30 July, 2016

How Unstable is Lesotho? A Two-Year Old Myth or an Enduring Reality?

by M. K. Mahlakeng

Barely two years ago, the rumour that Lesotho is confronted with instability become a part of civil life in Lesotho. On the one hand, this rumour was heavily supported. It was backed up by several events, giving it the credibility to be true. Firstly, on 29 August 2014, the then Prime Minister Tom Thabane fled the country claiming that there had been an attempted coup d’état by the army. Numerous incidences were mentioned as evidence of this plot to overthrow his government. This includes the barricade of police stations, including the police headquarters, and the takeover of the radio and TV stations by the army, resulting in a total black out in broadcast.

Secondly, from the 11, 13 and 26 May 2015, tripartite opposition (All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress for Lesotho (RCL) leaders (former PM Thomas Thabane, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo) fled Lesotho to South Africa on claims that their lives were in danger. Lastly, on 25 June 2015, Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao was shot dead by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members who had come to arrest him for allegedly leading a mutiny to oust the army command.

SADC facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa in Lesotho (Photo GCIS)

On the other hand, this rumour was equally challenged. It was argued that many claims and allegations received attention and support despite the lack of substantiated evidence. And on an analytical level, a number of these events are easily disputable due to lack of provision of evidence. Firstly, a lot of interpretations can be attached to a raid of police stations and a take-over of communication services, however, these actions had similar but doubtful characteristics of a coup d’état.

Looking back at the events that led to the “attempted coup”, it was discovered that 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 to destabilise an intended peaceful march by members of the opposition on 1 September 2014 proposing for the re-opening of parliament. Hence a pre-emptive disarmament and barricade of police stations to stem this flow of weapons. The takeover of the communication services as argued by the army was a mere attempt to avoid rumours of a coup leaving citizens and investors in confusion and shock. Hypothetically, if it was indeed a coup, why wasn’t it successful because the radio and TV stations, police stations, including the police headquarters were under the control of the army, moreover, the State house was unoccupied due to the fleeing of the PM?

Nonetheless, despite the confusion between what is fact and what is rumour, on 3 July 2015, SADC held an Extraordinary Summit of the Double Troika and later established an Independent Commission of Inquiry chaired by Botswana High Court Judge Mpaphi Phumaphi to look into the security and constitutional status of Lesotho. On the 20th January 2016, the Double Troika Summit handed over the report of the Commission of Inquiry to the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho, and tasked the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho to provide feedback to the Chair of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, and to publish the Report within 14 days (by 1 February 2016).

The Double Troika Summit also tasked the Kingdom of Lesotho to prepare a roadmap for the implementation of the constitutional, public sector and security sector reforms and submit a progress report to the Summit in August 2016. Among the report’s recommendations, the commission of inquiry has recommended that army commander Tlali Kennedy Kamoli be fired, whose actions are seen as being central to the crisis in Lesotho, as part of efforts to restore stability in the troubled kingdom and to secure a safe return and stay of Thabane in Lesotho. As a result, opposition leaders are also likely to remain in exile as they have vowed not to return as long as Kamoli remains at the helm of the LDF. The Phumaphi report also disputed the existence of any such mutiny and recommends an amnesty on the soldiers arrested by Kamoli.

However, the commission and its report has raised more questions than answers. This is due to uncertainties regarding the expected outcome of the report. First, won’t the removal of Kamoli affect and/or sow divisions within the army? Second, does the removal of Kamoli equally imply the removal of high ranking officials within the military? Third, who will be his successor? Fourth, will the regional body determine and decide on this too? And lastly, is there tangible proof to support the report’s dispute that there was no existence of a mutiny?

The commission and its report has also divided society, mainly based on its motive and intentions. Since its inception, SADC has been unable to hold certain leaders to account for their undemocratic actions. And although it might appear to be solving conflicts in the region, however, it tends to neglect underlying causes in favour of quick-fix solutions. There are a number of countries in the region that need SADC interventions. These include Zimbabwe and Mozambique to name but a few. The neighbouring South Africa has also reached a peak of instability. This is evident from the wave of violent service delivery protests (literally everyday), the killing of foreigners in 2008 and 2015, to the influx killing of politicians ahead of the 2016 municipal elections. One is left to question what form of “instability” instigates a commission of inquiry by the regional body? One thing is certain, the commission and its report’s recommendation are likely to stoke more turmoil.

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