MASERU – High-powered delegations from the region and the continent date Maseru today as the nation, regional and global leaders in politics and business converge to celebrate the inauguration of Ntsokoane Samuel Matekane as the new prime minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho.An impressive array of African leaders will be at the stadium to welcome him including South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa and several regional leaders or their representatives.
The Joe Biden-led US government, in a sign of confidence in the coming government, announced that the powerful nation’s leader will be represented by a team led by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) CEO, Alice Albright, US embassy to Lesotho, Maria Brewer, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the department of health and human services, Loyce Pace and Paula Tufro.The MCC, which Albright leads, inked a US$300 million (about M6 billion) deal with Lesotho only in May.
Amidst the pomp and fanfare at Setsoto Stadium today, Matekane has his work cut out for him as almost everything that could go wrong in a nation has gone wrong.His inbox has all the ingredients of a failed state ranging from a decades-old unstable political environment, high unemployment, inflation, increasing poverty and an empty treasury.The messianic entry of businessman and philanthropist into politics has been a game-changer which shifted the political landscape in an in such an unforeseen quick swoop that established political parties are still smarting from the entry of a “dark horse” that has scuttled ambition.
In an interview with the media this week, Matekane clearly showed he has no illusions about the hot seat he is getting into and the backlog of unmet expectations from a tired electorate. “On Friday (today) we are going to announce what we are going to do in our first 100 days. . .. We all know that it (the government) is broke but to what extent, we don’t know yet. That is what we will have to find out. We will have to cut on our expenditure . . . definitely there will be a lot of cuts in many places so that we can start afresh,” said Matekane, earlier this week.
Incoming Prime Minister Matekane personifies the hope of a nation at the tether-end of privation.There is a copious amount of advice from a wide spectrum of watchers and analysts such as the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) which this week cautioned Matekane to avoid pitfalls that led to the collapse of previous coalitions since 2012. CCL said in the main these include failure to observe the rule of law and inability to deliver on key expectations in health and education to the electorate.Political science teacher and analyst Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane cautioned the new government to see beyond the euphoria and remain vigilant and be prepared to make sacrifices.
The new government is expected to command and fulfil the varied expectations of the nation as it navigates through perilous times.“They should be able to guide them and advise them accordingly that Lesotho is on hard times – and be able to sacrifice, and be seen to be the ones to sacrifice first,” Selinyane said. Matekane has already shown signs he has the will to make such bold decisions by even avoiding to burden a broke Treasury to foot the inauguration bill (which he and his party colleagues will pay for), cutting down the cabinet from 30 plus to 15 only, among numerous other tangible commitments.
Selinyane argues that it is very significant for the US to be dispatching such a high level delegation to be represented at the inauguration. He, however, expressed disappointment that the Matekane’s RFP has been more accessible to foreign media ahead of local media. He said: “We have been wondering at the fact that the RFP has been publicising itself more, this could have been their own invite to amply their profile because they have been talking more to world than Lesotho media, but I am just speculating here.”
Asked to say what he thinks of the new government’s likely foreign policy, Selinyane said: “In terms of foreign policy, I think we should look at persons in the likes of Ntate Sekhamane and others who have come into the fray with others who have been into politics before. I think they bring the same old baggage so we would not expect foreign policy changes other than what it was in the governments in which they were.”
He continued that: “Ntate Matekane has a personal a big profile of philanthropy but not in politics he might make his weight to bear the same way we have seen in the coalition agreement saying he will make the final decision when consensus is not reached. But also his weight might not come to bear being that politics are at times a game and the fear he might have that he doesn’t have political experience and those with it might outweigh him.” Selinyane also had a take on what he thinks cabinet would be structured given Matekane’s trimmed down cabinet will have to abolish duplication of cabinet portfolios which put a drain on the fiscus.
“I have seen what were touted as possible ministerial mergers, but these problematic because these ministries have grown over time, not to mention that ministries like health, education, local government, agriculture are naturally big ministries, some of them have symbiosis or have synergies, though it is not all of them. So you would need somebody who has vast knowledge of the public service and can be able to have to have bird eyes view of the public service and the ministries and combine them. A lot of the people who are going to lead the ministries are quite new,” he said.
Selinyane says ministries around foreign policy, public safety and social development will be crucial “because you are talking the physical security of people. What is important is to ensure a concrete social compact where you have a forum to where you know that you distil out of the actual actors, the interest groups, the persons who live by their sweat to say how their sweat should be used.” He could not commit to put faces to the likely cabinet line-up. “The question of who leads what ministry is always a question of the power games, what individual looks to get out of being in power,” he said. A political critic, Bokang Ramatsella, is skeptical.
“Matekane won’t be the one governing the country, he will be getting orders from the US. As a politician I harbour a lot of fear for Lesotho for when the US shows interest in a country it is because they are after something. “One of the big challenges that I see happening is that US is going to enforce some its laws on us. Now that most African countries do not support it in branding Russian a terrorist country, they are going to force us to agree that indeed Russia is a terrorist country. “The other thing is pushing for Lesotho to enact LGBTQI community laws, where same sex marriages are allowed, which will be neglecting our culture as Basotho,” says Bokang Ramatšella.