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What makes political parties tick?



On Friday 30 July 2021 a Facebook friend, Mokhosi Mohapi, posted on Facebook. I saw the post before going into a meeting and wanted to engage on the issues raised but I could not. This week I want to focus on what makes political organisations successful. Mohapi starts his argument by raising very important questions. “Are politics here in Lesotho based on any doctrine? If so, does this mean the 40 or so registered political parties all have a doctrine to be followed or do they simply exist because in the aftermath of an election party leaders have better chances of getting to Parliament through Proportional Representation allocation? I might not be active in politics, neither have I academically studied politics, but I work in a very politically driven environment. Oops politics are about choices taken amidst alternative choices. However, in the party-political stratosphere I am unshaken in my view that Lesotho politics is about advancing oneself closer to a parliamentary seat hook line and sinker. Political doctrine should influence national governance. National governance should be about national economic policy. Now if this is correct, given that I stand to be corrected, if a political party does not have its founding (principles) based on a particular doctrine, isn’t it why Lesotho is at such crossroads because almost all the popular parties today lack the required political doctrine? For instance, why are party political leaders always praised when they verbally castrate each other? When last did you hear a party leader quoting from their party’s policy document? Is it because it does not exist? Have you seen that party policy documents exist only on the eve of national elections as election manifestos? And all the manifestos make no mention of coalition government set-ups and deliveries. It is then correct to say without concrete political party doctrines, there will never be stable governments in Lesotho except for the current “Blackmail” type of coalition governments where coalition partners set out to exploit the army or police or DCEO to force other partners to stay in government when gross malfeasance take effect. Most politicians are there because they would have probably tried anything and everything in life to survive and failed and see politics as the only avenue to stay alive. Just look at all or rather most political party players, don’t you see desperado in them? Do you see any who has the charisma, acumen and vision to get Lesotho out of its misery or do you see misery trying to get Lesotho into further misery? I know many are going to choose the nearest exit and won’t want to debate. Reason being, as Michael Jackson sings………. “Man in the Mirror” But gentlemen, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed fool is king, argued Mokhosi Mohapi. I am disappointed that this post did not get much attention which it deserves. I am saying this because I believe this is the root of our problem. Most of our political parties are without doctrine, culture, values and belief systems. The All Basotho Convention (ABC) is a classic example of a political organisation that did not have a doctrine, no values and no belief system. They created a culture where anything was and is still acceptable. They used anything to get into power including jumping over fires in Durban, South Africa. When in government anything became acceptable and that has destroyed the organisation. Last week I said a political party is a permanently organised association which, through common activities, aims at comprehensively influencing the national decision-making process, in particular by participating in elections. Elections should be important to any political organisation but they should not exist for elections. However, in this country most political formations become alive only during elections. When there are no elections, they are dead. Political parties have the same organisational characteristics as interest groups, social movements, business, non-profit and civil society organisations. While these particular types of organisations share fundamental communalities and challenges, such as the need to engage citizens and aggregate their demands, as well as the objective to shape public policy and public opinion, either directly or indirectly unfortunately they are often viewed as different. Politicians have a different set of standards for political parties and other organisations. Unprofessionalism, disorganisation, and lack of a winning culture have become normal in most political parties. Have you ever wondered what makes great organisations? In the past 20 years I have worked for non-governmental organisations, church organisations, business organisations and have been a member of different associations. I have seen what makes effective organisations. It starts with the culture of the organisation being clear and concise. Clear and concise not only to the internal, but to the community. It all starts with clearly defining your culture. Leadership needs to be chosen wisely to ensure an organisational fit that aligns with the organisation’s core beliefs. When the leadership is passionate and promotes their core values, those values will be continued through the people they attract to the organisation, leading to higher organisation morals and efficiency. It is important to note that understanding the organisational goals, objectives and culture in addition to finding the correct fit is that distinct difference. A great organisational culture is the key to developing the traits necessary for political party success. Great revolutionary movements had strong binding cultures that kept them going even in difficult times. What is this organisational culture we are talking about this week? Organisational culture is the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all members. Think of it as the collection of traits that make your political party what it is. Why is culture so important to political parties? Organisational culture affects all aspects of politics, from the importance of time (punctuality), keeping promises to the electorate (trustworthiness) and loyalty. When organisational culture aligns with the members of the organisation, they’re more likely to feel more comfortable, supported, and valued. Political parties that prioritise culture can also weather difficult times and changes in the political environment and come out stronger. Culture will determine the kind of membership your political party will attract. Culture is a key advantage when it comes to attracting talent and outperforming the competition. Most political parties do not have core values which are vital in shaping the organisational culture. Those that have it is important that they live by these organisational values. Organisational values are the foundation of the culture. While crafting a mission statement is a great start, living by the organisational values means weaving them into every aspect of the political party. Political parties should keep culture in mind from day one. When a member’s perspective doesn’t match the political party culture, internal discord is likely to be the result. Some political splits are caused by this mismatch. Political parties should recruit members who are willing to learn their culture and reinforce it during the probation period and beyond. Practices and procedures must be taught, and values should be shared. As I conclude let me ask, have you ever gone for a ride on a super-fast modern train? Have you noticed it runs on a track? Like a train on a track political parties must have values, culture, ideology or belief system that ensures they function well. Does your political party have the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all its membership? If the answer is no, why do you continue to support such a party? Ramahooana Matlosa

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