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.