The Lesotho crisis as we all are aware, has preoccupied SADC Summits over the past three years or so. All those Summits, dealt with the Lesotho issue as an irritant which they had to handle but not pay special attention to long-term solutions. The January 2016 Summit in Gaborone on the other hand, was different. It came after an unprecedented intervention by SADC in the affairs of a Member State, which seemed unable/and or unwilling to handle simple criminal cases of murder of a former Commander of its forces by his successors. It was a case where all the Leaders of Opposition Political Parties had fled the country as a results of credible threats to their lives by the same armed forces. It was also a summit which was held and received a harrowing report by an international commission of inquiry on the whole instability issue in Lesotho. The Phumaphi Report was for some an eye opener. It revealed that the Lesotho State is either held hostage by the military or it was complicit in the crimes which stretch for more than five years and are unable to be brought to the courts because the military has become a law into itself.

When SADC accepted and endorsed the Phumaphi Report in spite of fierce opposition by the Lesotho Government, an unprecedented challenge to the traditional Westphalia State System with its emphasis on sovereignty and internal affairs had been launched. SADC went so far as to threaten to suspend Lesotho from the organisation. But more importantly two of the Leaders who attended the meeting, told the media that if Lesotho is unwilling to implement the decisions taken at the Summit, they would be willing to enforce the implementation of those decisions. The letter by Mozambican President in his capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics Defence and Security Cooperation to Lesotho Prime Minister Mosisili, is one step towards the implementation of the recommendations of the Phumaphi Report.  The meaning and implications for Lesotho are immense and need to be understood.

The Tussle Between SADC and Lesotho Government

The Phumaphi Report which is the basis for the tussle between the Lesotho government and SADC essentially spells out short-term matters which have to be undertaken by the government in order to stabilise the country. Those include the following:

  1. a) Relieve Lt. General Kamoli of his commission as Commander of the LDF. The rationale is spelled out clearly by the Commission. He is a divisive force within the army who vowed vengeance on those in the military who rejoiced when he has fired by the previous government; he has harboured and protected soldiers who have committed murder and other serious crimes throughout the country; he is more importantly accused of involvement in a case of High Treason (Paragraph 138 Phumaphi Report).
  2. b) “….all LDF officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in their cases proceed in line with international best practice pending investigations, all the soldiers who have been accused of committing crimes ranging from High Treason to murder also listed in the Commission Report (Paragraph 140 (b) of Phumaphi Report.)
  3. c) Facilitate the return of all the exiled Basotho and provide security for the political leaders who are in exile.

The Commission further recommended that the recommendations made by SADC Facilitator, Cyril Ramaphosa at the end of his first mission to Lesotho, for constitutional, public sector and security reforms be implemented, since it had become clear that some of the challenges Lesotho faces arise from constitutional confusion, and unprofessional and politicised public service and security services. This was viewed as a long-term process which would be discussed in the August 2016 Summit of SADC.

The dilemma has been that the government has been frozen with fear and complicity to implement the critical short-term measures which would allow for undertaking of the long-term measures. The government is fearful of the retribution of Kamoli should they try to remove him. They are aware of his earlier declaration that he will not leave office. At the same time they are aware of an equally unmovable stance of SADC that he should leave office.

The government is at the same time complicit in the crimes committed by the military over a period of time. Indeed, the majority of the soldiers who have warrants of arrest for both High Treason and Murder have now been promoted, some even jumping ranks. These are unmistakeable signs of reward. Prime Minister Mosisili has now on several occasions been at pains to thank the military for him being back in office.

Faced with the reality above, SADC has had to act firmly to ensure that the rule of law is brought back in Lesotho in spite of the delaying tactics of the government.

Nyusi’s Diktat  

Following a visit to Mozambique by Deputy Prime Minister Metsing, a clear message was received from SADC as shown in the Record of the meeting. First and foremost the Lesotho delegation was left in no doubt that the decisions of SADC in the Gaborone Summit in January 2016 have to be implemented in full and without exception. This put to bed the arguments which at the local level, the government had been regularly making that it will pick and choose those recommendations it felt like.

