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Update on Changing Political Situation in Lesotho

Written by Mark Behle
October 6, 2014

Update - October 3rd

News reports from Lesotho and South Africa indicate that an agreement has been reached to resolve the political stalemate in Lesotho which has held the country in tension for several months now and led to an apparent coup attempt at the end of August.

Mediation efforts have been led by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  Terms of the agreement are that the Lesotho Parliament, which was suspended in June for nine months by Prime Minister Tom Thabane in order to avoid a vote of no confidence, will be reopened on the 17th of October.  However, parliamentary business will be limited to passing a budget and items related to the preparation for elections in late February 2015, two years earlier than scheduled.  Parliament will be dissolved in early December ahead of the February polls.

Lesotho has been ruled by a coalition government since May 2012 when parliamentary elections failed to give any single party a majority.  Cracks in the coalition have steadily deepened resulting in open division between the parties of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.  The police force, which supports the Prime Minister, and the army, which supports the Deputy, also have disputes which have contributed to a breakdown in security.  SADC military advisers and police have been in the country observing the situation and providing protection for government officials.  Their presence will continue at least until the elections are held. 

The renegade army commander, Tlali Kamoli, remains at large and refuses to acknowledge his dismissal by the Prime Minister in late August just prior to the coup attempt.  He apparently has support from some of the country’s political parties.  The commander appointed in his place has been unable to take control of the armed forces. 

Your prayers for the people of Lesotho, and our partner church, the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA,) are appreciated.  The LECSA, through its participation in the Christian Council of Lesotho, has been active in attempting to bring about a peaceful resolution to the unsettled situation in the country.


Update - September 9th

The army commander believed to be behind the coup attempt in Lesotho, General Tlali Kamoli, has refused to step down from his post despite his official removal by the Prime Minister Tom Thabane.  This request was approved by His Majesty King Letsie III.  Kamoli has now taken refuge at an army training camp in the mountains outside of Maseru.  He reportedly has around 200 troops with him, including 40 special forces and their recruits.  He has taken a lot of weaponry with him, including artillery and armored vehicles, and reports indicate he is prepared to take both defensive and offensive action.  The newly appointed army commander has been unable to enter the barracks to take up his post.

Personal communication from Lesotho confirms the above and also mentions that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing, has stated on TV that he does not recognize the change in command of the army.  This has added to the confusion and shows the wide gulf dividing the coalition government.  Meanwhile, the South Africa Police continue to provide security for the Prime Minister and other officials and are reportedly assisting in trying to track down Kamoli. 

Despite all of this, business is reportedly going on as usual in Maseru, at least during the day.


Background

The current situation in Lesotho has been a while in the making.  Lesotho was ruled by the same Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, from 1998 until 2012, but the ruling party was gradually weakened by internal splits.  In the 2012 elections, no party achieved a majority of the seats in parliament and this resulted in the first ever coalition government.  Until that time, the ruling party had the most seats of any in parliament, but was not part of the coalition.  Lesotho was widely praised at the time for having a peaceful transition of power as Mosisili handed over to a new Prime Minister. 

The coalition is made up of two major parties with some smaller ones as well.  The current Prime Minister is Tom Thabane of the All Basotho Covention (ABC) party and his deputy is Mothetjoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.  Metsing and the LCD were all part of the ruling government until there was another split just prior to the 2012 elections.  In the 2012 elections the ABC party won more seats than the LCD and thus Thabane was given the post of Prime Minister.

The coalition has been fraught with disputes over the past two years.  Most of this has been between the Prime Minister (PM) and the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM).  The latter has frequently accused the PM of making decisions without consulting other parties of the coalition.  It seems the coalition was set up without a detailed agreement of how the coalition would operate.  At times the DPM seems to have made statements without the full backing of his party and this has added to the confusion.

Another major part of the problem is the involvement of the military and police in politics.  The military is widely known to be supporting the DPM (LCD party) while the police is viewed as supporting the PM (ABC party).  In January this year, several houses were bombed, including one where the PM was thought to be (he was not in the house that night) and the home of the police commissioner.  The police believe the military was behind the attacks and has wanted to interview a number of military people but the military has refused to cooperate.

