UN RC and UNDP RR Mr Salvator Niyonzima addresses leaders at the opening of the National Leaders Forum

Bo-Me le bo-Ntate, Khotsong!

Today marks an important milestone in Lesotho’s political journey as you, distinguished leaders, gather here to commence the national dialogue on the Lesotho we Want. We all know that it has not been a straight path to this point and that, in all likelihood, there will be bumps along the way.  Allow me to therefore use the well-known saying that, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  By being here today, you are making not only a giant step in the journey, but also sowing hope that, through dialogue, the transformation of Lesotho can be realized. Having taken this initial step, it is my hope that you will all stay the course, persist and persevere in the journey no matter how long or arduous it may turn out to be.  On behalf of the United Nations in Lesotho and that of UNDP, I warmly commend you for your commitment to the national dialogue.

Your Excellencies, Bo Mme le Bo Ntate,

It is an honour and privilege for the United Nations to be associated with this important national process. The UN has been a partner in Lesotho’s development since independence, supporting the government of the day and the people to pursue national aspirations. Within this partnership, the UN has supported the quest for the reforms since 2015 when the previous government sought and received technical support on constitutional review options.  Support to the reforms continued after last year’s election when the current government approached the UN for support.  The outcome of the current support is the document titled, The Lesotho We Want: Dialogue and Reforms for National Transformation - Vision, Overview and Roadmap (The Draft Reforms Roadmap) which was subsequently endorsed by SADC in April 2018.  As I have said it on other occasions, I hope that all reform stakeholders in Lesotho can see the document for what it is: an important and necessary vision statement and exercise of leadership by the government; and one that can be enriched through a constructive engagement of all stakeholders.

This initial support was followed by the development of the Lesotho National Dialogue and Stabilisation Project (LNDSP), supported financially by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, again at the request of Government. The LNDSP was developed in consultation with Government, SADC, Civil Society, and Church Leaders, and flows from the Roadmap Document. The key priority of the project is to lay the ground for the national reforms by supporting a three-tiered national dialogue on the Lesotho we Want which includes the National Leaders Forum (NLF) which we are beginning today; community level consultations; and multi-stakeholder national dialogue plenaries.  Specifically, the NLF is intended as a platform for building trust and confidence among political and other leaders to create an enabling environment for the national dialogue and the reforms. Trust-building is not a one-off event but a process. I hope that you as leaders will agree on the need to meet regularly to nurture trust, deepen rules of engagement and affirm commitment towards the reforms.

Your Excellencies, Bo Mme le Bo Ntate,

Allow me to pay tribute to SADC for its important and tireless role in Lesotho. For many years now, SADC has been a major actor in Lesotho’s peace and stability and, in the spirit of the principle of subsidiarity, the UN warmly commends SADC’s lead role in Lesotho. I am particularly gratified by the resolute engagement of the SADC Facilitator for Lesotho, H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, and his recent appointment of His Lordship Justice Dikgang Moseneke along with three South African Deputy Ministers to spearhead dialogue facilitation in Lesotho. Your Lordship Justice Moseneke and your team, I warmly congratulate you on your important assignment, I wish you every success, and pledge UN’s collaboration and support to the team’s mission.

Furthermore, I am delighted that collaboration between the UN and SADC was cemented through a Memorandum of Understanding signed between SADC and UNDP in April of this year. This MoU provides the framework for the partnership between the two institutions in support of the national dialogue and the reforms. I wish to particularly thank Her Excellency the Executive Secretary Dr. Stergomena Tax and H.E. Ambassador Matias Matondo, Head of SAPMIL and Chair of the SADC Oversight Committee, for the excellent partnership that has developed in the context of our support to the national dialogue and the reforms.

I must acknowledge and thank all the partners that have worked together to develop, and will be working together to deliver, the project. The Government of Lesotho is of course a key partner and will, at the end of the day, be held accountable for the success or failure of the national reforms. Coordination and facilitation by the Government will be critical for all aspects of the national dialogue, as will be the principles of inclusion and participation. Other partners, besides UNDP, include the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN); the Christian Council of Lesotho(CCL); UN-Women; the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

I also want to acknowledge that the European Union Delegation in Lesotho, through Ambassador Christian Manahl, has indicated its willingness to provide additional resources to ensure the success of the national dialogue. Indeed, I dare say that all development partners in Lesotho are keen to see Lesotho implement the long-sought reforms.  The national dialogue is a key step.

Your Excellencies, Bo Mme le Bo Ntate,

Since we are gathered here as leaders, allow me to share three thoughts on leadership.

First, leadership is about having a clear picture about where we want to be, explaining and building ownership of that vision, and helping to cut a path towards its achievement. Since April last year, UNDP, the Ministry of Development Planning and the National University of Lesotho have been involved in a project called the Lesotho Foresight and Scenario Project.

The Project explored possible futures of Lesotho in 2040 and how the country might get there. Participants in this project identified five possible futures: 1) Ntoamehla where in 2040 things remain as they are;  2) Marantha – where things get worse and Lesotho is ‘in tatters’; 3) Return to Eden - a kind of self-help state where citizens are left to their own devices and government exists only in name; 4) an in-between state - where some things work well but others get worse as the country is dragged down due to the poor state of governance; and Li Tloaela Makhulo, a land where good governance and management of resources have come together to bequeath a vibrant and thriving kingdom. 

