The Basotho National Party (BNP) Deputy Leader, Chief Joang Molapo, says after many “difficult” years in which the party had “lost direction”, the BNP is finally regaining its “rightful” place within Lesotho’s political battlefield.
Now a member of Lesotho’s three-party government, which also comprises the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Chief Molapo, who is also the Minister of Home Affairs, insists the only way the BNP can only go now is up.
The BNP stalwart speaks with the Sunday Express (SE) in this wide-ranging interview.
SE: Lesotho’s political landscape has since changed, with the Basotho National Party (BNP) becoming part of the coalition government. It has been quite a long wait for the party to be back in power, since the founding leader, Leabua Jonathan was removed from power through a military coup in 1986 after being Lesotho’s prime minister from independence in 1966. How is the party dealing with this change in fortune?
Chief Molapo: As the BNP, we made a decision to have and manage a relationship with our two partners, the ABC and LCD.
Like in any other relationship, such a decision to commit yourself somehow sets you up in a certain way, psychologically.
So we have to manage everything we come across. What is very clear for us in this partnership is that we are together on policy and so far, we have not had a policy disagreement.
We have noticed that sometimes we all make mistakes but with good intentions and we are learning how to manage such situations.
We have also noticed that as different political parties, we also have other internal issues we need to deal with as individual parties.
When it comes to internal matters, respective parties have to make sure that they do not impact negatively on the coalition.
SE: Do you think you have a larger say on pertinent issues or is it only your partners whose voices are loudest?
Chief Molapo: When we agreed to enter this marriage (after the 26 May 2012 general election had failed to produce a single party with an outright majority win), we understood that we were going to be locked with two bulls.
What has been happening so far is that on certain issues, we have come down firmly in support of the positions of both our partners or not supporting them in some issues.
This has also been the case with us; at times, we got support from one or both our partners. The problem we recently had concerning accusations of non-consultation of the LCD (which nearly saw the coalition government collapsing last month), we also felt it would have been appropriate if the LCD had consulted us about their concerns.
We even asked them why they had shut us out. Was it because they thought we were unable to be transparent and even support them if their arguments made sense?
SE: So why do you think this internal discussion did not happen? Was it a management problem or lack of trust among the three parties in government?
Chief Molapo: The skill needed here is management and understanding how to handle matters transparently, so that we do not all end up blowing things out of proportion.
It’s key that we know what we are dealing with and analyse the possible outcomes and solutions.
I would like to emphasise that maintaining a healthy triangular relationship is important so that we don’t turn the dynamics of the relationship into constantly confrontational situations.
SE: How would you rate the kind of leadership style demonstrated by the coalition so far?
Chief Molapo: I believe consultation and democracy are important but I also understand from experience that in some cases, the leader sets the table and serves the dish he would have chosen in the interest of everybody’s health.
In such instances, everybody is expected to sit down and eat what’s on the table.
Our situation, as the first democratic coalition, is different in the sense that there are certain practical issues we previously overlooked.
We did not fully understand the roles of our leaders, for example. For us, this has been a learning curve. While we are a coalition, some systems or practices synonymous with a single-party government still apply, for instance, every leader in the world has an inner cabinet which he confides in and the use of advice he gets is at his own discretion.
There are also other circles that are trusted based on the histories shared and other factors. These are some of the dynamics we have to understand when we are dealing with certain issues.
In this coalition, the real issues we have to look at are the linkages and how these somehow create common areas which bind the parties together.
Prime Minister Thomas Thabane worked with Chief Thesele ‘Maseribane’s father a long time ago; would we say they are close, and if they are, to what an extent? The Prime Minister was in the LCD with Deputy Prime Minister (and current LCD leader) Mothetjoa Metsing.
So what was their relationship and how have they managed to translate that relationship into working together and ideologically?
We know that age-wise, Chief ‘Maseribane and Ntate Metsing are closer to one another and so how does the psychology of that closeness work? All of the three party leaders have unique qualities to contribute to the coalition.
Chief ‘Maseribane is a people’s person who started his active participation in the BNP at the grassroots of the structures and managed to win the hearts of his supporters.
Through his hard work and commitment to the party, this enabled the growth of a strong support base. The prime minister, as the founder of his party, is a wise man, experienced and has the qualities of a leader who has seen it all.
In the case of Ntate Metsing, it’s his firmness and courage to stand by the LCD after the split (which resulted in the Democratic Congress) that can be quite a grip and a unifying force.
SE: What opportunities do you see for your party after being out of government for so many years?
