Lazarus Chakwera’s victory as the new president of Malawi represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Peter Mutharika, who almost a year ago was declared the winner in national polls. But the decision was annulled by the country’s judges, and a date for a new election set.

The outcome has been greeted with euphoria by the victor and his supporters. But as this subsides, the hard, long work begins.

Close to the top of the list of big problems facing the country is that it’s starkly divided along ethnic and regional lines. Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party enjoys support from the central and northern parts of the country, while Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party is strong in the south.

The second challenge is that the country’s judges, in annulling last year’s poll, set down new election rules. The rerun winner would have to garner more than half of the vote. This replaced the “first past the post” system.

The danger is that a combination of ethnic and regionalised voting and a run-off system may encourage party proliferation and fragmentation.

Chakwera has his work cut out. He leads a party which was at the forefront of the country’s fight for independence from Britain and went on to rule during the 27-year dictatorship of Hastings Banda. This was ended by the country’s first multi-party elections in 1994.

For the rerun he formed an alliance with Saulos Chilima, the former vice-president. Chilima will now serve as Chakwera’s deputy.

Chakwera will need to build consensus to ensure that the new electoral laws don’t worsen tensions in the country. And he will need to forge a new kind of politics that balances cooperation with competition.

The back story

Chakwera might just have what it takes to build bridges.

He was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, for more than two decades. He also has a background in philosophy and served as a theology lecturer and preacher.

Chakwera emerged as a prominent political voice following his registration in the 2014 elections as presidential candidate for the opposition Malawi Congress Party. He lost to Mutharika but continued to serve as the party’s leader and member of the National Assembly.

He stood against Mutharika again last year. Initial announcements declared Mutharika president with over 38%. But Chakwera (who came second with about 35%) and Chilema (who came third with 20%) challenged the outcome. The country’s judges annulled the elections for failing acceptable levels of electoral integrity.

Chakwera’s victory is remarkable in that it’s the first time in Africa that a repeat presidential election rerun has resulted in a reversal of outcomes. The only repeat rerun that’s been held was in Kenya in 2017. But the poll ordered by the courts didn’t reverse the outcome.

The election result strengthens Malawi’s opposition. Chakwera’s victory means that three of the country’s six competitive presidential elections have been won by opposition candidates.

For this remarkable turnaround, a number of factors came into play.

The first was that Malawians protested regularly against manifest irregularities in the 2019 elections. And the military protected protesters. Another major factor was that the opposition coalesced around the Tonse Alliance, mainly between Chakwera and Chilema.

For their part, courts insisted on complying with high standards of electoral integrity.

Finally, the Electoral Commission had to deliver markedly improved elections despite limited resources, time and the constraints of COVID-19.

Dangers in the electoral system

Malawian elections have historically shown regionalised and ethnic voting patterns, with presidential candidates drawing on compartmentalised strongholds. Political alliances have effectively been convenient ways of aggregating ethnic votes.

The voting patterns of the latest presidential elections were no different. The Tonse Alliance picked up votes mainly from northern and central regions. Mutharika fared well in the south.

The newly introduced runoff electoral system could exacerbate the pattern of regionalised voting as opposition candidates seek to make it to – and lead – an alliance in the second round. The latest elections avoided this danger because the invalidated elections helped the opposition candidates gauge their strength, facilitating the formation of the Tonse Alliance.

In future, the first round of elections may have to serve this purpose, leading to a very fragmented electoral field at the outset.

The new electoral system may also make second round elections a certainty. Considering the logistics, cost, and potential violence associated with organising repeat elections, this may be undesirable.

Moreover, if legislative elections are conducted before presidential elections, two-round elections could systematically result in the president’s party being unable to secure a legislative majority. This would be a recipe for executive-legislative paralysis, already a challenge in Malawi.

Adjustments to electoral system

To ensure that the runoff system encourages cross-regional and cross-ethnic party formation, the new president should encourage political dialogue to refine the electoral system.

