It’s reforms or bust!
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.
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