Region commits to Lesotho stability
By Sechaba Mokhethi
MASERU – The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has once again been called into the fray to safeguard peace and stability in the conflict-prone Kingdom of Lesotho, which has topped the regional body’s priority list since return to multi-party democracy.
Lesotho heads to the polls in three months after parliament was dissolved two years into its five-year term, following a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili led to the collapse of the coalition government.
Mosisili formed a seven-party coalition borne of another SADC-backed snap elections in 2015, then bringing an end to former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s grip on power halfway through his five-year term.
Mosisili’s ouster, opposition argued, was propelled in the main by his government’s failure to implement a barrage of recommendations of the SADC-sponsored Justice Mphaphi Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry into the tragic assassination of former Lesotho Defence Force Commander Maaparankoe Mahao in 2015.
Spokesperson for the opposition Alliance of Democrats (AD), Teboho Lehloenya said Mosisili’s government failed in its declared core commitments of being reformist in nature and restoring stability, as well as improving the status and reputation of Lesotho as a regional political and security hotspot.
Almost two years down the line, Lesotho remains one of the most unstable countries in Southern Africa and in dire need of babysitting from the regional body until such time that proposed security sector, public service, parliamentary and constitutional reforms aimed at restoring stability are enforced.
It is against this backdrop that Lesotho once again topped the agenda of the SADC Extra Ordinary Summit held in Swaziland on March 18, 2017.
Following receipt and consideration of reports by the Facilitator, the South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the Chairperson of the Oversight Committee to the Kingdom of Lesotho, Justice Frederick Werema, the summit noted “with concern the changed political dynamics that have necessitated the holding of snap elections, Summit urged the Kingdom of Lesotho to address the fundamental challenges and bring about political stability”.
According to a communiqué issued by the secretariat following the Summit, Ramaphosa and Justice Werema were mandated to closely monitor the political and security situation in the mountainous kingdom during the election period.
The same Summit also mandated Ramaphosa supported by the Oversight Committee to conduct a multi-stakeholder national dialogue before the elections set for June 3, 2017, with the aim of building consensus and trust among all stakeholders and charting the way forward for the implementation of SADC Decisions.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who represented Lesotho at the Summit, assured the regional body upon his return from Swaziland that elections will in no way impede the implementation of the SADC decisions as the next government will have to enforce them.
“It doesn’t matter who is in government, the SADC decisions are binding on all of us,” he said.
This is an assurance that does little to appease the opposition parties that claims Mosisili does not have the political will to carry the SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations, which have been dragged from February 2016 after he was forced to accept the Commission’s report threatened with Lesotho’s suspension from the regional body.
Mosisili went on to expunge certain parts of the report, arguing it was in the interests of peace and stability as bestowed upon him by the laws of the country; this move caused a furore as names of elements of the national security agencies fingered by the Commission for criminal acts that included murder were also removed, the Commission had recommended their suspension from service while thorough investigations were conducted for eventual prosecution – they have all since received multiple promotions in their respective places of work.
Pressure was eventually exerted on Mosisili and his government by the government of the United States of America which threatened to remove Lesotho from its Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefiting list of countries. It was then that former army Commander Tlali Kamoli was retired in December 2016, and 23 soldiers who had been incarcerated for suspected mutiny were also released from detention and put on open arrest early March.
The road towards the June 3 elections has been mapped, but the campaign trail is already punctuated by unpleasant incidents such as arbitrary arrests and kidnapping threats of opposition stalwarts Machesetsa Mofomobe and Thuso Litjobo as well as social media activists Lira Moeti and Mohato Seleke, who have all been released from detention through the intervention of the courts of law.
Private radio stations, Tšenolo FM and People’s Choice FM have also been shut down with the latter opened through the court order while the former was just returned to air.
Media practitioners have on the other hand been taken for hours of interrogation by the police, questioned on the content of the news articles they write or programmes they host.