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Learn from Moshoeshoe I: EU tells leaders

Pascalinah Kabi

European Union (EU) Ambassador Christian Manahl has urged Lesotho leaders to learn from their founding father – Moshoeshoe I – and forgive each other in order to unify the country and its people.

Mr Manahl said it was important for the leaders to make clear distinction between amnesty and forgiveness.

He said this while delivering his closing remarks at the Lesotho Council of Non-Government Organisation (LCN) sponsored Post-Election Dialogue held in Maseru between 18-19 October.

The two-day dialogue, attended by both government and opposition representatives, civil society organisations and representatives from higher learning institutions – came hardly four months after Lesotho’s June 3rd snap elections; a third general election episode in five years, resulting from Lesotho’s political and security turmoil.

Lesotho’s political turmoil took a heavy toll in 30 August 2014, during an attempted coup which saw the Kingdom dominating Southern African Development Community (SADC) agenda for the wrong reasons, for the past four years.

However, the post-election dialogue will be followed by a National Multi-stakeholder dialogue set for November 16-17 as part of efforts to implement SADC decisions.

Lesotho is set to embark on a national reform agenda that will see various stakeholders working to develop policies and guidelines like in the case of the media, while in some cases they will review to strengthen laws in areas of judiciary, constitutional, security and public service.

Mr Manahl said he was impressed by the frankness of the dialogue, the amount of goodwill from all sides to finally address the deep-rooted problems, their determination to open a new chapter in the history of Lesotho as well as willingness to work collectively and transparently.

“I also realised that the challenges ahead are daunting. In order to overcome the recurrent political violence which has beset Lesotho for several decades, a sustained and sincere commitment from all sides is needed,” Mr Manahl said, warning that there would however be differences and disagreements, moments of doubt and hesitation, and the temptation to give up or to opt for quick fixes.

He therefore asked all the leaders to brace themselves for a difficult and bumpy road ahead and that they must persist with a clear vision of their objective of “the Lesotho you want.”

Mr Manahl said after many years of recurrent turmoil, politically motivated violence and instability, the leaders now had the opportunity to open a new chapter and lead the country towards a better, more peaceful, and stable future, hence the need and thus to lay the foundations for renewed economic growth and job creation.

He said this was what Basotho people expected from their leaders, and in particular the young generation, who look up to their leaders with hope that they will not disappoint them.

Like all countries in our closely interconnected world, Mr Manahl said, Lesotho was faced with a very competitive economic environment.

He said new investments are a driving force for economic growth, and employment opportunities for young people would only materialise if Lesotho achieves a degree of political stability which it has not seen for a long time.

“This post-electoral dialogue is a crucial first step on the reform process. I trust that the principles adopted and practiced here during these two days – inclusiveness, sincerity, non-puritanism, respect for each other, and a sense of common purpose, will guide you on the way forward,” Mr Manahl said.

He added: “As you now embark on the next steps, let me share with you a few observations on justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and amnesty, which, I believe, are at the heart of your discussions.”

He said the above were related and yet different and that it was important to maintain conceptual clarity about them.

He pleaded with the leaders to clearly distinguish between amnesty and forgiveness; saying that amnesty was a legal act whereas forgiveness was an individual expression of mercy.

Mr Manahl said some of the leaders might say forgiveness had nothing to do with politics, and that state matters should be dealt with in a strictly legal manner.

“I disagree with that, and some of the previous speakers who referred to Lesotho’s history would also disagree. Was it not the founding father of your proud nation, His Majesty King Moshoeshoe I, who forgave the Rakotsoane cannibals after they had killed his grandfather?

“Was it not this remarkable act of magnanimity or mercy as well as Moshoeshoe’s diplomatic skills and his ability to seek reconciliation and cooperation that helped create the Basotho Kingdom?

“No political system can be stable without justice. But justice requires careful judgement. Sometimes retribution causes or perpetuates divisions, and it is forgiveness and magnanimity that unifies a society and a nation,” Mr Manahl said.

He said the seven decades of peace Europeans enjoyed in their continent was a result of reconciliation among the nations who had spent centuries fighting each other and slaughtering their neighbours in the name of religion or by a misguided sense of being superior to others.

Mr Manahl said it took outstanding leaders to overcome these historic divisions and to lay the foundations of their union, which has brought an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity to Europe.

“Let me give you another example where forgiveness has plaid a crucial role in politics, and that is in post-genocide Rwanda. After this biggest human catastrophe in postcolonial Africa, the new government in Kigali was faced with a dilemma: There were tens of thousands of people, mobilised by the former extremist leadership, who had participated in the genocide and killed, raped and maimed.

“It was practically impossible for the formal justice system to deal with this magnitude of crimes; so a process was established whereby the culprits could admit their crimes in local councils, and many of them received sentences in the form of community service, or had to rebuild the homes of victims or work in their fields.

“The culprits could thus receive forgiveness from the victims, or, more often, from surviving relatives. These “gacaca courts”, as they were called, have contributed essentially to the post-genocide reconciliation in Rwanda,” he said.

He said three important lessons were drawn from Rwanda with the first being forgiveness based on an admission of wrong-doing; the second forgiveness as a privilege of the victims;

and the third, that it required the participation of a whole society to achieve lasting reconciliation.

He said only truth and forgiveness lead to true reconciliation and that an amnesty could be part of a process of transitional justice.

He however warned that amnesty without admission of guilt by the culprits, and without genuine forgiveness by the victims, only perpetuated resentment, and encouraged the aggrieved to seek redress by taking the law into their own hands.

Mr Manahl said this could thus lead to a continuation of impunity and of the cycle of violence Lesotho had seen over the last decades.

While he acknowledged that Lesotho was not post-World War Europe and not post-genocide Rwanda, her situation was different and that the leaders have to find the right way to deal with her past in order to build a better future.

“You can draw inspiration from other examples, but you have to design your own process of reconciliation, of reform, and create a renewed unity. Listen to everybody who offers advice, but decide for yourselves,” he said.

The Gacaca courts were a system of community justice inspired by the Rwandan tradition, where Gacaca can be loosely translated to mean “Justice amongst the grass”. Many of the system’s challenges stemmed from the inherent contradiction of using conciliatory process for a retributive purpose. Retributive justice emphasizes holding individuals accountable for their actions through commensurate punishment. Gacaca has been credited for its swift delivery of results and trials. However, these are meaningless if the process employed is fundamentally flawed. In 2011, a Human Rights Watch report pointed out a number of procedural concerns with gacaca trials, indicating the process could have been enhanced by employing legal professionalism, including the ability of the judges to weigh the credibility of evidence and render sound and impartial judgement to avoid a repeat of crimes perpetrated, ensure real justice and allow the process of forgiveness to take place.

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