The meeting of the 25th February 2016 in Maputo first of all put specific timelines for the government. It set the dateline for implementation of the recommendations with immediate effect and submit a progress report to the SADC “…on each recommendation with a clear roadmap and time-lines in line with the decisions of the 18th January 2016 SADC Double Troika Summit. The progress report should be submitted by Friday 4th March 2016”.

In his follow-up letter to Prime Minister Mosisili, President Nyusi writing on the 11th March 2016, goes back to the Record and reminds the Prime Minister that the progress report was due on Friday 4th March 2016. This means that there was no extension of time for submission of the progress report. But he goes further to make two issues which have been little talked about. First, while the Communique from the SADC Summit dealt with the facilitation of the return of the exiled political leaders, Nyusi now elaborates this to include the all Basotho exiles. “..Finalise the Memorandum of Understanding on the safe return to the Kingdom of Lesotho of all exiled Basothos that include provisions of security to the Former Prime Minister and other opposition leaders. This process should be finalised by Friday, 4th March 2016.” It is important to note that all along, it was as if SADC was focused on the save return of the political leaders rather than all exiles. With more than twenty army officers exiled in South Africa this interpretation of the decisions of SADC is important.

Second, the fact that SADC has now advanced the dateline for the submission of the roadmap for constitutional, public sector and security reform to the end of March 2016 is significant. While the Communique had only indicated that the matter would be discussed in the forthcoming Summit in August 2016, Nyusi now has directed that the roadmap should be submitted by the 31st March 2016. This is to avoid the possible dilly-dallying that was observed with disappointed in the Gaborone Summit in January 2016. It is important to note that no constitutional reforms can be undertaken by the government on its own. Most of the provisions referred to in the SADC Mission on Lesotho, require a two thirds majority in parliament. The government has a bare majority in parliament. The cooperation of the opposition would be imperative if there was to be any constitutional reform. But the opposition are unlikely to offer any cooperation unless the security issues which have forced the political leaders to flee the country have been resolved.

Meaning and Implications of Nyusi’s Diktat on Lesotho

At the centre of the tussle between SADC and Lesotho government is a simple issue of ensuring that the latter is accountable for its actions and those of its agents. It is about failure to enforce the rule of law. With SADC’S firm stance on the above, we have to ponder what are the likely scenarios and implications of the standoff. The implementation of the recommendations of the Phumaphi Commission has not started. The only tentative thing that has begun is discussions with the opposition political parties. But those discussions are not and cannot be about implementation, but timeframe of implementation. That is, SADC decreed what has to happen. As such the agreements can be on type and nature of security to be provided to the political leaders and also to ensure that other exiles come back into the country once security is present.  Removing Kamoli as Commander of LDF is thus a prerequisite of the settlement.

For Lesotho, two scenarios present themselves if the government fails to implement the decisions which it has been directed to implement by SADC. First is the isolation scenario. Lesotho would be isolated and sanctioned by SADC. In its present state of poverty and lack of resources, the country cannot sustain itself even for a month. The 1985 situation whereby the apartheid South Africa slowed down movement at the border leading to the collapse of the government is an example of what it would mean to be isolated. It is important at the same time to understand that international public opinion was at that time with the Lesotho government. At present, the Lesotho government would be unable to find any support internationally, since it is essentially standing for the wrong values. Protecting criminality can never endear the government to other states. This would lead to a collapse.

Another scenario, is one whereby an expeditionary force is dispatched to disarm and arrest the suspected criminals for prosecution. When South African President Zuma told the press that the decisions would be implemented by SADC on behalf of Lesotho if the government refuses to do so, he could only have been thinking of this option. This option has its complications since it would involve bringing a violent end to the army rebellion which has been present for over two years. The Phumaphi Commission indicates that the LDF has become a law into itself. There is no civilian control over the army and that is essentially what stands out in Lesotho. But it must be clear that it needs not result in the actual use force. It could end with a clear indication that force will be used. Certainly surrender would follow.

Both scenarios would lead to suffering by the people. But the rebellion would end and normal politics would begin. When the SADC Executive Secretary lands in Lesotho on Tuesday, 30th March 2016, a day before the expiry of the dateline for submission of the roadmap for constitutional, public sector and security reform, one hopes that the government will have seriously considered its dilemma. It should have considered its fear of its internal allies and what could befall the country if it does take action.


Professor Mafa M. Sejanamane