from TSOANELO MOKHAHLANE in Maseru, Lesotho
MASERU, (CAJ News) – SAM Matekane’s first major contribution to Lesotho was the launch of a brick making business that would catapult him to the wealthiest individual in the country.
Over three decades later, he faces a formidable task of rebuilding a country that has been on a free-fall and synonymous with political instability, corruption and a poverty-stricken majority that has lost confidence in political leaders.
A remarkably credible election, whose conduct and outcome was a big statement towards retaining the seemingly-elusive democracy in the Southern African region, has laid a solid foundation for the incoming Prime Minister and his administration to revive Lesotho’s fortunes.
Now that the dust has settled after the most improbable of electoral victories the new government must hit the ground running to curb graft, restore the public’s confidence in the government and create opportunities for youth frustrated by the ills of unemployment, poverty and other ills reflecting economic malaise.
In addition to the political upheaval, the economy has not been spared effects of the COVID-19 and the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The new coalition government that Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RPF) leads will have its work cut out to restore stability in the Mountain Kingdom.
Formed only in March by Matekane (64), arguably the country’s most affluent citizen, RPF (winners of 56 out of 120 seats) has formed a coalition with the Alliance of Democrats and the Movement for Economic Change, which came fifth and sixth respectively in the October 7 poll.
This brings to an end the reign of a coalition government led by the fationalised All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, which had been in power since 2017.
Instability peaked under that regime.
This peaked in 2020 when then-Prime Minister, Tom Thabane stepped down after being charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
Charges were later dropped but the party’s fortunes have slumped.
Thabane had previously fled to South Africa after the intervention of the military.
The recent elections were also projected to be volatile, being held amid failure to put in place legal reforms aimed at retaining democracy.
On the eve of the polls, the Constitutional Court declared reforms as null and void.
Meanwhile, a crisis seemed brewing after Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro resigned mid-October following the electoral setback.
That was averted when King Letsie III asked him to stay until the swearing-in of the new premier, this coming Friday.
The Basotho’s exhaustion had earlier was reflected by the low voter turnout of over 33 percent, down from more than 46 percent five years ago.
Matekane’s government also faces an uphill task reviving the economy.
The COVID-19 caused widespread social and economic disruption during 2020 and continued to drag on activity through 2021.
Lesotho has been facing significant structural challenges and capacity constraints even before the pandemic.
The economy has stagnated since 2016 and is estimated to have contracted by almost 10 percent.
Political instability and governance issues have hampered fiscal adjustment and hold up overdue reforms.
Earlier this year, fraud cases highlighted vulnerabilities in public financial management.
Finance ministry officials were implicated in fraud and money laundering to the tune of the equivalent of US$2,7 million, allegedly diverted to South Africa.
Unemployment is around 25 percent.
The Matekane-led administration has pledged to push through this reform within the 100 days in office.
“It always seems impossible until there is none,” he quoted Nelson Mandela.
“The five-year road ahead is just a road,” Matekane added.
“We will heighten Lesotho’s standard of living and attract intercontinental investment to eradicate the disease our people have had for years- poverty.”
Natural disasters including a drought that has left a quarter of the 2-million population food insecure.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Khosi Malie, a commentator.
“But if in its first 100 days the Lesotho Parliament repeals the M5 000 ($270) fuel allowance, I will know we are headed somewhere,” Malie added.
The Basotho will be banking on Matekane to transfer his success in the business world (he has interests in aviation, construction, mining and property industries) to the politics and economy of the country.
“We will patiently wait for the rebirth of our great kingdom,” said Hlalele Tsolo.
Matekane has pledged not to withdraw a salary but plough it on projects to uplift locals.
The new government will be trimmed by more than half, from 28 to 15 ministers.
In the region, hope prevails of a better Lesotho, not least South Africa, which bears the biggest brunt of intermittent crisis in the neighbouring country.
“South Africa remains dedicated to strengthening and consolidating bilateral relations as well as enhancing cooperation on regional, continental and global issues of mutual interest,” the cabinet stated.
– CAJ News