Nigeria and Kenya have established electoral systems that require presidential candidates to win not only a national majority, but also secure a certain level of electoral support across different regions. This could encourage coalitions of commitment before the first round, rather than coalitions of convenience before the second. These coalitions may in turn make second round elections unnecessary.

In addition, reconsideration of the majority threshold to avoid a second round may further encourage pre-election coalitions while also reducing chances of a second round.

No African country has devised a sensible way of dealing with run-offs. But several Latin American countries have introduced creative rules. In Costa Rica, a candidate wins in the first round if he or she secures 40% of the votes. In Argentina, a candidate winning 45% or between 40% and 45% with a 10% lead over the runner-up avoids a run-off.

The timing of legislative and executive elections can enable a modicum of governability and avoid systematic legislative-executive deadlock. And legislative elections should preferably follow, rather than precede, presidential elections, or be held alongside the second, rather than first, round. Holding first round presidential elections alongside legislative elections may be understandable as it would mean sometimes avoiding repeat elections. But the trade-off could be government paralysis.

As the electoral system has been decided through a judicial decision, it lacks the nuances and details that may be necessary to advance desirable goals, such as encouraging pan-Malawian parties and reducing the chances of repeat elections. Such nuances are the hallmarks of political processes.

Accordingly, the new president may need to launch processes to ensure that Malawi’s constitutional democracy stands on a firm basis.

Choiceless democracy

Ultimately, the success of Malawi’s democratic dispensation will be measured on the extent to which it delivers public goods – opportunities, development, accountability – for the people.

Fittingly, a prominent Malawian thought-leader, the late Thandika Mkandawire, warned against “choiceless democracy” – when governing parties alternate but offer no policy alternatives.

As International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indices indicate, progress in representative democracy in Africa has not been accompanied by improvements in impartial administration in the form of predictable enforcement of laws and reduction of corruption. In fact, in the case of Malawi, despite democratic gains since the 1990s, impartial administration may have declined.

Accordingly, Chakwera must do more than simply meet his inaugural assurance to the opposition that he would

strive to give equal opportunities for all of us.

He must also lay the foundation for a democracy that delivers.The Conversation

 

Adem K Abebe, Extraordinary Lecturer and editor of ConstitutionNet, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jun 29, 2020

In this second installment of a two-part series on the Galaxy Z Flip’s Hideaway Hinge, we will take a look at another key innovation, which helps to protect the device from dust and dirt – the sweeper technology.

Keeping internal components clean is essential for maintaining the performance of a smartphone. The challenge of keeping dust and dirt out is even greater for foldable devices, as their designs include microscopic gaps between the body and the hinge.

Sweeper Technology

In designing the Galaxy Z Flip’s hinge, Samsung engineers not only had to account for the spaces between the body and the hinge, but also meet three specific conditions: Elasticity (to account for shifts in the gap size); long-lasting flexibility (the hinge is tested to withstand 200,000 folds1); and slimness (to keep the device’s sleek form factor).

Finding a solution that protected against particles and met those conditions meant dozens and dozens of failed prototypes. But then, one of Samsung’s top engineers noticed that the way fibers were used in vacuum cleaners was similar to what was required for the Hideaway Hinge. The sweeper fibers were not only pliable enough to cover all the gaps as the smartphone folds and unfolds, they also remained flexible after long-term usage.

Now let’s take a look at how Samsung engineers overcame all those challenges and what the outcome of their efforts looks like.

Jun 29, 2020

As Nigeria’s aviation industry prepares for the resumption of domestic flights amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja has acquired two robots with artificial intelligence (AI) features to improve passenger safety

A demo flight between Abuja and Lagos was conducted on Saturday by the airport as it observed compliance with safety measures put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that hand wash and sanitisers were provided, temperature checks were conducted, and the rules of physical distancing were enforced.

At the departure lounge, the seats have been rearranged to increase spacing and instructions are placed to discourage passengers from using certain seats to urge them to maintain physical distance from others.

NAN also reports that two newly acquired machines, for the purpose of identifying passengers, had been stationed at the airport.

