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Advent of young leaders occupying political space to replace old guard

Seeing young political leaders is new development in Lesotho's politics with Young Turks occupying their space. This breaks out of old belief that politics is a preserve for elderly male politicians

20 June, 2019 min read

MASERU: The art of grooming and developing young people and preparing them to take up leadership roles in politics has not been a norm in Africa, in Lesotho by implication. The old guard still occupies every space in the political arena, this to the decimation of young, energetic and capable people. Young people are said to be 'future leaders' and expectation is that they should remain in the back yard until their time comes, age-wise. This notion is flawed as it leads to old people, some at 90, still leading political parties and some still in public office. This is typical of African leaders. Young people are marginalized to participate in youth leagues, which are supposedly 'political academies within political parties' preparing youth for leadership. But they are not because there is no 'political education programme' within political parties. takes a cursory look at the advent of young leaders entering the political space, focus on five randomly selected political parties.

A common phenomenon that cuts across all political parties is that young people are relegated to become stooges for the old guard who use them to fuel internal conflicts within their parties. They are beaten to toe the political line set by their elders, who pursue their narrow interests at the expense of growth and development of their parties. Those who toe the line get rewarded with appointment into deputy ministerial positions, or assignment to diplomatic missions abroad. Conversely, those who refuse to toe the line are marginalized and ultimately become disgruntled members of parties who are heard venting over the local media and other social platforms. 

Across the political spectrum, young people delay to grasp grand leadership skills, with a vision to lead their parties when their elders retire from active politics. This cannot happen because they are turned into puppets that advance nefarious agendas of old people within political parties. Therefore, they do not mature into responsible politicians with a vision to take their parties and the country to another level when they really get to the active leadership political positions. This is a result of absence of a clear vision that a political party pursues with clear goals of growth and development and a clear succession plan. Parties that have been assessed are discussed below. 

Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) 

When the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) promoted its then Secretary-General, Mothetjoa Metsing to become the party's leader in 2012, just ahead of the elections, this development sent tongues-wagging. Metsing was elected LCD Secretary-General, an influential position in Lesotho's political parties, at the age of 42. This was phenomenal as most of the people clinched that position at 60 years and above. Shakhane Mokhehle (MP) was elected BCP Secretary-General at the age of 64, and subsequently of the LCD at 67. Sephiri Motanyane (MP) became LCD Secretary-General at 62 and Mpho Malie (MP) at 61. So, Metsing, who took over from Malie was least expected to rise to that influential position at that tender age, going by this historical trend. But he broke out of the traditional mould and that was the beginning of his political career. 

When Metsing ultimately became leader of the party at 45, an even more phenomenal episode in the history of Lesotho's politics, some were even more skeptical of the new development. His skeptics prophesied the demise of the party, cynicism which came even within the LCD and spilled to the outside. Others were delighted by the development and supported Metsing in his bid to take the party to greater heights as a young leader. Metsing led the LCD to the 2012 national assembly elections, but the party did not perform to the level expected, except to garner support in the northern constituencies.  He led the party to join the first coalition government that was formed after the 2012 poll. His leadership style quickly came under the spotlight as one who is intolerant of dissent and a no-nonsense person. He quickly cleared his critics in the party - the likes of Keketso Rantso, a close confidante, Motloheloa Phooko and Timothy Thahane, also loyal supporters. He lost these prominent leaders, Phooko, Rantso and Thahane due to his no-nonsense character. Then, he was believed to be under a keen eye of his shadow mentour, Mpho Malie, who was said to be pulling the strings from behind. 

Under Metsing, LCD's following waned quickly instead of growing until it became a political minnow that it has become just in a space of about ten years. From 62 parliamentary seats in 2007 to 1 seat in 2017, this has been a great performance slump in about 10 years. This dismal performance and substantial weakening in successive polls have put Metsing on a political pedestal. He is viewed as a leader who became less  attractive to the voters within just a space of less than five years since he has been on the helm of a party that was once a darling of the people. A leader can go at least 15 years and above, before becoming obsolete and unattractive. But he clung to the leadership position as it is a norm that the leader's position is not opened for contest while he is still serving for a protracted period. This breeds internal competition as it puts him at an undue advantage even when there are aspiring candidates who can contest the position. In the British politics, when Gordon Brown of the Labour Party failed to muster the votes and seats required to form government after the 2010 poll, he resigned and allowed other people to run the party. But this has not been the case in Lesotho as Metsing, to-date, he is still the party leader even when it has gradually waned under his leadership. LCD has less than 10 seats - one constituency seat and others are compensatory, under the proportional representation (PR) system.

Movement for Economic Change (MEC) 

Selibe Mochoboroane rose into prominence in the bizarre politics of Lesotho in his late 30's. He rose from ashes as he was only a Secretary-General of the LCD youth league under the leadership of the now retired politician, Pakalitha Mosisili. When LCD split to breed the Democratic Congress (DC) in 2012, Mochoboroane reamined in the LCD and was appointed Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship under Metsing. He quickly rose into prominence on the government side. He came out of the cocoon when he was appointed Minister of Communications, Science & Technology and also occupied ministerial positions such as those of Water and Energy as well as Small Business Development, Cooperatives & Marketing before he formed his MEC. He also rose in prominence when in 2015, he was elected to an influential position in the LCD, the Secretary-General position. Now feeling having reached the upper echelons at this high decision-making position, he demanded more power and started being bigheaded, according to some within the party. 