Invariably, the project identified good governance, stable politics, rule of law and sound management of resources as pre-requisites to the achievement of Li Tloaela makhulo. The transformation from Ntoamehla to Li Tloaela Makhulo is the vision I see encompassed in the national aspiration for reforms. This vision of a transformed Lesotho is however direly in need of focused, patriotic and united leadership. I urge that we as leaders see this dialogue as a means to building a common ownership of that vision and agreeing on the steps towards it.

The second thought is that leadership entails the capacity to think larger, reach out and get along with those outside one’s immediate constituency. This only becomes possible when we dialogue meaningfully and resist pointing fingers and blaming everybody but ourselves.  Instead of pointing fingers, I appeal that we see this forum, and any that will come after it, as an opportunity to talk to one another, to reflect on our common challenges and, together to point at our common problems, not at each other. I dare hope that, beyond identifying our problems, we will also recognize the responsibility that we have, as the leaders of Basotho, to commit every ounce of our being to addressing those problems. This should be the essence of our national dialogue.

According to David Bohm the objective of dialogue is not to analyze things, or to win an argument, but rather, to suspend one’s opinions in order to listen to everybody's opinions. When we do this, David Bohm suggests, “truth emerges unannounced—not that we have chosen it.” It would be a futile exercise to participate in dialogue and yet remain rooted only in one’s opinion on what is wrong or best for the country. Nothing is ever gained from listening only to one’s own voice or only to those who agree with us.

I have noted that in the programme, there will be opportunity for stakeholder representatives to make statements later today. I suspect that those statements have already been prepared. I however hope that these shall not be a repetition of the same things that we have said before.  I urge that as we make our statements today, we resist the temptation to be stuck on our positions or to indulge in finger-pointing. I rather hope that your statements will be seeking to appeal to and convince those outside of your constituency to come along with your thinking, not triggering them to defend their positions. Your ability to rise above your respective constituencies to the bigger Lesotho constituency is the only way to finding a way forward to achieving our shared vision. 

Finally, the third attribute of leadership that I want to mention is courage. It takes courage for one to stand up for their position, no doubt. It takes even more courage to reverse oneself and change course when circumstances so demand. It takes courage to think differently from members of one’s group. It makes little sense to insist on a path that does not lead to where the majority of Basotho want to be.  

In the recent past, we have witnessed the courageous acts of leaders within our continent, acts that could change the course of their countries’ histories:

In Kenya, national elections have long been a cause for national anxiety and serious violence, not least the one held last year. Early this year, to the surprise of their followers, many of whom lived off the conflict, two sworn ‘political enemies’ put their differences behind them and agreed to use their influence to unite their country. Kenya today is a much more hopeful and united country than it was just a few months ago. That is courage.

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a bitter war from 1998 to 2000 and thereafter went into the trenches of a ‘cold war’, which ultimately proved to be very expensive for both countries. About a month ago the two countries surprised everyone when they courageously put their bitterness behind them, made peace and opened a new chapter. That is courage.

South Sudan has for long been plunged into unimaginable despair and indescribable suffering due to conflict. Recently, the President and his erstwhile opponent signed a peace deal that has rekindled hope to the people of that country. I know there have been other agreements before that were broken, but still that’s courage.

I am not suggesting that Lesotho could be compared with any of those countries in terms of the extent and depth of its divisions. My point is rather the opposite: That these countries have had far more serious and deeper problems, including those associated with ethnic, cultural and other differences. They have had very bitter political and violent conflicts. Yet, they have all recently come to the realization that they could not go on in the same way. It takes vision, courage, humility and, hopefully, patriotism, for parties involved to reverse entrenched positions and behavior to pursue a bigger agenda for the benefit of their citizens. If such countries can change course the way they have done, why can’t Lesotho? Are Lesotho’s challenges so deep that they can defy the collective will of its leaders? I doubt it.

My ardent hope as I look around the room is that this apparent contagion of visionary, courageous and uplifting acts would seriously infect Lesotho and its leaders as well! I hope that today marks the beginning of the infection. Imagine the positive energy that could result from a resolve of leaders to put differences and political interests aside and focus on transforming the country to the Lesotho we Want!

Right Honourable Prime Minister, Your Lorship, Justice Moseneke, Excellencies, Bo Mme le Bo Ntate,   

Allow me, as I conclude, to wish all Basotho stakeholders every success in this forum and those to follow.

I urge you all to bring to the room the spirit of dialogue embraced by the Great Founder Morena Moshoeshoe and participate in good faith.

It will be much better to leave this forum pointing to our common challenges than scuttle pointing fingers at each other.

As always, the UN remains a partner in your development aspirations.

I leave you with the words of John W Gardner: “The most important thing a leader could do for the people is to give them back their future.”

The KHOTSO, PULA, NALA that the country so much desires must be the purpose of your leadership.

With that understanding, I wish Lesotho and all of you:

KHOTSO, PULA, NALA!

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