One of the highlights of the dry run test was the introduction of AI robots by Aerokeys Nigeria, an aviation service company, which successfully performed facial recognition.

The robots will also be used to reduce human contacts by performing repetitive tasks such as measuring body temperature, screening passengers, managing and sharing flight information, and generally enhancing compliance with the new airport protocols.

If they observe passengers with high temperatures attempting to board a plane, they will sound an alarm and identify the persons, the chief executive officer of Aerokeys Nigeria, Satumari Kudla told journalists.

“What we are trying to do is make our contribution to the fight against COVID-19 by bringing these robots to facilitate repetitive tasks in the airport environment,” he said.

Musa Nuhu, director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), said on Thursday at the press briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 that a new date for the resumption of flights will be announced following the Saturday demonstration. Monday, June 21, was initially fixed as a possible date but the NCAA said on Thursday, June 18, that it was no longer feasible.

Jun 29, 2020

Ethiopia’s communications regulator said on Friday it received twelve bids for the two telecom licences it plans to award to multinational mobile companies, breaking the state monopoly.

Nine bidders are telecom operators and two non-telecom operators, and one submission was incomplete, the regulator said.

Bidders include Etisalat, Axian, MTN, Orange, Saudi Telecom Company, Telkom SA, Liquid Telecom, Snail Mobile and Global Partnership for Ethiopia, a consortium of telecom operators made of Vodafone, Vodacom, and Safaricom. The two non-telecom operators are Kandu Global Telecommunications and Electromecha International Projects.

The issuing of licences will open up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets in the country of around 110 million.

The Ethiopian Communications Authority said the licenses will be awarded through a “competitive bidding process,” but did not clarify a deadline for it.

“This is the initial stage. We will soon have...the second stage,” said Balch Reba, director-general of the Ethiopian Communication Authority.

 

Reuters

Jun 28, 2020

Leaders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt said they were hopeful that the African Union could help them broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies within two or three weeks.

Ethiopia, which is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which worries its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, said it would fill the reservoir in a few weeks, as planned, providing enough time for talks to be concluded.

Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies from the Nile river.

Ethiopia’s water minister, Seleshi Bekele, said that consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, held an online summit.

Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopia’s prime minister, said that in Friday’s agreement there was “no divergence from Ethiopia’s original position of filling the dam.”

The Egyptian presidency said in a statement after the summit that Ethiopia will not fill the dam unilaterally.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile’s waters.

Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister’s Office said that the three countries agreed that the Nile and the Grand Renaissance Dam “are African issues that must be given African solutions.”

Friday’s round of talks brokered by the African Union, is the latest attempt to move forward negotiations which have repeatedly stalled due to technical and political disagreements. They also signal an intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.

Ethiopia’s statement said the African Union, and not the U.N. Security Council, will assist the countries in the negotiations and provide technical support.

Cairo had appealed to the Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam. The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.

 

Reuters

A growing insurgency in the northern parts of Mozambique has caught the attention of conflict analysts and observers worldwide.

There is now even a possibility that the South African National Defence Force might become involved in the most northern Cabo Delgado province, with a view to ending the deadly violence and litany of atrocities, abductions and destruction of infrastructure.

Should the South African government decide to send in its military, the main aim would be to focus on the violent activities of an extremist and militant Islamic group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah. It is also locally known as Al Shabaab, even though it has no connections with the Somali movement of the same name. The group aims to establish its own mosques and madrassas to enhance the spread of its radical dogma.

Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah started as a religious sect which turned into a guerrilla group. Initially its goal was to impose Sharia law (Islamic law) in Cabo Delgado. It rejected the state’s schooling, health system and laws, which resulted in much tension in the province. Some analysts argue that the movement is motivated more by greed than by dogma or grievance: that it is making millions of dollars a week through criminal activities relating to mining, logging, poaching and contraband.

Be that as it may, many of its members appear to be socio-economically marginalised young people without a proper education and formal employment. They have been joined by young immigrants in a similar marginalised position. It is estimated that the movement’s members are organised in tens of small cells along the coast of northern Mozambique.

