This week I want us to look at the cause of our ailing politics. What is ailing Lesotho politics?
Weak political parties produce weak governments. Strong political parties will produce strong governments. People take membership of political parties looking at what government has to offer. The benefits of government attract them to use political parties as a passage to government. They join political parties in order to get on the government gravy train.
Stanford Cowen was a consultant who helped Basotho draft the first constitution that established a responsible government in 1958. This forced us to adopt political parties. The Basutoland African Congress had to conform into Cowen’s definition of a political party to include a word party in its name in 1959, thereby breaking the liberation concept. Cowen wanted to divide Basotho and usher us into the world of partisan politics, with the introduction of manifestos.
Cowen strongly advanced the new thinking that process, ideology, values and principles are not important and that parties should exist to make promises. Cheap people have infiltrated our political parties and use it as a tunnel to gravies in government. Cheap people are driven by greedy and selfish, and they are guided by these questions: “What is in it for me? Will this please me? Will it ease me?”
Lately many people seem to want to use political parties as a passage or path to pleasures without a sense of responsibility, even abandoning or utterly neglecting a party that put them in government in the name of doing their own thing.
Since the 1960s, the parties have framed the discourse in our country through a variety of means. Their most important function has been the selection of candidates to represent the party in general elections. And today the most important arena of this most important function is the election of a leader who becomes a Prime Minister. No office does more to influence the course of our politics, so it follows that party institutions that produce a product called ‘leader’ are very important.
Many people were concerned about the damage the former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had inflicted on Lesotho’s political institutions. What they are missing is that Thabane is a product of bad political institutions. The main infirmity is that this country has very weak political parties. They are weak because they are subject to control by unrepresentative voters on their fringes and those who fund them.
A strong party is a party that presents voters’ with a coherent policy agenda. A strong party is built on a strong foundation of values and principles. These principles inform the ideology and the ideology dictates policies. If there is no principle, there is no true north, nothing you can depend upon. If the truth is to be told most of our political parties lack principles because of politics of opportunism.
Mahatma Gandhi emphasized, “a person cannot do right in one department whilst attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole.” How can one mismanage a political party and expect to manage government well? The irony is that we trust people who mismanage political parties to manage government.
In my opinion we can liken a strong political party to the process of making bricks that are ready for building. Every brick goes through the process of moulding and drying and eventually burnt in kilns to impart hardness, strength and to increase the density of the brick. To get a good quality brick it has to be heated to the required temperature. Some physical and chemical changes take place in the burning of bricks.
Political parties are supposed to mould, dry and burn a product that will be ready for society to use. It is through their values, principles and ideology that we will be able to determine the final product, yet a lot of political parties do not have a set of values, principles nor an ideology. Anything goes in those political parties, there is no sense of direction.
Wealth and power are big on the agenda of those who use political parties as a tunnel, and what is shameful is that lately they make no excuse for it anymore. They are divorced from values of their political parties. They talk about serving in government while absolutely mugging their own political parties that take them to government. It weakens political parties in the eyes of the electorate.
It is very unfortunate that it appears that many voters have lost their moral compass, or at least set it aside for the sake of political expediency. I am saying this because deeds, statements and behaviour that would have spelled doom for any politician in the past have now become normalised.
They have become deaf to conscience — that little voice inside that writer C S Lewis called “the sovereign of the universe.” He believed that conscience is the pressure we feel upon our will to do what is right. Conscience “is not to be argued with, but obeyed, and even to question it is to incur guilt.”
We have created the monsters that gulp us down. We are willingly caught up in our own hypocrisy, double-talk, show, pomp, and vain glory. We are the dumb millions who blindly follow these unprincipled and megalomaniac politicians of empty promises. On the other hand, their megalomania is our megalomania. They are acting out our frustrations, repressed emotions, and primitive impulses.
We are not willing to pay the price for a clean and corruption-free government. We are not willing to wait for our turn. We want those special favours and privileges that we are not legally entitled to at the expense of our fellow humans. Do we want to discontinue the present state of affairs? Do we want to stop from going over the precipice? Do we want to come out of the present morass?
If the answers to these questions are yes, we urgently need a method of procedure (modus operandi) that respects political parties as an oven that produces products that can serve in government. Let us wake up from our deep slumber, become aware, and take the path back to building strong political parties.
I joined the congress movement because I believed in its principles, values, ideology and policies. Former leader of the Democratic Congress, Pakalitha Mosisili, was misunderstood when he talked about congress and nationalism being “metsi le oli” (water and oil). He was speaking into the unique selling proposition that each party is supposed to have. Basotho must differentiate one political party from the other.
I will admit some people have used the movement as a passage to government. But like Mahatma Gandhi I believe “a principle is a principle and in no case can it be watered down because of our incapacity to live it in practice. We have to strive to achieve it, and the striving should be conscious, deliberate and hard.”
When parties are strong, they are more likely to pursue national policies that appeal to the ordinary voter — and they will elect candidates with that in mind. When they are weak, political parties use their manifesto document only to win elections and later ignore it. That is immoral.