De­fer or can­cel golden ju­bilee

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

THE fourth of Oc­to­ber 2016 this year is with­out a doubt a very sig­nif­i­cant event in our beloved coun­try’s his­tory. It is im­por­tant to ev­ery Mosotho ir­re­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion or hue and even to the apo­lit­i­cal of our na­tion.

This day will mark our golden ju­bilee when the Union Jack was low­ered for the last time in our new­lyin­de­pen­dent Le­sotho to be re­placed by our very own na­tional flag that was hoisted high for the first time ac­com­pa­nied by the ren­di­tion of “Le­sotho faats’e la bo-ntata, rona”, our na­tional an­them, amid much ul­u­la­tion and fan­fare.

These events all marked our at­tain­ment of free­dom from be­ing a Bri­tish pro­tec­torate to join new­lyin­de­pen­dent na­tions across Africa.

We there­fore at­tained a unique iden­tity as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion among the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of na­tions.

Those who were there to wit­ness the epoch-mak­ing event will no doubt at­test to this with fond mem­o­ries.

With the ad­vent of in­de­pen­dence came huge ex­pec­ta­tions of free­dom, fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights, pros­per­ity, rule of law, equal­ity for all cit­i­zens, so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and many other pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments.

But alas, 50 years down the line, all we ex­pe­ri­ence is ab­ject poverty, un­em­ploy­ment, dis­ease, po­lit­i­cal im­ma­tu­rity and in­tol­er­ance as well as vi­o­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal free­doms.

Un­der­stand­ably, the gov­ern­ment and other politi­cians would like to cel­e­brate this day. How­ever, my gen­uine sug­ges­tion, is to at least de­fer this event or as a last re­sort, which I re­luc­tantly sup­port, can­cel it al­to­gether.

By way of an ex­am­ple, just days prior to their fifth in­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions, the peo­ple of the new­lyin­de­pen­dent na­tion of south Su­dan strongly urged their gov­ern­ment to can­cel the cel­e­bra­tions.

Their rea­sons were the in­ternecine wars, ab­ject poverty, po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance, vi­o­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal free­doms, dis­ease and hunger, among oth­ers.

The gov­ern­ment nev­er­the­less went ahead with the cel­e­bra­tions. The re­sult? Within four days over a 100 peo­ple lay dead due to in­tense fight­ing among the war­ring fac­tions.

Lest I be mis­in­ter­preted to mean that the same could hap­pen in Le­sotho, the gist of my ar­gu­ment is that since a large per­cent­age of our peo­ple, are stren­u­ously op­posed to the cel­e­bra­tion of the golden ju­bilee, it might turn out to be a damp squib.

Le­sotho, with­out a doubt has sim­i­lar prob­lems, bar­ring war. Gov­ern­ment has pub­licly so­licited the gen­eral pub­lic of this im­pov­er­ished na­tion to col­lec­tively con­trib­ute M25 mil­lion to­wards mak­ing this mas­sive event a suc­cess.

My hum­ble sug­ges­tion to our politi­cians is to at least de­fer or in a worst case sce­nario as a last re­sort, can­cel it al­to­gether. This na­tion faces a huge num­ber of chal­lenges that far out­weigh those for the golden ju­bilee cel­e­bra­tions.

Granted, some of these chal­lenges are long-term but with oth­ers, we need to over­come them be­fore we can safely cel­e­brate our golden ju­bilee.

Be­low are some of the huge chal­lenges that stick-out like a sore thumb in ad­di­tion to the ob­vi­ous lack of funds!

Spi­ralling HIV/AIDS pan­demic In con­trast to a cou­ple of years ago when our beloved Le­sotho was ranked third in the world in terms of preva­lence of HIV/AIDS, we have now climbed the ig­no­min­ious lad­der to num­ber two in the world.

This means when the rest of the world ex­pe­ri­ences a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in the preva­lence of the pan­demic, Le­sotho has no­tice­ably moved in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Ram­pant un­em­ploy­ment With a pop­u­la­tion of just two mil­lion by con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates, Le­sotho has more than 500 000 or a quar­ter of its pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in neigh­bour­ing South Africa, to seek em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties there.

Again, by a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, only 16 per­cent of our em­ploy­able peo­ple are gain­fully em­ployed in all sec­tors of our econ­omy.

This trans­lates to the sad re­al­ity that our frag­ile and small econ­omy can­not create any em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for mostly its new­ly­grad­u­ated and other young peo­ple.

Le­sotho there­fore sur­vives, at least many fam­i­lies to be pre­cise, on re­mit­tances from the Ba­sotho di­as­pora all over South Africa.

Po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance Among all the 15 South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) coun­tries, Le­sotho has the unique and un­en­vi­able dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced about five mil­i­tary coups and a king hav­ing been forced into ex­ile twice, though it is sad to ad­mit.