There is rightly widespread concern over these developments. Should South Africa – and specifically its defence force – get involved, it would certainly be venturing into a highly violent and complex landscape, requiring a counter-terrorism type of operations.

Such operations are always highly challenging. Countering terrorist and insurgent forces in Mozambique could be as challenging as the protracted operations against Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, the militant Islamist sects that operate predominantly in Nigeria and Somalia, destabilising large areas with their terror campaigns.

Why should there be serious concern over the situation in Mozambique?

Mozambique borders Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and eSwatini. Four of these six countries are landlocked, and hence depend on Mozambique as a gateway to global markets. Events in Cabo Delgado could thus threaten regional stability.

Even though Mocímboa da Praia, which is regarded as the headquarters of the extremists, is about 2,500km from South Africa, the group nevertheless poses a challenge to the country too. After all, Mozambique has strong economic ties with South Africa as the region’s economic engine. Regional stability is certainly in the interest of South Africa.

From a South African standpoint, four main issues stand out. These are: the danger of the spread of Islamist extremism so close to home; the strategic importance of the area under siege; weakness of Mozambican security forces; and combating organised crime.

Violent extremism

This is the first case of violent extremism of this kind in southern Africa. It is also the first manifestation of a militant movement which is associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and the notion of a jihadist insurgency.

Until recently, acts of terror conducted by extremists in southern Africa were confined to Tanzania and Zanzibar.

The death toll and displacements of Mozambican locals in Cabo Delgado are difficult to verify. But reports indicate that more than 1,000 people have died and about two million are affected by the crisis overall.

Secondly, in recent years massive offshore natural gas deposits have been identified, drawing some of the world’s biggest energy players. Offshore exploration in the Cabo Delgado area is among Africa’s three largest liquid natural gas projects.

Investments of billions of dollars have already been made, but an escalation of violence is putting the future of these investments at risk.

These projects could be of major importance to poverty alleviation in the country. Poverty affects most of those in rural areas with low levels of formal education. Economic activity in Mozambique has improved in recent years and has the potential to strengthen in the foreseeable future. But much will depend on the megaprojects in Cabo Delgado, debt restructuring, COVID-19, macroeconomic stability and improved political and economic governance, among other key factors.

For decades, South Africa has experienced an illegal influx of Mozambicans due to development challenges in their country. Thus, economic, political and social development in Mozambique are of the utmost importance to South Africa, which is battling massive poverty and unemployment of its own.

Although exploration in Mozambique is offshore, support facilities are onshore and most vulnerable to attacks. The foreign companies with their massive investments feel threatened, especially now that final investment decisions have to be taken.

South Africa has another interest in these developments. The South African energy and chemical multinational Sasol has invested heavily in gas exploration projects since 2014.

The arrival of foreign companies has led to deep discontent among local people who are deeply aggrieved by their activities. They had to relocate to make way for the infrastructure development, amid complaints about the compensation they received. They’re also aggrieved that they have been resettled inshore, away from the coastal fishing areas.

These factors further complicate security challenges in the very delicate social landscape. Moreover, the insurgents can easily exploit local grievances as matters play into their hands.

The Mozambican military and police have proven to be no match for the militants. They have been unable to prevent them from taking the northern strategic town of Mocímboa de Praia, as well as invading a town near Quissanga.

To counter the growing insurgency, the Mozambican government has contracted the Wagner group, a private Russian military company, to assist government forces. But the situation appears to have gone from bad to worse.

A South African security group, the Dyck Advisory Group, was also allegedly assisting the Mozambican government.

A fourth cause for concern over dynamics in the Cabo Delgado province relates to organised crime. The area is a major conduit for smuggling drugs and other contraband. The volume of heroin produced and shipped from Afghanistan along a network of routes, via East and southern Africa, has increased considerably in recent years.

Cabo Delgado is a key point for smuggling drugs, wildlife, timber, gems and gold. The insurgency makes it more difficult to enforce the law in the province.