Chief Molapo: The biggest would be the golden opportunity to prove ourselves once again. At some point, we had reached a point where people would ask, “who are the people in the BNP who can seriously lead this country?
I think they can now see our leader and those in government, that we are serious people. We are driven by the passion to turn negatives to positives and the immense commitment to develop our people and our economy.
SE: It must have been difficult trying to remain relevant in an evolving political landscape…
Chief Molapo: Yes, it was difficult because what we were struggling with was the visibility of the party in terms of one-to-one contact with people.
What caused this was that for 10 years or so, the BNP lost direction and it was in danger of becoming something different to what it had originally stood for.
The leadership style did not respond to the issues that had then challenged the people.
As a result, selling the BNP brand was like selling dog-meat and as you know, no matter how one packages dog meat, it remains dog meat in a nice package, people will not buy it.
Now with our present leader, there is that understanding that what we represent should be similar to the global political philosophy of the political parties we are affiliated to.
This means when others are selling centre-left politics in any country, the people who are selling the centre-right position should be an effective and important balance to the other views.
In New Zealand, the New Zealand National Party is in government. They are part of what we call the centre-right parties of which we are a member.
We are optimistic that with the opportunity we now have to be in government, we can now repackage the BNP and become more competitive.
SE: What is there to show that the BNP is in government?
Chief Molapo: I would say the new energy that comes with our ideologies is very visible. We are a people who support the interrogation of programmes before they are launched.
We are fully aware that we are in government for the people not for the status, so how this project helps our people is what we are always looking at. In some areas, we are not happy with the response we are getting.
Some ministries would rather ask for money for the construction of office buildings and so we ask, is that a development priority? Because when ministries are told to make strategic interventions and then one says, an office, can we then begin to say to you have completely lost the plot?
Well, unless you can prove the building would be a massive intervention as far as improving livelihoods is concerned. As the Ministry of Home Affairs, we also don’t have headquarters because this building belongs to the Ministry of Public Works, but if you ask me if we need a headquarters, I would say the priority now is upgrading our ports of entry and modernising our systems and making sure they work efficiently, then regional passport offices and many other important areas.
Having a headquarters is at the bottom of the list of our priorities.
SE: How different are the BNP ideologies compared to the other political parties you are with in government, namely the ABC and LCD?
Chief Molapo: Let’s talk about development at macro-level because this is where I see our ideologies differ.
We understand that the government plays an important and frontline role in providing an environment that would enable the people to drive the country in a certain direction.
The government is like a large ship which needs competent people to drive it.
That is where the BNP ideology in me comes to the fore. People are the most important catalyst driver of where we want to go as a country.
We need to understand the developmental mass of the government and the developmental mass of the people.
If we understand this, the government must become a sound ship for it to be able to withstand various climatic variations we come across at sea.
SE: In this kind of an equation what are the weaknesses?
Chief Molapo: The biggest weakness is lack of human capacity to enable the steering of the ship (government) in the right direction.
In this situation we find ourselves in, we have to look at the performance of our various sectors and especially the education sector and also review our priorities and the allocation and management of our resources, among other interventions.
Building human capacity is a major issue because with that comes a nation of ideas which does not wait for the government to think for them.
What the government should do is provide opportunities and allow well-capacitated people to respond to those opportunities.
The people should also be able to identify for themselves where opportunities are within the economy, talk of innovation and formulation of business networks.
As the BNP, we are totally against spoon-feeding programmes and support training for self-reliance. We tell the people that we can support you for a while and then wean you off when you are ready to stand on your own feet.
If a baby can be weaned off its mother’s breast, what more grown men and women? The BNP believes its members should be part of the solutions and they do have a responsibility towards nation-building.
SE: Which sectors would you say were not fully tapped into in the past 10 or so years?
Chief Molapo: I think agriculture is one of such sectors where there was a lot of misalignment of programmes. We are now in a phase where we are trying to reengineer the sector.
I think the business of subsidy without evaluating the impact of the programme was largely misguided. Over the years, we have not really moved forward agriculturally, in terms of fully diversifying and building more capacity to enable commercialisation and value-addition.
We have a number of comparative advantages as a country but we need to structure our responses in such a manner that can take advantage of what we can produce in a climate like ours.
Fruit-production is one area we can maximise. I also think while we have constructed dams for the export of water and local supply, we should have also prioritised irrigation to boost commercial agriculture.
I think the Metolong Dam could have brought hope in the arid regions like Mafeteng. Finally, with our climate and abundant water, we can establish hundreds of fish-farms, grow shrimps and multitudes of other edible water species, which we can export and also help to strengthen nutrition and food security.