Declining Trust: Basotho Perceptions of Government Corruption and Performance Drive Drop in Popular Trust

In a democracy, citizens delegate powers to individuals and political parties charged with building and maintaining institutions that will ensure the people’s well-being. In this arrangement, trust is one of the most important ingredients in the legitimacy and sustainability of political systems. Politically, an attempted coup in 2014 led to the dissolution of the 2012 coalition government and an early election in February 2015, followed by what many saw as moves toward a “militarization” of the state. This included mass arrests in the army and the assassination of the former commander of the Lesotho Defence Force. At the same time, Lesotho’s economic performance continued to be poor, with high unemployment and emigration. Several high-profile corruption scandals made headlines, including one cited in a 2017 motion of no confidence in former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili that led to a third general election in five years. Against this context of continuing crisis, this policy paper uses Afrobarometer survey data to examine causes and implications of the marked decline in popular trust in government. Analyses show that rising perceptions of official corruption have resulted in sharply lower levels of trust in institutions of public order, which in turn has negatively impacted citizens’
perceptions of their democracy and increased the likelihood that Basotho may wish to leave the country. These findings confirm the damaging effect of corruption on trust and its potential to erode Lesotho’s fledgling democracy, clearly pointing to a need for the government to fight corruption more effectively.