No choice

Operations aimed at countering Islamist extremists tend to continue for many years. Success at curbing violent terrorist attacks requires careful and long term responses.

Ideally, these should comprise a mixed set of interventions, including social reform, economic development and varying degrees of military force.

South African political involvement is now almost inevitable as the Southern African Development Community has already undertaken to help Mozambique in its fight against the insurgency. This makes it highly likely that South Africa’s military forces will somehow get involved.The Conversation

 

Theo Neethling, Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Studies and Governance, University of the Free State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jun 28, 2020

Zimbabwe on Friday abruptly suspended all mobile money transactions, the most widely used platform to make and receive payments in the crisis-ridden country, claiming the move would tackle crime and economic sabotage.

The government also suspended all trade on the country's stock exchange, which it accused of being complicit in illicit financial activities.

An information ministry statement said government was suspending with immediate effect "all monetary transactions on phone-based mobile money platforms in order to facilitate intrusive investigations".

"Government is in possession of impeccable intelligence ... whereby mobile-based phone systems ...are conspiring with the help of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange - either deliberately or inadvertently - in illicit activities that are sabotaging the economy," it said.

In 2016, mobile money payments reportedly accounted for more than 80 percent of all electronic payment transactions.

The shock announcement coincided with month-end when people receive and withdraw their salaries via mobile phone banking.

In a country critically short of bank notes, the move will likely shut most general transactions from payment for groceries and services such as electricity.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power in 2017 following a military coup pledging to revive the moribund economy, now blames the economic malaise on unnamed "political detractors".

"We are fully cognisant that this battle is being fuelled by our political detractors, elite opportunists and malcontents who are bent on pushing a nefarious agenda," he said this week.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

The country is short of cash and basics including fuel and the staple cornmeal.

According to new data annual inflation was inching closer to 800 percent in April.

 

AFP

Jun 26, 2020

The House of Representatives has begun an investigation of cable and satellite television service providers in Nigeria over their high tariffs and monopolised bouquets.

The House is specifically probing the Digital Satellite Television, a South Africa-based provider owned by MultiChoice, for allegedly cheating its Nigerian subscribers by restricting them to prepaid plans.

Members of the House had on March 17, 2020, took turns to criticise DSTV for refusing to introduce pay-per-view.

Consequently, the House had resolved to set up the committee to probe into the matter, with the mandate to invite Federal Government agencies regulating the industry, including the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Again on June 2, 2020, the House inaugurated an ad hoc committee to investigative the increment of subscription rates by Multichoice and other cable television service providers.

The committee, which the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, constituted and inaugurated, assured Nigerians of justice and fairness, saying it would work towards making the providers to adopt ‘pay per view’ system.

Chairman of the committee, Unyime Idem, at an investigative hearing held in Abuja on Thursday, said the National Broadcasting Commission was summoned to explain why DSTV and other service providers have refused to introduce pay-per-view.

Idem said, “Today, we want to hear from you and your team, how the industry can be properly managed so that beneficiaries who are Nigerians can smile at the end of the day. I am sure you must have been hearing of the yearnings of Nigerians for years now, who are the subscribers to these services, that they are not happy with the current services they are getting from the providers.

“They have been crying on a daily basis that they are not satisfied with the services they are getting from the providers in terms of high charges, price hike and, most importantly, considering what is obtainable in other countries of the world, that is pay-per-view offer that other countries are giving to their subscribers.

“Why is it not implemented in Nigeria? We want to know your position as the regulator of this service providers. What are the bottlenecks? What are the constraints? What are the implications? Why are we not enjoying ‘pay as you go’ as subscribers to these service providers?”

 

Punch News

Jun 26, 2020

Study shows Satellite TV reception increases by 23% in Nigeria and 19% in Ghana in 2019 since the last study, conducted two years ago; SES (www.SES.com) currently reaches 35 million TV households across the African Continent.

