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Civil society: Cornerstone builders rejected

By Sofonea Shale

WHEN Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, LCD went public about the discontent within the coalition government and indicated that his party has found the Democratic Congress as an alternative partner to coalesce with, many believed the current regime had run its course. When the then SADC Chair of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation and President of Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba came in, it was evident the coalition government had reached a point where unfacilitated discussions could no longer be fruitful. Civil society and heads of churches, among others, suggested a third party.  As the situation escalated amidst accords reached in Windhoek, Victoria Falls, Pretoria first and second, and Maseru, civil society worked tirelessly to seek audience with the trio with little success. Though some people find it convenient to label civil society as weak, irrelevant, biased and generally unhelpful, this column chooses to address a different set of questions which seek clarity on why the situation has deteriorated and civil society does not seem to have made a meaningful contribution early enough to have spared the Kingdom from being crowned a main actor in the international stage of political clowns.

In the post-Ketumile Masire political dialogue in Lesotho later popularly referred to the Heads of Churches Mediation/Dialogue, the role of the three coalition leaders, albeit from different sides, was very critical. Deputy Prime Minister was in government while Prime Minister and Morena Thesele ‘Maseribane were in the opposition. When government reluctantly participated in the non-state actor led dialogue and with some threats to the sustenance of the same process, it was Deputy Prime Minister that civil society would target to help government remain loyal to the talks as the main actor.  Before this initiative, Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Dr Phooko in the Prime Minister’s Office and Hon Minister of Transport Tšele Chakela had seen the role civil society played in easing the confrontation between the government and the taxi operators in a process that led the two parties to agree on Bishop Paul Khoarai to mediate.  A significant level of trust has therefore been created and it was possible in many instances to unlock some bottlenecks of the process.

The current Prime Minister who was a leader of Opposition not granted the status of Official Leader of Opposition was very strong on the commitment of government to talks.  If he did not turn up in two meetings in a row, a civil society delegation would be sent to give him audience on his reluctance to attend. Hon Thesele took BNP leadership at that time and he was not a light weight at all in the talks, in fact when he joined the dialogue as the leader, he gave the process that had matured a new form of energy, interaction and engagement.  As mediation team wanted to ensure that process does not rollback and all keep tight to the finish line, Hon Thesele became a kingmaker in the last days of that mediation.  It is true that no seats allocation was redone as the opposition wanted but the contentious issues including the allocation mechanism as defined in the law were revisited to the satisfaction of both government and opposition. Just before 2012 General Elections, it was civil society again which on the basis of its projection of possibility of hung parliament and lack of clarity on the constitutional guidelines on the steps towards formation of government, coalition in particular convened a consensus building seminar on constitution. Besides, it was this sector which ensured public awareness and went full force to ensure that potential different constitutional interpretations do not confuse the otherwise sensitive post-election situation.  This is why even today civil society is accused for having midwifed the birth of coalition government.  This humble profile of civil society demonstrates that the sector may know and understand these processes but would never act from a position of imposition rather awareness creation, persuasion and advisory. None in the trio can say does not understand the role, the approach and the potential Lesotho civil society has in addressing conflicts.  Politicians like anyone in conflict believe that they would resolve conflicts by coercing other party into their position. Little do they remember that violence begets violence, coercion invites resistance and that negotiation is cheaper than force.

Civil society has been engaged in their behind curtains work and here is the summary of such.  In its shuttle between Commissioner of Police and the Army Commander, Civil society was facilitating a process where the two leaders would find reason to withdraw from public addresses that appeared to be seeking public sympathy on the otherwise sensitive security matters but the situation ran faster than the civil society pace.  Civil society had a pre SADC Summit seminar which culminated in the delegation sent to SADC Summit at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to lobby the Troika to be considerate of the situation in Lesotho from civil society and be advised that success of its mediation depends on the extent of its collaboration with local processes. Though some feeble minds tried to demonise civil society mission into a naïve political gimmick, civil society remained firm on progressive ways of better handling Lesotho situation. In the Post SADC Summit internal interactions and efforts to get audience from the trio, civil society sought to provide direction in consideration of the different options that different political parties have.  In this light civil society held a Multi-stakeholder conference on the current political situation where the trio was expected to provide briefs which could go a long way in enabling Basotho chart their own future with no success.

When the doors seemed to be locked for civil society as the situation deteriorates, the hard question to answer is, why?  It is not like any of these leaders do not know the role that Lesotho civil society can play.  In fact at the SADC-Council of NGOs Peace Summer School in Harare Zimbabwe where the experience of Lesotho civil society was presented as a case study, civil society fraternity in the region agreed to build a team of regional civil society mediators to be a counterpart to SADC and Lesotho case shall be a model.  Though honoured externally, it would seem that civil society at home is viewed as more of an inconvenience than help at least by leaders not people. Whether it has been by default or design Lesotho civil society has been left out in the list of stakeholders that SADC Facilitator Ntate Cyril Ramaphosa was set to meet. Thanks to the advice of some honest stakeholders, Facilitator finally met civil society.  In his brief discussion with civil society, Ramaphosa was amazed at the effort he said was put in the civil society statement pointing to the future and how the current situation could be addressed. Looking at the consistency on the issues civil society raised to the SADC Summit and the current position paper, the South African Deputy President marvelled at the skill within the sector and admitted that what he was told about Lesotho civil society being unique was indeed observable. Ramaphosa believes that civil society articulation on what Lesotho may need in the short, medium and long term presents something that can be easily engaged to facilitate robust discussion among parties in dialogue. Looking at the Lesotho civil society profile in conflict/mediation, its appreciation in the civil society fraternity regionally and the impression of the SADC Facilitator on the one hand and the struggle for audience with trio on the other, one can only ask, is Lesotho civil society, a cornerstone that builders have rejected?



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