03 September, 2014

Another False Coup: Tom Thabane's Inevitable Loss of Power

by M. K. Mahlakeng

“I have been removed from control by the armed forces”
PM Tom Thabane, eNCA News, 29th August 2014

“I am in South Africa visiting my daughter and would return to Lesotho on Sunday” 
PM Tom Thabane, BBC News, 30th August 2014

These two statements issued by Lesotho's Prime Minister present a contradiction, and serve to question whether an intervention is necessary. In definitional terms, a coup is a “sudden, violent and illegal seizure of power from government, and it is often broadcasted announcing a shift of power into the hands of the military etc.” Thailand serves as a classical example. None of the actions by the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) are tantamount to what a coup really is. The cause and the epicentre of the current standoff is the PM. The military has done nothing wrong so far.

There is no doubt that Lesotho has had its fair share of political instabilities. The classification of certain recent political crises as coups, however, has been used as a systematic attempt to muddy the waters, compromising the concerns of the opposition, thus inviting the Big Brother to mediate not on the concerns of civilians, but on the concerns related to securing its interests and those of the ruling parties. Hence the PM requested the deployment of troops in the country. This was a similar case to the 1998 bungled Operation Boleas which saw Lesotho in socio-economic ruins.

Thabane is confronted with fears emanating from two inevitable scenarios: 1) the fear of re-opening parliament and facing a no-confidence vote from a grand coalition of parties; and, 2) the fear that he might lose in elections considering his declining popularity. Therefore, in an effort to secure power, Thabane has resorted to an authoritarian style of leadership and has turned the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) into a security institution for his All Basotho Convention (ABC).

Prime Minister Tom Thabane

The PM has on recent occasions used the police force as his personal agency to threaten and intimidate members of society (this includes members of the opposition and the military). It was later discovered that the PM intended to use the police to distribute arms and ammunition to his ABC-allied youth movement, Under the Tree Army (UTTA), to destabilise an intended peaceful march by members of the opposition on 1 of September proposing for the re-opening of parliament. Hence a pre-emptive disarmament and barricade of police stations to stem this flow of weapons. With the police losing sovereignty at the hands of political actors, the military as the last agency mandated to ensure peace and security had the right to intervene. Also as argued by the military spokesperson Captain Ntoi, “the army is empowered to prevent terrorism, internal disorder and threats to essential services”.

Thabane must refrain from unilateralism when dealing with crucial national decisions, especially in a coalition government expected to engage in consensus-based politics. Secondly, parliament must resume in order to chart the way forward for Lesotho’s leadership and governance. Thirdly, both security agencies must disengage themselves from the political spheres of the country, only assisting in maintaining order where national security is threatened.

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