In June the LCD announced it was going to leave the coalition and join forces with the Democratic Congress (DC) party of the former PM.  Together they would have had enough seats to form a majority in parliament.  In what most observers see was an obvious attempt to prevent a motion of no confidence and the collapse of the ruling coalition, the PM (Tom Thabane) suspended parliament for 9 months until February 2015.  This exacerbated tensions between the LCD and ABC, not to mention the PM and the DPM.  Also at this time the government announced that the DPM was under investigation for corruption, which most observers saw was an attempt to get back at the DPM for wanting to leave the coalition.

Attempts at mediation by the Christian Council of Lesotho and also by South Africa only brought temporary solutions and divisions remained.

 

The August coup attempt

Plans were set for a big protest march on Monday, September 1.  The march was going to be led by the DPM and include other parties opposed to the PM and the suspension of parliament.

Late on Friday, August 29 or in the early hours of the 30th, the PM fled the country and crossed over to South Africa.  He claimed there had been a military coup.  He was escorted out of the country with the assistance of Special Forces from South Africa.  By the time the Lesotho military went to State House, he had already left the country.  The military denied there was a coup.  The DPM apparently remained in the country and has mostly remained silent.

Earlier on Friday, the PM had tried to remove (apparently in a legal manner) the army commander and this may have prompted the military to act against the PM.  The newly appointed commander’s house was attacked that night and he, too, fled the country.  The new commander has been the subject of a court martial case that some say is on-going and some say has been dissolved. 

The military also attacked several police stations on Saturday, August 30, in an apparent attempt to get files related to the investigations about the January bombings and the corruption case against the DPM.  One police officer was killed and several others injured in these attacks.  As a result of the attacks, the police stopped reporting for work and did not wear their uniforms for fear of being targeted.  The military said it attacked the stations because the police were planning to arm members of the ABC party.  Radio stations were apparently off air for several hours on Saturday morning during the attacks.

On Monday, the September 1, talks were held in Pretoria, South Africa, including the PM and the DPM.  The Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional body of which Lesotho is a member, was involved in the discussions to sort out the problems.  SADC forces were involved in putting down the military revolt in Lesotho in 1998. 

Two days of talks apparently brought about some solutions, but not to everyone’s satisfaction.  The PM (Thabane) wanted SADC forces to intervene.  This was rejected.  Instead, SADC agreed to send an envoy and observer team.  On Wednesday this week South Africa Police and defense forces escorted the PM and DPM back to Lesotho and are now guarding the State House and government buildings. 

The DPM has been accused of being involved in the coup attempt but has so far given no public response.  The deposed military commander continues to control the Lesotho army; his replacement is reportedly back in the country.  The police are reportedly now going to return to work.

A media report from South Africa stated that the DPM was going to be arrested on corruption charges.  He was said to have responded that he could not be arrested as he was under the protection of the military.  If the charges were not dropped, he was going to proceed with the protest march.

The American embassy is closed.  The situation remains very unstable as the PM seems to have no control over the military.  There were power cuts on Monday evening, but otherwise the situation has remained peaceful but tense.   People are apparently able to go about their business during the day, but the streets of the capital are deserted at night for fear of more fighting.

As part of the agreement reached earlier in the week, the PM has agreed to re-open parliament on September 19.  It is expected that one of two things will happen:  either there will be a motion of no confidence passed against the PM or the PM will immediately dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.  The political parties involved are reportedly meeting with the King of Lesotho today, September 5, to brief him. 

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy.  The PM is the Head of Government and the King is Head of State and acts on the advice of the PM and the Council of State.

We are asked to keep our partners, the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa, as well as all the people of Lesotho in our prayers during these days of uncertainty.

Mark Behle, a member of The Church of the Palms, United Church of Christ, Sun City, Arizona, serves the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA). Since 2012 Mark has been working in the planning office of LECSA. Prior to this he taught math and religion at Masitise High School for fifteen years. His work is supported by Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.

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