Le­sotho faces fresh cri­sis as poll looms

Army de­nies plan­ning coup


LE­SOTHO is on a knife edge as it pre­pares to hold snap gen­eral elec­tions to­mor­row, its third in five years. The Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF), the prime source of decades of in­sta­bil­ity in the moun­tain­ous king­dom, this week re­jected al­le­ga­tions that it was pre­par­ing to stage a coup if the elec­tions are won by the man it op­poses, for­mer prime min­is­ter Thomas Tha­bane, of the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC) and his al­lies.

The coup al­le­ga­tions were raised af­ter a let­ter was leaked in which the LDF sought per­mis­sion from the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to be al­lo­cated 22 pieces of land, in­clud­ing hills and plateaus, around the coun­try.

The re­quest was seen as an at­tempt by the LDF to place its men around strate­gic ar­eas to ei­ther in­tim­i­date vot­ers or un­leash a reign of terror if the elec­tions are won by par­ties it op­poses.

But even if the LDF keeps its word and stays in bar­racks re­gard­less of who wins, scep­ti­cism abounds about the prospects of restor­ing sta­bil­ity in Le­sotho un­less the South­ern Africa Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) im­poses sus­tained pres­sure on any new gov­ern­ment to en­sure the im­ple­men­ta­tion of rec­om­men­da­tions of its com­mis­sion of in­quiry into in­sta­bil­ity in the coun­try.

The in­quiry, the first of its kind by the SADC, was es­tab­lished in 2015 and led by Botswana High Court judge Phumaphi Mphaphi. It rec­om­mended a raft of con­sti­tu­tional and se­cu­rity sec­tor re­forms to put an end to the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in a coun­try which has wit­nessed a se­ries of coups and mu­tinies.

Only the de­ploy­ment of South African troops by then-pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela in 1998 stopped Le­sotho from to­tal dis­in­te­gra­tion.

The Mphaphi com­mis­sion was es­tab­lished by the SADC in the wake of an at­tempted coup against then prime min­is­ter Tha­bane in Au­gust 2014 and the June 2015 mur­der of Maa­paarankoe Ma­hao, a for­mer com­man­der of the LDF, by fel­low soldiers.

No sub­stan­tial progress has been recorded in im­ple­ment­ing the com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions be­cause of the con­tin­ual squab­bling among Le­sotho’s key po­lit­i­cal play­ers.

An­a­lysts and com­men­ta­tors point out that Le­sotho, one of the world’s most im­pov­er­ished coun­tries, can­not af­ford to be hold­ing its third elec­tions in five years.

Yet there was no other op­tion af­ter in­cum­bent Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mo­sisili lost a no-con­fi­dence vote in Par­lia­ment on March 1 and then re­sorted to a law that al­lows any sit­ting prime min­is­ter to cir­cum­vent oust­ing from power by dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment within three days of a no-con­fi­dence vote and or­der­ing fresh elec­tions.

It is these kind of ar­bi­trary pow­ers that the SADC com­mis­sion said needed over­haul­ing.

Mo­sisili lost the no-con­fi­dence mo­tion af­ter his own Demo­cratic Congress (DC) party, the main player in his out­go­ing coali­tion, un­rav­elled and its deputy leader, Monyane Moleleki, broke away and joined forces with Tha­bane’s ABC to push for the no-con­fi­dence mo­tion.

Moleleki has since formed a new party, the Al­liance for Democ­racy, af­ter he lost a court bat­tle to fire Mo­sisili from the DC.

The fight be­tween Mo­sisili and Moleleki is a mi­cro­cosm of Le­sotho’s in­sta­bil­ity un­der­lined by po­lit­i­cal par­ties reg­u­larly splin­ter­ing in the quest for po­lit­i­cal power, a gate­way to riches in the im­pov­er­ished coun­try. Whichever party or politi­cian com­mands the pa­tron­age of the army gen­er­ally holds sway.

The Le­sotho Congress for Democ­racy (LCD), Mo­sisili’s ally in the out­go­ing coali­tion gov­ern­ment, has also splin­tered ahead of to­mor­row’s vote with its sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Se­libe Mo­choboroane, form­ing a Move­ment for Eco­nomic Change party.

Mo­sisili has since formed a pact with the re­main­ing fac­tion of the LCD, headed by Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Methotjoa Mets­ing, to form a coali­tion to fight the elec­tions.

De­spite dozens of par­ties and in­de­pen­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing, the vote is seen as a two-horse race be­tween the Mo­sisili/Mets­ing coali­tion and the ABC led by Tha­bane, who has re­turned from ex­ile in South Africa.

The lat­est in­sta­bil­ity in Le­sotho be­gan af­ter then-LDF com­man­der Tlali Kamoli at­tempted a coup in Au­gust 2014 shortly af­ter his fir­ing by then-prime min­is­ter Tha­bane.

Tha­bane sought refugee in South Africa and only re­turned un­der the guard of the South African po­lice.

A me­di­a­tion process led by Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa re­sulted in fresh elec­tions in Fe­bru­ary 2015. Tha­bane nar­rowly lost the elec­tions and Mets­ing, with whom Tha­bane had been in an un­sta­ble coali­tion, crossed over to form a new coali­tion with Mo­sisili. That coali­tion has now col­lapsed. Upon re­turn­ing to power in Fe­bru­ary 2015, Mo­sisili, Le­sotho’s long serv­ing prime min­is­ter of 14 years un­til his de­feat by Tha­bane in Fe­bru­ary 2012 elec­tions, re­in­stated Kamoli as army com­man­der.

Crit­ics ac­cused Mo­sisili of un­leash­ing a reign of terror and work­ing with Kamoli to elim­i­nate op­po­si­tion sym­pa­this­ers. Mo­sisili also faces se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions af­ter his gov­ern­ment awarded a lu­cra­tive fleet hire con­tract to Bid­vest with­out go­ing to ten­der and cost­ing the bank­rupt Le­sotho gov­ern­ment around R75 mil­lion monthly. His op­po­nents have been fur­ther in­censed by his de­ci­sion to ap­point his son, Retha­bile Mo­sisili, as Le­sotho’s chief del­e­gate to the R26 bil­lion Le­sotho High­lands Wa­ter project to sup­ply fresh wa­ter to South Africa.


Le­sotho’s for­mer prime min­is­ter, Thomas Tha­bane.

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