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Revolution for Prosperity: Wealth and state power



As Sam Matekane was forming his party, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) three weeks ago, a friend sent me a clip in which Namibia’s First Lady was talking about money-wealth and political power. She was saying, to us the public, power and wealth are uncomfortable bedfellows.

To the wealthy or powerful, however, it makes sense for the two to go together, she said. For what is the value of being wealthy when you lack power to make your wealth count? Or, is power worth anything when you are poor and unable, for that reason, to take advantage of opportunities that power opens up?

The wealthy feel the need to have and use power to amass more wealth, and to protect their wealth. The powerful feel the need to turn their power into wealth and use the wealth to retain and increase their power.
We do not know if this is Matekane’s reasoning. Indeed, we do not know why he formed a party at all.

What is abundantly clear, though, is that the RFP party is only a quantitative addition to the over 40 liberal, free-market formations that call themselves political parties in Lesotho. This is to say, there is nothing qualitatively different that the leaders of RFP are proposing to change for the better the lives of Lesotho’s poor citizen.

Largely, we see the RFP’s similarity with existing parties in the fact that leaders and members of at least three formations have declared that Matekane’s party has a lot in common with theirs. According to the media, one of the leaders has gone the extra mile to disband his party, and become part of RFP, even though his message is confusing.

Those parties who have not declared their commonality with the RFP would have no difficulty saying what the three parties have said. All what members and leaders of the Democratic Congress (DC)have done was to engage in an unhelpful attempt to distance their former leader from Matekane.

The leader of the Basotho Action Party (BAP), Professor Nqosa Mahao, came close to admitting a commonality of view with the RFP, even though in an uncomplimentary manner, describing leaders of RFP as thieves who stole a section of his party’s manifesto on law-and-order.

What the good professor should have said is that there is little chance of the RFP being able to address Lesotho’s law-and-order crisis, especially when the phrase ‘law-and-order’ is used, as it should, to cover a wide area beyond murder and violence against women and children.

Companies belonging to individuals and groups have thrived and prospered in spite, perhaps even because, of Lesotho’s current law-and-order crisis. And immense fortunes have been made. For some, to want to change Lesotho’s current law-and-order crisis is to want an end to opportunities of amassing wealth.

Even if they wanted to be different, the RFP would never have been able to be different, and would never have been able to present qualitatively different ways of ending corruption, poverty, and socio-economic inequality in Lesotho. Given that the RFP is just another liberal free-market party, it is bound to traverse territory traversed by existing free-market parties in Lesotho, and to propose solutions no different from those that have been proposed by free-market parties in the last 55 years.

At all times, the wealthy’s pursuit for power is undesirable and not inevitable. Similarly, the powerful’s pursuit of wealth is undesirable and not inevitable. As Karl Marx observed many years ago, proper liberalism — ours is not even close to being proper — keeps power and wealth apart, the wealthy being content to allow the executive branch of the government possession of public power, and to use it to service interests of the wealthy, and manage their affairs.

The point has often been made: What pass for political parties in Lesotho are hastily cobbled formations established for sole purpose of securing power with a view to advance the fortunes of leaders. Individuals and groups with interests and aims such as these cannot possess a sense of public duty, one of the scarcest virtues among Lesotho politicians.

Where it exists, a sense of public duty demands separation of power and wealth. It is possible. Since the French Revolution, and well into the 20th century, the French civil service was reputed for this. Those who constituted the public service considered themselves to be privileged in occupying public positions where they had the opportunity to exercise power over the functioning of society; shaping the direction in which society changed, or stayed the same; and providing solutions when hitches occurred.

With all their wealth and better salaries, industrialists and private sector company executives do not have this power and, therefore, cannot exercise it.
The solution to our problems in Lesotho is not having as many liberal free-market parties as possible. Instead, it is having politicians who possess a sense of public duty, and who not only say they do but prove themselves to possess it in their actions.

Fittingly, the territory that all free market parties in Lesotho have traversed, and which RFP will also traverse, consists of concerns and interests of the middle class. Free market parties are established to address these concerns with a view to make this country more livable for the middle classes.

The greatest losers are the poor, the working class and street vendors. From the beginning, their lot has been to vote middle class free market parties into power. As we have seen over the years, once in power the middle classes unleash the police on the workers when they demonstrate in pursuit of a living wage. This is going to continue. The workers are now being persuaded to vote for one of the newly-formed parties on some false claim it will treat workers differently.

Having no new message to sell, parties that have resources to do so will be greatly tempted to buy votes and political support with cash and jobs. This will further entrench transactional politics in Lesotho.

Motlatsi Thabane

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