- Last Updated on 06 June 2012
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Lesotho is a very small country, which shares a boarder with only one country, South Africa, which also completely surrounds it. Because of its relative obscurity on the map, a lot of things go unnoticed in this mountain kingdom which has a constitutional monarchy. Of the few times it has grabbed the worlds attention, it has often been on the back on unsavoury political upheavals, coup plots, attempts and actual coup d'Ã©tats, a history that only ended in 1998, after SADC ( led mainly by South Africa and Botswana) intervened.
The recent elections that brought to an end Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisli's reign are no doubt going to be considered a key moment in Lesotho's own democratic progress, given its soiled history. But even more important are the lessons that the historic election carries for the rest of the region, especially Zimbabwe, which has a troubled electoral history, and which will be headed for an election in the next 12 months.
It is clear that Lesotho is the latest addition to the barrage of nations across the globe (France, Egypt, Zambia and Ghana) who have taken their places as part of new wave of democratization. The election, while not perfect had some valuable lessons that countries like Zimbabwe can glean in terms of how to run an election, how to have collaborative partnerships with the international community, how civic society and official election management bodies can aid each other in pursuit of shared goals, and also how political parties can also collaborate to ensure that regime change takes place.
Given its political history which is littered with military interventions and meddling in civilian political processes, one of the biggest take outs from the last election in Lesotho is around the role of the military. What was the role of the military in these elections? Nothing. The Military in Lesotho has been able to reform itself from being a meddler and spoiler of democratic processes to a professional force that understands that they are entrusted with the very crucial role of protecting citizens with no major role in the electoral processes. The above is a clear study in contrast with some elements of the Zimbabwean army, who have refused to accept the professionalism and loyalty to the country not individuals as demanded by their station. Choosing instead to operate as political commissars of ZANU PF, and their blant instrument of choice in repressing the people and their will as expressed in elections. This military madness by just a few high ranking military officials is credited with saving ZANU PF from exiting the state in 2008.
Part of the analysis that is given where Zimbabwe is concerned is that, in 2008, had Mavambo, MDC-N and MDC-T bandied together, there is very little doubt that the defeat of ZANU PF could have been more decisive that it was, and there could be a different governmental configuration as we speak. The opposition bodies in Lesotho learnt that lesson well, and have been able to turn a seeming defeat into a victory by the opposition forces led by the All Basotho Congress (ABC). Had the ABC and its 4 counterpart parties not taken this route, the Basotho Congress led by Former Prime Minister Mosili would still be in power today. The lesson is therefore clear, that political parties in Zimbabwe, especially those other than ZANU PF, need to be aware of themselves and what they can be able to achieve as unitary elements, and see whether their collective intentions are not met better by a coming together of these different forces to face ZANU PF as a common force fighting a common enemy.
Another clear lesson from the Lesotho process is one that is meant for ZANU PF itself. It is a lesson that was given in October of 2011 by the Zambians, when Former President Rupiah Banda accepted electoral defeat paving the way for the ascension to power of President Sata. Mosisli's acceptance of defeat, especially after his party clearly led on a party by party basis is a not only commendable but surely something that ZANU PF should be able to use to check themselves in the future. Part of the challenge that is there in Zimbabwe is largely because in 2008, the incumbent Robert Mugabe refused to accept defeat to a clearly more popular Morgan Tsvangirai. By 2008, cases of incumbent's accepting electoral defeat on the African continent were few and far between, but what Lesotho, Zambia and Ghana have given us are close examples not only on the continent but in the region that this is possible, and for those who take this noble route, it has been proven so far that there is life after the presidency both for the former occupier of this institution and for the country.
Given Zimbabwe's fear of foreign observers, Lesotho was able to show that seeking help in electoral processes and welcoming foreign observers is something that can assist in not only lending credibility to electoral processes but also in just ensuring that the electoral process is free, fair and effectual in terms of people expressing themselves and that the world can see this. The coordination effort of international observers that was led by the UNDP in Lesotho clearly showed the above. In addition to the above, the last Lesotho election also showed that Election Management bodies, have nothing to fear from civic society, and that if anything their collaboration can be something that is good for the integrity of the electoral process. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in Lesotho worked closely with NGOs to conduct voter education, knowing that it lacked both
the human resources and technical expertise, though financial resources were available. Zimbabwe's own ZEC needs to take heed of this, and accept that they have nothing to fear and should accept the help of clearly talented groups like the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Elections Resource Centre (ERC). Civic society advocacy programmes and dialogues have helped in facilitating electoral reforms.
So in spite of its size, its own economic challenges and the fact that some of its citizens would rather integrate with South Africa, the "tiny € kingdom of Lesotho, has giant lessons for fellow landlocked SADC country Zimbabwe.