Leadership is a public service not a political reward

Wednesday June 3 2020

Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.

Lesotho's former prime minister Thomas Thabane.  PHOTO | GIANLUIGI GUERCIA | AFP 

TEE NGUGI
By TEE NGUGI
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At long last, Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane resigned. He had resisted doing so since his second wife was accused of murdering his first wife.

If this were a plot in a Shakespearean play, it would make for entertaining literature. Unfortunately, this real-life drama is being enacted in one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.

Half of the population in Lesotho lives below the poverty line. Unemployment rate hovers near the 30 per cent mark. It has the second highest Aids prevalence rate in the world.

Most of its foreign exchange earnings come from remittances from citizens working in South Africa. The country’s beautiful landscapes mask extreme rural poverty.

Like most of Africa, the country has not escaped occasional coups or attempted coups. By contrast, Lithuania, a European country with almost similar population and geographical size is many times richer and more functional than Lesotho.

You would think that for a country with such an epic task of rescuing its people from dysfunction and poverty, Lesotho’s leaders would be the last in the world to be mixed up in such drama.

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You would expect a prime minister, tainted by the drama either by association or because he was complicit, to immediately resign in order not to hinder the country’s progress in any way. And yet the prime minister resisted calls for his resignation for months, and when he eventually did, he claimed he was retiring due to old age.

This unfortunate episode once again calls attention to how African leaders view power. To them, political authority is not a tool within the matrix of governance whose purpose is to bring transformation. It is a perquisite, a reward.

In his essay, The Monarchical Tendency in African Political Culture, Ali Mazrui discusses this conception of power, and its consequences.

We know too well the gruesome fate of those in Africa’s post-colonial history who were seen as trying to take away these “personal gifts.”

For a country of three million people, the country labours under a costly royal family.

The most successful societies in history are those that figure out the most efficient and productive ways of organising themselves. A long monarchical tradition does not confer efficiency and productivity to that system of governance.

True, there are rich countries that have constitutional monarchies, but they can afford it. Many other countries have found monarchies to make no sense or cents.

The Russians and Chinese got rid of theirs. The French guillotined their last monarch. I’m in no way advocating the French solution to the monarchy problem in Africa, only asking whether monarchical governance in desperately poor countries such as Lesotho and Eswatini is the most efficient and productive way to organise society.

But more urgently, we must find ways of depersonalising political authority in Africa and restoring it as a function of governance for public advancement. Perhaps an African Union summit will put this on its agenda. But don’t hold your breath.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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