overlap into politics. Mistakes such as demoting army commanders instead of retiring them need to be nipped. For the political elites, state power has been seen as pathway to economic accumulation and the contestation for this power turns into a zero-sum game, hence a need for constitutional reforms to dissuade them from wanting to take over power at all costs[28]. In that light, it may be prudent to have a limit of terms for Prime Ministers rather than having same faces swopping chairs like it has happened with Pakalitha Mosisili and Thomas Thabane. While the amendment of the electoral law brought about an element of political inclusion for the losing parties, it has ushered in unstable coalitions. There is a need to spell out clearly the roles of coalition partners so that they will not feel cheated, lest the country continue to experience quick turnover of governments. That is not good for economic stability as policy uncertainty erodes investor confidence. It is partly for that reason that GDP growth fell from 4.8% in 2005-2010 to 3.3% in 2012-2017.

SADC interventions must come up with sustainable solutions to guarantee personal freedoms instead of following a similar trend which invariably obtain similar results. Policies that enhance Basotho participation in the economy must be promoted. For instance, the textile and apparel sector which employs nearly 47,000 has failed to diversify in terms of sources of investment with control of the businesses in Taiwan and other Asian nationals, linkages with the Lesotho economy limited, and participation by indigenous investors non-existent[29]. In fact, 53.6% of manufacturing sector is fully foreign owned of which in the textile alone it accounts for 78.0%[30]. Financial inclusion remains a huge challenge for Lesotho as close to 35.0% of the population is either in informal or excluded from mainstream banking, hence access to loans remains a dream for many people[31]. Most of these challenges can be addressed with policy certainty, which however depends on political stability.

 


[1] Matlosa, K. 1999. ‘Conflict and Conflict Management: Lesotho’s Political Crisis After the 1998 Election’, Lesotho Social Science Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp.: 163-196. Available At:  https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/ [Last Accessed:  28 January 2019].
[2] Matlosa, K. 1999. ‘Conflict and Conflict Management: Lesotho’s Political Crisis After the 1998 Election’, ibid.
[3] Matlosa, K. 1999. ‘Conflict and Conflict Management: Lesotho’s Political Crisis After the 1998 Election’, ibid.
[4] IMF 2018. Kingdom of Lesotho 2017 Article IV Consultation, International Monetary Fund: Washington, D. C. Available At: https://www.imf.org/ [Last Accessed: 2 October 2018].
[5] Matlosa, K. 1999. ‘Conflict and Conflict Management: Lesotho’s Political Crisis After the 1998 Election’, ibid.
[6] Matlosa, K. 1999. ‘Conflict and Conflict Management: Lesotho’s Political Crisis After the 1998 Election’, ibid.
[7] UNCTAD 2018. UNCTADStat Database, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development: Geneva. Available At: http://unctadstat.unctad.org/ [Last Accessed: 3 October 2018].
[8] UNCTAD 2018. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[9] Matlosa, K. 1999. ‘Conflict and Conflict Management: Lesotho’s Political Crisis After the 1998 Election’, ibid.; SADC 2015. SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao Final Report, Southern African Development Community: Gaborone. Available At: http://www.gov.ls/  [Last Accessed: 25 September 2018]; SARS 2019. Selected Historical Rates, South African Reserve Bank: Pretoria. Available At: https://www.resbank.co.za/ [Last Accessed: 6 February 2019].
[10] WB 2018.  Lesotho, on the World Bank Website, viewed on 22 November 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/.
[11] UNCTAD 2018. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[12] UNCTAD 2018. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[13] SADC 2015. SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao Final Report, ibid.
[14] SADC 2015. SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao Final Report, ibid.
[15] SADC 2015. SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao Final Report, ibid.
[16] SADC 2015. SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao Final Report, ibid.
[17] Kabi, P. 2018. Thabane Fires Maliehe, on the Lesotho Times Website, viewed on 5 October 2018, from http://www.lestimes.com/.
[18] PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, Parliament of the Kingdom of Lesotho: Maseru. Available At: http://www.finance.gov.ls/ [Last Accessed: 4 October 2018].
[19] WB 2018.  Lesotho, ibid.
[20] IMF 2018. Kingdom of Lesotho 2017 Article IV Consultation, ibid.
[21] BBS 2018. Performance of the Manufacturing Sector in Lesotho Fourth Quarter 2017, Basotho Bureau of Statistics: Maseru. Available At: http://www.bos.gov.ls/ [Last Accessed: 24 September 2018]; PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, ibid.
[22] IMF 2018. Kingdom of Lesotho 2017 Article IV Consultation, ibid.
[23] BBS 2018. Performance of the Manufacturing Sector in Lesotho Fourth Quarter 2017, ibid.
[24] PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, ibid.
[25] PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, ibid.; SARS 2019. Selected Historical Rates, ibid.
[26] IMF 2018. Kingdom of Lesotho 2017 Article IV Consultation, ibid.
[27] PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, ibid.
[28] PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, ibid.
[29] PKL 2018. Budget Speech to Parliament of Lesotho for the 2018/19 Fiscal Year, ibid.
[30] BBS 2018. Performance of the Manufacturing Sector in Lesotho Fourth Quarter 2017, ibid.
[31] IMF 2018. Kingdom of Lesotho 2017 Article IV Consultation, ibid.

 

 

 


Enerst Mhlanga

Role: Junior Regional Analyst
Contact: enerst@politicaleconomy.org.za
Enerst is a Social Scientist specialising in comparative analysis of socio-political development...

Tapiwa Ronald Cheuka

Former Editing and Research Specialist

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