As it is a norm in Lesotho's nascent politics, Mochoboroane was expected to show allegiance to his leader, Metsing, but he refused. Instead, he built his own name in government and the party. He was at loggerheads with the big wigs of the LCD like Tseliso Mokhosi, who felt Mochoboroane was deviating from a norm of not promoting the leader in whatever he was doing, but himself. Mochoboroane made his mark when he was in the Ministry of Water and Energy, with a sterling performance of providing Basotho with electricity and water. But as mentioned, he did not pass on the credit to the leader, Metsing, instead, to himself. This did not bode well with likes of the Deputy of the LCD, Mokhosi, who openly cast negative aspersions against Mochoboroane. He underwent internal disciplinary action, an exercise which recommended his suspension from the party until he finally jumped ship to form the Movement for Economic Change (MEC). MEC stole part of the LCD turf, weakening the party in the subsequent elections held in 2017. The party performed relatively well in the 2017 poll under Mochoboroane as a newcomer, garnering six seats, including his Thabana-Morena Constituency. He has come out of the cocoon and is now Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament that oversees government expenditures. He is doing a sterling job as he has entrenched a culture of accountability by exposing corrupt practices in the civil service, adding accolades to his name. 

Democratic Congress (DC)

The Democratic Congress (DC) has, like other congress parties, trotted on the footsteps of the old guard, led by the political stalwart, Pakalitha Mosisili. The DC fell into the trap of not having a clear succession plan until the experienced and shrewed Deputy Leader then, Monyane Moleleki jumped ship after a bitter spat with his master, Mosisili. This was after a protracted leadership tussle where the former got bitter at seeing no signals that the baton would ever be passed onto him. This lack of a succession plan by his leader was according to him, demonstrated when his bid to become Deputy Prime Minister in the government after the 2015 elections foiled. He was only a deputy in the party, but had to watch when his political arch-rival, Metsing, become Deputy Prime Minister in the government. 

He jumped ship to form his Alliance of Democrats (AD), leaving the fort for a party he worked hard to form to  Mathibeli Mokhothu, who arose from nowhere to be elevated to the position of Deputy Leader after the 2017 elections. This party election saw Mokhothu clinch the leadership position of the party at the age of 41, also phenomenal in the politics of Lesotho. Mathibeli succeeds an experienced and shrewed  politician, Pakalitha Mosisili, who stepped down at the age of 73, almost 30 years older than his successor. Mokhothu might be the same age as the third or fourth child of his predecessor, to indicate the gravity of age difference in the politics of Lesotho. This is phenomenal as congress movements are infamous for being led by the old stock. Mosisili could not be said to have freely relinquished power because he did not do so while the DC was still politically strong, but waited until it waned in terms of membership and its performance in polls, then left at a time there was clear resistance from within about his long stay in the party. DC leadership and elective conferences had become chaotic, a clear signal Mosisili was no longer wanted in the party. He unprecedently announced his retirement amid a serious feud within the DC. This saw the defection of stalwarts like the two Sekatles, who found their political solace within the All Basotho Convention (ABC). 

All Basotho Convention (ABC)

In the ABC, there is no substantial change of guard as regards the trend of the young blood coming to the political space. The party leader, Thomas Thabane is 80 years old this year, but there are no signs he is willing to relinquish power. Albeit, he has made his intentions to stay on until 2027, a time he will be close to 90. There has been a trend of characterizing young people who enter politics at a tender age as being novices that lack experience to run a political party. This was the case with Metsing. But the parties that have historically been led by the old people who are said to be experienced and politically mature have been gradually razed into ashes by the same people. The said political maturity has not been exhibited and the country's political democracy and governance have been at their lowest ebb in the hands of the old guards. So, age is not an issue, what matters is an individual person's leadership prowess. When Mahao got elected to deputise Thabane, he too did not escape the criticism as some have labelled him as a political novice who does not know anything about leading a political party. There is no clear succession plan within the ABC, as the worst is expected with the party, which is viewed as a personal property of its leader. Signals that it will ever be led by another person, at least who is not a close confidante of Thabane are slim. Prospects are that he will ensure that he leaves it in the hands of his stooges, whom he will remote-control after his departure. 

Basotho National Party (BNP)

The Basotho National Party (BNP) was led by Chief Thesele Maseribane while he was only 48. But comparatively, he was older than Metsing, Mochoboroane and Mokhothu when he came to the helm of the party. BNP has been relatively stable under Maseribane than it was under Major-General Metsing Lekhanya. He has been able to ensure participation of women in the National Assembly and also promoted youth participation in government more than his predecessors did. But BNP, like other parties does not seem to have a succession plan beyond Maseribane. There are of course aspiring candidates like Joang Molapo, Mochesetsa Mofomobe and Nthabiseng Makoae.There was subtle power jostling between the trio when it surfaced that Maseribane might have to step down after reaching his two-terms limit in the party.

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