SES, the leader in global content connectivity solutions, has unveiled the results of its annual Satellite Monitor survey, which reveals a steady increase in the penetration of satellite TV across Africa. The study on TV reception also shows an increase in SES reach from 33 million African households in 2018 to 35 million households in 2019.

In Nigeria, the Satellite Monitor results revealed that satellite TV reception was the choice for 11.8 million households in 2019, a 23% increase compared to 2017, and a further 4.7 million in Ghana, up by 19% from 2017. The study also highlighted that High Definition (HD) TV sets are becoming increasingly popular, already present in approximately 50% of Ghanaian and Nigerian TV homes.

Other TV reception modes in Nigeria and Ghana currently include terrestrial, cable and IPTV. According to the latest survey results, satellite TV is steadily gaining popularity as the TV reception mode of choice in both markets, with 70% of TV homes in Ghana and 33% of those in Nigeria opting for satellite in 2019 – an increase from 64% and 27%, respectively, compared to 2017.

TV reception modes (in million homes)

TV reception modes

Ghana

(in million homes)

2017

2019

Satellite

4.0

4.7

Terrestrial

2.1

2.0

Cable

n.a

n.a

IPTV

n.a

n.a

Total

6.1

6.7

TV reception modes

Nigeria

(in million homes)

2017

2019

Satellite

9.7

11.8

Terrestrial

25.2

24.1

Cable

0.1

0.1

IPTV

<0.1

<0.1

Total

35.0

36.0

 

The Satellite Monitor results show that SES also increased its reach across the broader African continent. In addition to the growth of homes reached in Nigeria and Ghana, the study shows that SES’s satellites reach 11.6 million homes (satellite and terrestrial) in anglophone West Africa; 6.2 million satellite homes in francophone West Africa; 17.7 million homes (satellite and terrestrial) in sub-Saharan Africa; and 0.9 million satellite homes in East Africa.

“The results of our annual Satellite Monitor market research demonstrate that satellite continues to be the optimal infrastructure to deliver hundreds of TV channels and in high picture quality too, while offering an affordable solution in the transition from analogue to digital TV,” said Clint Brown, Vice President of Sales and Market Development for SES Video in Africa. “With the deadline for the analogue switch-off looming in both countries – 2020 in Ghana and 2021 in Nigeria – the 2019 Satellite Monitor findings confirm that end consumers in regions going through digital migration are satisfied with satellite TV and choosing it for its better value proposition and variety of free-to-air offerings, rather than purchasing new hardware and switching to digital terrestrial TV.”

This SES annual market research offers a comprehensive and in-depth analysis into the TV market in each country it surveys and is designed to assess the development of TV reception modes and SES’s total reach in the market, as well as to serve as a benchmark for the TV and satellite industry. In 2019, Ghana and Nigeria were the main surveyed African countries as they stand as the most dynamic and highly penetrated TV markets in sub-Saharan Africa and have been surveyed by SES since 2015. 

Ever since Lesotho, the mountainous southern African constitutional kingdom of about 2.2 million, attained independence from Britain in 1966, its development has been punctuated by all manner of constitutional breakdowns. These have ranged from coups, dictatorships and military rule.

Among the long list of factors that account for the long-running political instability in the country, the flawed constitution ranks high.

It is now a matter of common course that successive interventions by the Southern African Development Community, in a bid to bring peace to Lesotho, have failed. One of the main reasons is that the solutions often provided are palliative; they ignore the need for fundamental constitutional reform.

The organisation of Lesotho’s state institutions is fundamentally flawed. Almost every institution is an appendage of the executive: oversight institutions, security agencies, parliament, and the judiciary. There is a very weak balance between key state institutions.

Despite the fact that it was adopted only as recently as 1993, Lesotho’s constitution is fairly outmoded. The country had a chance to adopt a new constitution when it emerged from dictatorship under Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan and rule by a military junta, both of which lasted for about twenty years. Instead, what followed was a mere rehash of the 1966 constitution.

As such, the current constitution is cast in the classical Westminster conceptions that countries in Africa and elsewhere have long jettisoned. The fundamental structure of the constitution is bad and unsuited for modern-day constitutionalism.