As a se­ri­ous man­i­fes­ta­tion of our in­tol­er­ance, SADC has in­ter­vened on no less than four oc­ca­sions mean­ing that we are not a coun­try at peace with it­self. We hardly toler- ate one another po­lit­i­cally.

Another man­i­fes­ta­tion of po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance is the re­cently-es­tab­lished SADC Com­mis­sion of In­quiry that, among oth­ers, looked into the causes of and so­lu­tions to po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in Le­sotho.

In­ces­sant post-elec­tion

bick­er­ing Ever since our post-in­de­pen­dence elec­tions in 1970, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2012 and 2015, fol­low­ing a cred­i­ble, free and fair elec­tion, no demo­crat­i­cally-elected gov­ern­ment has ever en­joyed any form of sta­bil­ity.

It ap­pears as if it is in our DNA to be con­stantly at each other’s throats im­me­di­ately after ev­ery elec­tion. In­stead of con­cen­trat­ing on so­cioe­co­nomic de­vel­op­ment, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have con­cen­trated on fight­ing ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal en­e­mies.

This has been our un­en­vi­able hall­mark through­out our post-elec­tion pe­riod.

At­ten­dant to this in­tense bick­er­ing and jock­ey­ing for po­si­tions have been the un­for­tu­nate killings, ex­iles and vi­o­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal free­doms and hu­man rights that have in­evitably in­vited the in­ter­ven­tion of in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions most notably SADC, African Union, Com­mon­wealth, United Na­tions, United States and South Africa, to name a few.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­iles and in­hu­mane

in­car­cer­a­tion All three ma­jor op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal party lead­ers and many Ba­sotho, that ear­lier in­cluded sol­diers, jour­nal­ists and lawyers are in po­lit­i­cal ex­ile in neigh­bour­ing South Africa.

They claim the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) en­dan­gers their lives, al­though both the army and gov­ern­ment have vig­or­ously de­nied these al­le­ga­tions.

The other un­en­vi­able dis­tinc­tion is that we have sol­diers who are in­car­cer­ated in the Maseru Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Prison for al­leged mutiny.

They have been in in­car­cer­a­tion for more than a year con­trary to the rec­om­men­da­tions of SADC that em­anate from its Com­mis­sion of En­quiry.

Spik­ing shoot­ings and killings Since the be­gin­ning of 2015, the killing of both prom­i­nent and or­di­nary per­sons has been on the in­crease with no ar­rest nor any end in sight.

Whether these killings are po­lit­i­cal­ly­mo­ti­vated is un­clear but what is cer­tain is that wan­ton and brazen killings have be­come the norm across the whole coun- try par­tic­u­larly in the cap­i­tal, Maseru.

Peo­ple now gen­er­ally fear for their lives as face­less killers seem­ingly roam our cities and coun­try­side with ap­par­ent im­punity. Se­cu­rity sec­tor’s med­dling in pol­i­tics The SADC Com­mis­sion made it clear in no un­cer­tain terms that some el­e­ments in the se­cu­rity sec­tor have been med­dling in pol­i­tics, a re­mit that by con­ven­tion, law and tra­di­tion, be­longs to politi­cians.

This has led to some politi­cians us­ing the army as a bul­wark to main­tain their power.

Al­co­hol and sub­stance abuse Whether this is a sign of a de­spon­dent na­tion or not, par­tic­u­larly among the youth, the jury is still out, but the scourge of al­co­hol and sub­stance abuse among the pop­u­lace is sick­en­ing to the bone. Il­le­gal she­beens are sprout­ing all over the place like wild mush­rooms.

Seem­ingly there are no laws and reg­u­la­tion to curb the per­ni­cious habit that surely eats away at our col­lec­tive her­itage and moral con­science.

No­body, in­clud­ing all the lead­ers and stake­hold­ers seem to know what to do about the scourge and its de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fect on the en­tire na­tion.

Un­ri­valled squalour The squalor in our cities and coun­try­side is un­ri­valled, I reckon more than any­where else on earth.

Again, like with al­co­hol and sub­stance abuse above, no­body seems to care when peo­ple of all hues defe­cate and re­lieve them­selves all over our streets and vil­lages.

The stench that per­me­ates our pub­lic places is un­bear­able and no one seems to care about hy­giene and the en­vi­ron­ment.

So­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment Against the back­drop of all these chal­lenges, it is in­evitable that in the past 50 years, in com­par­i­son with other na­tions also reach­ing the mile­stone, we could re­al­ize any sig­nif­i­cant so­cio-eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

There is vir­tu­ally no in­fra­struc­ture to speak of let alone the mas­sive brain drain of highly-skilled per­son­nel mostly to South Africa and else­where. The econ­omy is still mostly in the lands of for­eign­ers.

It is on the ba­sis of the above chal­lenges, among oth­ers, that most Ba­sotho in­clud­ing my­self, im­plore politi­cians to de­fer or at worst can­cel the 50th In­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions.

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