It’s re­forms or bust!

Sunday Express - - LEADER -

IT would ap­pear that as the Ba­sotho na­tion, we have the fa­bled nine lives of a cat judg­ing by the nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions we have been spared the con­se­quences of our fail­ure to im­ple­ment the gov­er­nance re­forms as de­manded by the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) and our de­vel­op­ment part­ners.

Since 2015, in the af­ter­math of the SADC com­mis­sion of in­quiry led by Botswana judge, Jus­tice Mpa­phi Phumaphi, the United States of Amer­ica, the Euro­pean Union (EU) have all been harp­ing on the need to im­ple­ment the re­forms to achieve last­ing sta­bil­ity in the coun­try. The re­forms are seen as key to at­tract­ing for­eign direct in­vest­ment and main­tain­ing the good­will of de­vel­op­ment part­ners like the US who have pred­i­cated the coun­try’s con­tin­ued el­i­gi­bil­ity for the Africa Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act (AGOA) ben­e­fits to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­forms.

For the record, AGOA pro­vides for du­tyfree en­try of goods into the US from des­ig­nated sub-Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries, in­clud­ing Le­sotho, and ap­plies to both tex­tile and non­tex­tile goods. Le­sotho’s tex­tile and gar­ment in­dus­try, which is an­chored on AGOA, em­ploys more than 40 000 peo­ple, in ad­di­tion to other down­stream sec­tors.

There is no one in gov­ern­ment who does not know that AGOA and the re­lated Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion (MCC) com­pact have been and con­tinue to be a life­line for our oth­er­wise im­pov­er­ished na­tion, pro­vid­ing mil­lions of US dol­lars’ worth of de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance. In 2008, Le­sotho was granted a five-year com­pact val­ued at US$362.5 mil­lion (over M3 bil­lion) to­wards ex­pand­ing wa­ter sup­ply for house­hold and in­dus­trial use, strength­en­ing the coun­try’s health care sys­tem and re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers to for­eign and lo­cal pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment.

Le­sotho was ex­pect­ing its sec­ond com­pact last year, but the Board de­cided not to vote on the is­sue be­cause of gov­er­nance con­cerns. Last De­cem­ber, the US gov­ern­ment granted Le­sotho AGOA el­i­gi­bil­ity in 2017 to give the Moun­tain King­dom more time to meet the bench­marks which in­clude im­ple­ment­ing the rest of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) Com­mis­sion of In­quiry’s rec­om­men­da­tions. The bench­marks also in­clude im­ple­men­ta­tion of se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms and fa­cil­i­tat­ing an amnesty for Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) mem­bers fac­ing mutiny charges.

And while we have been for­tu­nate enough to en­joy the prover­bial nine lives and avoid be­ing dumped by our de­vel­op­ment part­ners, it has to be un­der­stood that even those lives are fi­nite and we could well suf­fer the con­se­quences. As we re­port else­where, the re­cently re­leased Fitch Rat­ings point to this sce­nario in the event that we es­chew re­forms in the af­ter­math of the 3 June elec­tions.

Fitch speaks of the “down­side risk” of the June elec­tions in its fis­cal fore­cast, mean­ing in sim­pler terms, that we will def­i­nitely be in big trou­ble should we fail to im­ple­ment the re­forms there­after. Just last week, the Com­mon­wealth of Na­tions Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, Patricia Scot­land was in the coun­try and made no bones about the need for who­ever takes power to im­ple­ment the re­forms as a pri­or­ity con­cern. We have said it be­fore that the con­se­quences of in­ac­tion or an­other lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to so se­ri­ous an is­sue might be too ghastly con­tem­plate.

We can­not imag­ine a new gov­ern­ment which will sud­denly find it­self hav­ing to con­tend with at least 40 000 work­ers who would have been thrown into the streets be­cause of the with­drawal of AGOA and MCC due to non-im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­forms.

We can­not imag­ine the gov­ern­ment also be­ing con­fronted by the clo­sure of many more down­stream in­dus­tries and the dis­quiet such a sce­nario would en­tail.

And as so we will re­peat this nec­es­sary warn­ing and en­cour­age­ment to who­ever takes charge of our coun­try after 3 June, re­form please or we per­ish.

‘HEH, you peo­ple, you used to laugh at us. Look at you now. You can’t even buy a bot­tle of Coke!”

It was the early 2000s, dur­ing the eco­nomic free-fall that had fol­lowed Zim­babwe’s Fast Track Land Re­form pro­gram, which be­gan 20 years after the coun­try had won its po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence from Ian Smith’s set­tler colo­nial regime.

My par­ents were vis­it­ing Zam­bia from South Africa and in the town of Liv­ing­stone met a woman who, upon dis­cov­er­ing that they were Zim­bab­wean, could not hide her schaden­freude.

She re­called the pe­riod in the late 1980s when Zam­bians had flocked to Zim­babwe to buy ba­sic goods with Zam­bian bank notes that had lost much of their for­mer value, thanks to hy­per­in­fla­tion and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity caused by a series of so-called struc­tural ad­just­ment pro­grams.

