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New prime minister offers hope to Lesotho

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New prime minister offers hope to Lesotho

 The Kingdom of Lesotho has a new prime minister. Samuel Ntsokoane Matekane was sworn in on Friday October 28, becoming his country’s tenth prime minister since independence from Britain in 1966. Matekane, a 64-year-old businessman, who is said to be the richest person in Lesotho, has inherited leadership of a country that has been in an economic recession since 2017, and in chronic political instability that has resulted in five prime ministers since 2015.


His personal and leadership stories are worth watching closely, especially by those in developing countries that may be choosing new government leaders in the next few years. His track record thus far, and his meteoric rise to the top of Lesotho’s government, give us hope that that beautiful country may have finally found a captain to steady its wobbly ship. Matekane is a man who has had real world education. After stints as an auto mechanic and a mine worker in South Africa, he returned to Lesotho where he worked as a salesman for mohair, wool, and other products, before starting the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC). 


Established in 1986, MGC evolved from an automotive and transport company to a multi-sector corporation with interests in diamond mining, real estate development, aviation, farming, and pharmaceuticals.  He is said to be worth more than US$ 10 billion, yet he is reported to be very modest. He is not one to publicise his wealth or seek honorary titles. 


Through his companies, Matekane developed a philanthropic program that supported many Basotho, with a view to uplifting their standard of living and community development. A stadium, a state-of-the-art school, a cost-sharing farm project with his people, donation of uniforms to his country’s police and the army, are some of the philanthropic endeavours that he has engaged in.  By all accounts he started doing this long before he thought of seeking political power. Indeed, his formation of the Revolution for Prosperity in March this year suggests a last-minute decision to enter the political ring. 


Three things have impressed me about Matekane. First, he is a tested business manager, with proven results. Forbes Magazine acknowledged this with an award last year. His promise to manage Lesotho with a business ethic, uncompromising transparency, and accountability, is backed by a stellar track record.  Second, his use of social media and other modern communication methods to reach Basotho in just six months, showed a man well attuned to twenty-first century mobilization of society. Obviously, he had the financial muscle to pull it off, but money only works where humans know what to do with it.  Third, his inaugural speech in Maseru was refreshing because of his humility, his conciseness in outlining his commitments, complete with well spelt out instructions to his officials in front of the Basotho people.


Among his publicly announced directives to the Government Secretary was that the latter must prepare a performance contract for the prime minister, cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries to be signed within 30 days. Then the Government Secretary shall make those contracts public. He then directed the Secretary to develop a few protocols, systems and other accountability tools that will make the government accountable to the people. The Basotho people and the world will have a document upon which to judge him.


Obviously, one must wait and see how Matekane performs as prime minister. Words are never enough. Numerous people have made great speeches that promised fundamental changes in their corruption-ridden countries, only to become enablers of Mobutuesque corruption. Grotesque displays of insatiable appetites for swindling public funds and assets are normal fare in some lands whose rulers regularly sing the anti-corruption song. We have heard eloquent speeches about protection and promotion of human rights, only to have worse abuse of citizens than that which had occurred under their predecessors. We have heard promises of routing out inefficiencies in service delivery, only to be served mediocrity in exchange for sycophancy and total surrender of the state to the ruler. Africa has not been short of promises and tear-inducing oratory, followed by deep disappointment and despondent resignation.


However, there is something reassuringly hopeful about Sam Matekane. He is a rich man who has joined competitive politics, not an opportunist who has joined politics to get rich. He is a rich man who appears to have made his worldly fortune the old-fashioned way – through hard work, and patient husbandry of his money and businesses – not through cutting corners. According to my friends in Lesotho who know him well, Matekane is a wealthy man who is very down to earth and modest about his station in life. 


Will power corrupt him? He is human. We must wait and see. However, his election as prime minister has breathed desperately needed fresh air into a country that was flailing for political oxygen. Lesotho is a great country and deserves better than it has been subjected to for many years. It is a country that, for very personal reasons, I hold in very high regard and wish the very best that a nation can have.


When I was a stateless, jobless refugee in Nairobi in 1977, Lesotho instantly accepted my application to live and serve there. My wife and I were received and treated very well by the government and the people of Lesotho. One often forgot that one was not a native of the land. It is easily the best country that we have lived in since our involuntary departure from our homeland.


That is why the wobbly political path that Lesotho has taken since we left four decades ago has been a source of frustration, though tempered with hope that the words of its beautiful national anthem will come true one day. “Lesotho, Land of our Fathers, / Among the lands, it is the most beautiful, / It is where we were born, it is where we grew up, / We love it. // God, please protect Lesotho, /Spare it conflict, and tribulation, /Oh, this land, land of our fathers, May it have peace.”


What can one add to this? May Lesotho, the beautiful Kingdom in the Sky, become a haven of peace, and home to sustained economic progress for all its people. The Basotho are resilient people. We have reason to be hopeful.


© Muniini K. Mulera 

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