Different approaches

While there is some consensus about the need for constitutional changes, there is considerable disagreement in the country about the kind of constitutional changes that are needed, and how extensive they should be.

There are those who say that the changes must be incremental and phased. The justification for this approach is that there are minor and urgent changes that can be effected with relative ease. These can be carried out within a short space of time, and without a need for huge resources. This include, for example, reducing the powers of the Prime Minister in relation to other branches of government.

This justification is largely based on expediency. The proponents of this approach use the recently adopted Ninth Amendment to the constitution as an example of the success of the incremental approach. The amendment, in the main, prevents a Prime Minister who has lost a vote of no confidence in parliament from calling an early election. It leaves him or her with just one option; to resign. The amendment had an immediate application in May 2020 after then Prime Minister Tom Thabane lost the confidence of the National Assembly.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that this success is shorlived; that the country should seize this opportune moment to change the entire constitution. I belong to this group. Lesotho needs a new constitution altogether, and as a matter of urgency. A new constitution is needed that will design new institutions that work in a balanced manner and contribute to the transformation of the country from its historic shackles of instability, poverty and abuse of fundamental rights.

What’s wrong

The fundamental principles on which the current constitution is based are outmoded. It is based, among other things, on a very weak model of separation of powers and checks and balances.

PM Tom Thabane recently stepped down as Lesotho’s PM. EFE-EPA/MIchael Reynolds

The executive is virtually untrammelled. It appoints and dismisses, almost single-handedly, the heads of security agencies, heads of oversight institutions, and the heads of the superior courts. It even appoints all chief accounting officers in the civil service.

This kind of institutional design is typical of classical Westminster constitutions. Most of them are cast on monarchical prerogative. Thus, when political power in Lesotho shifted from the palace to cabinet with the 1993 constitution, all the prerogatives of the monarch shifted to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, therefore, virtually exercises all the erstwhile prerogative powers of the King.

When power is so concentrated in the hands of one person, abuse is inevitable. Indeed, the office of the Prime Minister has been the fulcrum of instability in Lesotho. The successive incumbents have used other state institutions to suppress dissent and perpetuate administrative malfeasance. The army, the parliament, and the judiciary have been the major instruments in this onslaught.

Another fundamental problem with the constitution is that the country has a bad Bill of Rights. All the rights in it are fraught with claw-back clauses, to the extent that the “fundamental rights” it supposedly enshrines are reduced to an empty list of promises.

For instance, section 18 provides for the freedom from discrimination. But it then provides for a long list of limitations to the right. It even outrageously includes one that says freedom from discrimination does not apply to members of the “disciplined forces” such as members of the army, police and correctional services. It also says that the right does not apply when the basis for the violation is customary law.

Effectively, women whose rights are often suppressed through the use of customary law in Lesotho, can hardly expect meaningful protection of their rights from the Bill of Rights. Most importantly, it excludes social and economic rights. This is despite the fact that Lesotho is trapped in the least developed countries category.

The importance of having enforceable economic rights is that it changes the constitutional orientation of the country entirely, from a liberal constitution to a post-liberal one. A post-liberal constitution - such as neighbouring South Africa’s - embodies the positive obligations of the state to remedy historical realities. It’s imperative for Lesotho to move in this direction.

Time for boldness

There is no amount of gradual change that can remedy these fundamental deficiencies. It’s time for an overhaul of the entire constitution. Its deficiencies are both structural and fundamental.

Lesotho would do well to follow the example set by the likes of South Africa and Kenya, whose constitutional projects became a success. Instead of just tinkering, they bravely adopted completely new constitutions that marked a clear break with the past.

This is the path that Lesotho needs to take. The incremental approach only adds to the already existing confusion about relations between state institutions in the country. That will only amount to an unsustainable patchwork.The Conversation

 

Hoolo 'Nyane, Head of Department, Public and Environmental Law Department, University of Limpopo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

  1. Opinions and Analysis

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