30 June, 2014

Lesotho: The Coup That Was Not

by Hussein Solomon

The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho consisting of a mere 11,720 square miles, and a population of less than two million has lurched from one political crisis to another since independence. Crises have generally been spawned by a dwindling economic base, authoritarian leadership styles and a military periodically overthrowing the civilian political leadership. Indeed, coups occurred in 1986, 1991 and 1994. Following the 1998 elections, the Lesotho Defence Force once again mutinied. This prompted the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) to authorize a military intervention force consisting of Botswana and South African troops to restore law and order.

Fears of another military intervention on the part of the regional body surfaced this past week when the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) issued the following statement:
“The South African Government notes with concern the unfolding political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho ... The South African Government has further noted with grave concern the unusual movements of the Lesotho Defence Force units in the capital, Maseru. The South African Government wishes to reaffirm and reiterate the African Union’s position on the unconstitutional change of governments on the continent and in this regard, the South African Government and SADC will not tolerate any unconstitutional change of government in the region and Continent”.

And just in case, the official statement came across as unclear to the Lesotho government, DIRCO’s spokesman – Clayson Monyela - went onto a popular radio show and declared, “No neighbouring country will be allowed to go the route of instability”.

Lesotho Prime Minister Thabane with South African President Zuma (Photo: GCIS)

What prompted these uncharacteristically harsh statements from DIRCO? Following the 2012 elections, the three main political parties: Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Convenion, Mothetjoa Metsing’s Lesotho Congress for Democracy and Thesele Maseribane’s Basotho National Party formed a coalition government. As Thabane’s party won the most votes (but not an outright majority) he became Prime Minister and Metsing, whose party secured the second most number of seats occupied the post of Deputy Prime Minister. For a while, it seemed this political arrangement would bring stability to the country.

Earlier this year, however Metsing criticized Thabane’s aloof leadership style and that he neither bothered to consult parliament nor his cabinet on crucial decisions. Realizing the ambitious Metsing was preparing a no-confidence vote in him, the wily Thabane promptly suspended parliament until February 2015. In response, Metsing threatened to leave the ruling coalition – threatening to bring down the government. Thabane, it would seem then turned to the military to shore up his fading authority.

It is in this context that the strong statements emanating from Pretoria were issued. Realizing that Pretoria and SADC were serious in preventing yet another bout of political instability in the mountain kingdom, all three political parties have opted to stay in the coalition government until 2017 when new elections are to be held.

Whilst the strong stance of both SADC and South Africa needs to be commended, it is clear that the underlying authoritarian political culture in Lesotho needs to change. Moreover, the Lesotho Defence Force also needs to still understand the full-import of civil-military relations and need to stay out of the political fracas between the political parties.

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