MASERU — United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Ahunna Eziakhonwa-Onochie says Basotho must redefine the issue of political tolerance to consolidate democracy.
Eziakhonwa-Onochie was speaking at a seminar organised by the UNDP to debate issues of political tolerance to mark Human Rights Day on Friday.
“I would like to propose that we forget about the textbook definitions of political tolerance and talk today about issues that concern us in our context here in Lesotho: What values and conduct on the part of politicians and citizens would help Lesotho become a place of political integrity, as we enter a national election?” Eziakhonwa-Onochie said.
She said although Lesotho has not seen much political violence since the 1998 political crisis, the political disturbances were still fresh in people’s minds.
“The devastation of 1998 is not far off. So the prospect of a national election makes all of us uneasy,” she said.
Eziakhonwa-Onochie said with a general election set for next year there were concerns about “what will happen this time?”
“This is a question that must hang at the back of everyone’s mind.”
Eziakhonwa-Onochie was referring to the 1998 riots that reduced the capital Maseru to ashes after opposition political parties rejected the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD)’s election victory.
The government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was only saved after the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) sent in soldiers to quell the disturbances.
Speaking at the same seminar, Communications Minister Mothetjoa Metsing also bemoaned the levels of political intolerance in Lesotho saying such practices had in the past resulted in unnecessary bloodshed.
“We need political tolerance in Lesotho. Sometimes lives have been lost due to lack of tolerance,” Metsing said.
Motlamelle Kapa, a political science lecturer at the National University of Lesotho said the increased number of political parties was a clear sign of political intolerance in Lesotho.
“We have a proliferation of political parties because there is no political tolerance in Lesotho,” Kapa said.
“We see different creatures that call themselves parties. People form parties because they want to gain political positions.”
There are currently 24 political parties in Lesotho, a high figure for a country with about 1.8 million people.
“Political parties must introspect and see if they address the people’s needs. We have so many in Lesotho whose manifestos are not so different. This is a clear sign of intolerance,” Kapa said.
But Metsing rejected Kapa’s assertion saying the proliferation of parties was a healthy sign of the country’s pluralistic politics.