06 November, 2014

Districtization in Lesotho: A Desperate Pre-Election Move

by M. K. Mahlakeng

As in most countries, when elections approach, the political sphere becomes interesting. Either because of the war of words between contenders, or maybe because this is the only time civil society feels involved in the political life of a country. It is commonplace that in many democracies and political circles around the World during this period, politicians vie for electoral support by “promising the most benefits from the public treasury”, as Alexander Tyler puts it. And politicians go directly at each other.

Nonetheless, it becomes worrisome when statements are issued or used in a careless racial, tribal and/or ethnic manner in a desperate attempt to win electoral support. This limits the political literacy of the electorate to racial, tribal and/or ethnic lines, and subsequently endangers the political existence on which the well-being of a great many citizens rely, and reduces the mere national allegiance of citizens to racial or tribal allegiance. This is an evident cause of many African intra-state conflicts.

Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele
‘Maseribane; Prime Minister, Tom Thabane and Lesotho Mounted Police
Service (LMPS) Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

In Lesotho, a homogeneous country with ten districts, where ethno-linguistic structure consists almost entirely of Basotho, an estimated 99.7% of the people identify as Basotho. There remains, however, another form of division. Politically, the national allegiance of citizens tends to be reduced to a small sector of the country (i.e. districts), and popular support is contested and divisions are created on the basis of districts. “Districtization” has become an instrument for electoral support and also a threat to communal peace and stability. This is a phenomenon with serious implications for the future political literacy and stability of Lesotho.

On the 31st October, Prime Minister Thabane, during the (re)opening ceremony of a national referral hospital, Queen Elizabeth II, seized the opportunity to districtize the crisis that led to the closure of the hospital some three years earlier. The 100 year-old hospital had experienced undeniably serious challenges, hence its closure. For instance, the hospital had a severe shortage of basic drugs; it lacked crucial equipment like the CT-Scan, and at times had been forced to suspend surgical operations because of power outages and the malfunctioning of some diagnostic machines. Furthermore, it was short-staffed due to the fact that doctors and nurses were faced with poor working conditions and uncompetitive salaries; and, in many instances, patients were forced to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding and a lack of beds.

In his statement the PM argued that “the closure was political and meant to punish Maseru residents who have been voting overwhelmingly for the All Basotho Convention (ABC) since the party’s formation in 2006 … the person who led government when the hospital was closed is not from Maseru (but Qacha’s Nek District); I strongly believe this hospital was only shut down for political reasons, not that it was too old”. This is despite the fact that such problems still existed in the hospital while he served as a minister in numerous portfolios during the administration of his predecessor.

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