By Nkopane Mathibeli
Inasmuch as great political and economic differences exist between Lesotho and Sudan, I want to draw similarities between these two to show that though we are practically in the same boat, our response to similar challenges is completely different implying that our civic culture, in comparison to that of the Sudanese, is still in it’s infancy.
We are a real infant if you look at Togo, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, just to mention a few. The opinion I will express here is not only informed by the recent experience in al-Bashir’s Sudan.
It is also informed by the observations made by Adam Branch and Zachariah Mampilly in their 2015 book, Africa Uprising: Popular Protests and Political Change and Lisa Mueller’s 2018 publication, Political protests in contemporary Africa.
These are not inflammatory or treasonous publications, as most insecure and power obsessed leaders may want to believe. They don’t necessarily encourage citizens to protest in order to topple governments. Their authors merely made observations around protests as they unfolded and drew conclusions.
I will however not make reference to any of the protests examined by either of the publications but the Sudanese situation as it began on the December 19, 2018.
Why and how did the people of Sudan successfully disarm the army and bring down one of the most ruthless dictators Africa has had in the last thirty years? The answer – high costs of living/income inequality.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook compiled in October 2018 and published in March, Sudan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita stands at $ 791.9. This means that though Lesotho is poor with a GDP per capita of $ 1,465.6, Sudan is almost twice as poor.
This explains the why part. How then did they go about it? They followed the same civil disobedience route that their forebears took to topple governments in 1964 and 1985 and also drew inspiration from the Tunisians during the Arab spring by putting all their differences aside and going head-on against the establishment.
For those who believe in miracles, what happened in al-Bashir’s Sudan is no miracle at all, it is an outcome of a common consciousness; a basic ingredient of either political change or holding the political authorities to account.
To counter any attempt to divide them, the people of Sudan decided to bring all the significant political, social, legal and professional organisations together under the umbrella of what they call the Alliance for Freedom and Change.
Everybody came on board thereby legitimising the people’s call. It was however the decision of Sudanese judges, wearing their legal garbs, to march from Sudan’s highest court to the military headquarters where multitudes of Sudanese were already camping, that further legitimised the call for al-Bashir to step down.
The rest of what happened, as they say, is history. What is there for us to learn?
What the Sudanese have just given to us is the most important free lesson particularly because unlike Sudan, Lesotho does not in any way, qualify to be called a dictatorship.
There may be elements of constitutional delinquency but we remain a democracy though replete with its own imperfections. Objectively speaking, we have one of the most immature civic cultures on the continent.
Our party politics take their cue from our own social politics and in both spheres, the phenomenon of lackeys or what in Afrikaans they call bass boys or stuur boys (errand boys) take centre stage.
The political masters dictate the agenda and send their stuur boys to ensure that anything or anyone who opposes that agenda is rendered null and void in the broad but feeble minded sphere of influence of their highly spirited bass boys.
I say feeble minded because were they independent thinkers, they would formulate their own agenda and push it through. This leaves a lot to be desired about our own discretion as a nation and has brought forward a very sad situation for the evolution of our democracy because this unpalatable phenomenon has come to a point where it self perpetuates.
With us Basotho, the corruption of the most sacred principle of democracy – the majority wins principle – is absolute. We no longer depend on the logical superiority of arguments to make decisions but numbers.
This is nonsensical and self defeating. In essence, we the electorate, led by the stuur/bass boys, remain the most powerful enemies of the evolution of our democracy, not the politicians. The simplest examples are that of the death of suspects in police custody, the wool and mohair debacle and the submarine like reform process. Being a democracy that we are, permits for marches protesting these issues would definitely be granted but nothing of that sort has been requested thus far.
It is highly probable that for government supporters, such marches would be seen as politically incorrect while the opposition may deem them ineffective. The bottom line is that we are poor at holding our governments accountable on the ground but very vocal and insulting online.
What good does it serve besides amplifying our cowardice? NW