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Makoa: fix structural flaws



Abel Chapatarongo

MASERU – FOR Professor Francis Kopano Makoa Lesotho’s constant bouts of political instability emanate from deep structural flaws in the institutions of governance.

The structural flaws impede the full realisation of democracy, he argues.

Makoa, one of Lesotho’s eminent political scientists, says Lesotho’s political parties, across the entire spectrum, have not been “vehicles of democracy” in organising people to enjoy political freedoms.

He says political parties have only served to mobilise people “for purposes of getting into Parliament” without giving priority to teaching voters about their individual and political rights.

Makoa argues political parties have not taken the time to educate their people on issues that will ensure good governance in Lesotho, issues of rule of law, accountability and transparency.

“They have failed to empower people so that they can assume ownership of this democratic dispensation,” he says.

“Politicians focus on grabbing power rather than empowering the people.”

The result, Makoa argues, is that people are powerless to hold politicians to account with the institutions designed to monitor politicians having been rendered impotent.

One such institution that has suffered as a result of these systemic flaws is parliament, he says.

Instead of overseeing policy issues, Parliament has been rendered virtually ineffective as MPs are subordinated to their parties instead of being independent overseers of government.

“MPs have lost the power to challenge the government,” he says.

Laws that would have been drafted by the government are not up for discussion but are simply passed, he says.

With Parliament having been rendered impotent, Makoa argues the result has been that the government has morphed into an all-powerful structure.

“The government has become stronger; it is not being held accountable and is not amenable to public opinion and now have audacity to dismiss public opinion,” he says.

Makoa says “the very organisation of the government is not conducive to the practice of democracy”.

But how do we deal with these complex challenges?

Makoa argues the solution lies in reforming the entire system to make it responsive to the needs of the people.

He says as part of the political reforms being touted by the government to advance democracy in Lesotho he would propose a complete “separation of powers”.

Parliament must be separated from the government, he says.

“This will free Parliament from government control and domination.”

If that is done, MPs will also finally find their voice to hold the government accountable, he says.

The current practice of selecting government ministers from Parliament must also be replaced with the Prime Minister picking his ministers from technocrats in various fields.

This will free MPs to perform their duties with diligence, free from political party manipulation but because they are seeking political office as ministers, they cannot criticize the man who appoints ministers.

Makoa bemoaned the current status within Lesotho’s political parties.

“We have a highly politicised society but with the majority disenfranchised because they don’t have any leverage they can exercise over the party.”

He says the lack of democracy within parties is a direct result of how they are structured.

“They are all controlled from the top,” he says.

“All of them do not have space for their people to exercise their own democratic rights.”

But when everything has been said and done, Makoa argues the key to resolving Lesotho’s challenges requires a return to constitutionalism.

“We must be guided and be ready to live by the values embodied in the Constitution. The Constitution should not just be a document, it must be everything that we hallow,” he says.

Makoa says “democracy can be enjoyed if we have a strong system of accountability”.

“You must establish a system of accountability and you will have the rule of law.”

Makoa feels that at present Lesotho has “a Constitution without constitutionalism”.

Makoa admits that Lesotho is at present deeply polarised.

But to address the current political impasse and take the country forward, he says the current administration must “improve its internal governance”.

“There are serious systemic problems and one of which is governance. The government must do its job and must be impartial in discharging its duties.”

“It must apply the law fairly,” he says.

“They must espouse constitutionalism as an ideology and address issues of governance, and once that is done unruly soldiers will no longer be there and the police will not encourage corruption.”

Makoa was born on March 11, 1945 at Lifajaneng in Mohale’s Hoek to parents who were peasant farmers. When the harvest was poor, his father would travel to work in the gold mines in South Africa.

When he completed his Junior Certificate at St Thomas Secondary School in Mafeteng, the young Makoa could not proceed further because the family had run out of money.

That proved a telling blow to Makoa’s ambitions.