Zim­bab­weans, she wanted my par­ents to know, were not so spe­cial, after all — and now Zim­babwe was doomed to the same down­ward eco­nomic tra­jec­tory as Zam­bia and other post-in­de­pen­dence states in South­ern Africa.

It’s an en­counter I have of­ten thought about over the years — even more so now, in the wake of the wide­spread protests against Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in South Africa in re­sponse to the re­cent de­pre­ci­a­tion of the rand and the down­grad­ing of our econ­omy to junk sta­tus.

These events were in­cited by the pres­i­dent’s cab­i­net reshuf­fle, in which sev­eral key min­is­ters lost their po­si­tions, in­clud­ing the fi­nance min­is­ter, Pravin Gord­han, who was viewed as an ob­sta­cle to ac­cess­ing state cof­fers.

The of­fi­cial ra­tio­nale for the reshuf­fle was that the African Na­tional Congress-led gov­ern­ment now seeks to carry out a “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.”

Though there is not much clar­ity about what ex­actly this might en­tail, the pres­i­dent has hinted at large-scale re­dis­tri­bu­tion of land, an is­sue over which the ANC has pre­var­i­cated for years.

As a re­sult, many South Africans are now voic­ing a long-held fear: Is South Africa headed in the same di­rec­tion as Zim­babwe?

Or as a Wash­ing­ton Post opin­ion piece put it: “South Africa has reached its Mu­gabe mo­ment.”

Far from be­ing help­ful, though, this idea usu­ally in­volves a crude mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Zim­babwe’s ex­pe­ri­ence that mostly seems in­tended to alarm South Africans and scare them away from any mean­ing­ful de­bate about eco­nomic jus­tice and the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth in the post-apartheid era.

The type of po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that emerged out of South­ern Africa’s set­tler colonies was a lib­eral con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism built on transitional power shar­ing bro­kered be­tween “mod­er­ates” from the lib­er­a­tion move­ments and the set­tler colo­nial au­thor­i­ties.

A key fea­ture of the his­toric com­pro­mise was that set­tler rep­re­sen­ta­tives handed over po­lit­i­cal con­trol to the black ma­jor­ity in re­turn for their eco­nomic in­ter­ests be­ing se­cured by a con­sti­tu­tion that en­shrined prop­erty rights.

The for­eign pol­icy ori­en­ta­tion of these lib­eral democ­ra­cies re­flected their reliance on West­ern in­vest­ment and free-en­ter­prise cap­i­tal­ism. The dom­i­nant set­tler states — Zim­babwe, Namibia and South Africa — all fol­lowed this model.

Their newly in­au­gu­rated gov­ern­ments soon faced the ques­tion of whether to re­form, or con­form to, the his­toric com­pro­mises that had brought them into power.

Their an­swer, by de­fault, was to shelve the is­sue — and land resti­tu­tion was side­lined.

In the new eco­nomic and so­cial or­der, the black po­lit­i­cal elites shifted their fo­cus from the oust­ing of colo­nial­ism to de­vel­op­ment poli­cies that of­ten over­lapped with pri­vate wealth ac­cu­mu­la­tion and pa­tron­age.

In this con­text, Zim­babwe’s land re­dis­tri­bu­tion pro­gram was a Ru­bi­con mo­ment. It struck a be­lated blow against the en­dur­ing eco­nomic in­jus­tices of colo­nial­ism.

It also sig­naled a loss of faith in the abil­ity of lib­eral con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism to ad­dress the struc­tural prob­lems of inequal­ity in­her­ited by the post-in­de­pen­dence state.

In Zim­babwe, the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of land had been de­layed by the 1980 peace set­tle­ment, which gave the white landown­ers 10 years of pro­tec­tion from any resti­tu­tion mea­sures.

By the 1990s, the rule of Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe’s ZANU-PF party was threat­ened on two fronts.

On one hand, or­ga­nized la­bor and civil groups were chal­leng­ing the gov­ern­ment’s struc­tural ad­just­ment poli­cies that had pre­cip­i­tated an eco­nomic down­turn.

On the other hand, vet­er­ans of the in­de­pen­dence war were de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion, in­clud­ing pen­sions and parcels of land.

Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe chose to split the op­po­si­tion by ac­cus­ing the in­de­pen­dent la­bor move­ment of plot­ting with the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment to bring down the gov­ern­ment, while at the same time in­creas­ing the com­pen­sa­tion awarded to war vet­er­ans.

The la­bor ac­tivists were la­beled “sell­outs” and “im­pe­ri­al­ist pup­pets”; the vet­er­ans were cel­e­brated as rev­o­lu­tion­ary heroes.

Zim­babwe of­fers im­por­tant lessons on how a post-in­de­pen­dence black-ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment can man­age, or mis­man­age, the gap be­tween the stric­tures of lib­eral con­sti­tu­tions that en­trench the prop­erty rights of the white mi­nor­ity and the de­mands of the black ma­jor­ity to right his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices and struc­tural in­equal­i­ties that dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect them.

Con­tin­ues on Page 8 . . .

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