In August 1964, Makoa eventually joined the Police Mobile Unit (PMU), a unit that was reserved for riot control in anticipation of general elections that took place in 1966.

He says having been forced to drop out of school, the decision to join the police “was a terrible choice”.

In January 1969, Makoa left the PMU and joined the regular police service at the Maseru Central Charge Office. He doubled up as a police clerk and driver.

But even when he appeared down and out, Makoa still had a thirst for education.

“That feeling never disappeared; I always felt it was a mistake not to be educated up to Ordinary Level. That desire was never extinguished.”

And so later in 1969, Makoa began studying for his O-Levels through distance learning after he enrolled with the International Correspondence School (ICS) based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Three years after he began his studies, Makoa passed his Cambridge O-Level exams.

In 1972, Makoa was promoted to a Police Sergeant.

Armed with his O-level certificate Makoa still wanted to further his studies but his immediate boss then was not impressed.

When his boss realised Makoa was on the verge of securing a scholarship to study at the NUL, he slapped him with an immediate transfer to some rural outpost in Ha-Ramabanta.

He felt he was being punished and an opportunity to further his studies was lost.

Makoa says educated people found it extremely hard to work within the police those days.

For the next four years, Makoa worked at the Police Training College as an instructor for new recruits.

He left in 1975 when he was transferred to the Ministry of Labour as a district labour officer.

In 1979, Makoa attended a four-month course in industrial relations at the British Ministry of Labour in England, which he says was a labour college meant for the working class in Britain. He later that year proceeded to do a two-year diploma in industrial relations at Ruskin College, Oxford.

His thesis was on industrial relations and racism within banks in Lesotho.

He later enrolled with the National University of Lesotho to complete his Political Science and Public Administration degree programme.

Makoa says his stint at Ruskins helped shape his political consciousness as the community there was very active politically, hence his decision to pursue political science.

“I thought studying Political Science and understanding politics would contribute to my development and give me the skills I required to respond to political phenomena and solve political problems at home,” he says.

That made sense given the complex political problems Lesotho was going through in the early 1980s which culminated in a military coup in 1986 that toppled then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan.

Yet, in spite of the tense political atmosphere in Lesotho then, Makoa says students at the NUL enjoyed academic freedom with very little interference from the government.

He attributes the vibrant political culture to the decolonisation process that was underway in southern Africa that saw thousands of exiled students from South Africa and Namibia studying at the NUL.

“We had a diversity of people and experiences at the university who were radical in their own assessment,” he says.

Makoa holds a Masters in Political Science from Kansas University in the United States. He also holds a Doctorate from the University of Liverpool in the UK. His doctoral thesis was titled, Lesotho: The Politics of Development.

He retired from the NUL in 2010 when he turned 65 but was invited back on a year-on-year contract until 2014.

Quizzed about the alleged repression and human rights violations in the 1970s and 80’s, Makoa says it would be inaccurate to point at casualties as having come from one side.

“There were casualties on both sides of the political spectrum with a few policemen being killed during the clashes,” he says.

He says the new democratic government after the re-introduction of democracy in 1993 should have set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate what really happened during the troubled years after 1970.

“If you declare a state of emergency you expect resistance and the regime (of Chief Leabua Jonathan) had to respond by violent means to stay in power.”

“We thought the first action the new government would do after the 1993 elections would have been to open up those documents and study what happened. You cannot have stability if you allow crime to continue.”

Francis Kopano Makoa Fact File

  • Born March 11, 1945
  • Member of Police Mobile Unit 1964-1969
  • Member of the Lesotho police force 1969-1975; Worked at the Maseru Training College
  • 1975-84: Department of Labour
  • Doctoral thesis title: Lesotho: The Politics of Development
  • Studied at Ruskin College in Oxford for an Industrial Relations diploma
  • Masters in Political Science: 1987
  • PhD from University of Liverpool, UK: 1994
  • 1985-2010: Lecturer in Political Science at the NUL

“We must be guided by the Constitution and we must be ready to live by values embodied in the Constitution.”

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