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April 2016

Contemporary Lesotho Politics: Conversations with Idiots and Parrots

The Context

Lesotho politics in recent times has been before and after the Phumaphi Commission Report. The Report which was commissioned by SADC after the horrendous developments of detention and torture of over sixty  LDF members; exile of over twenty others and all opposition political leaders; and the murder of Lt. General Mahao by members of the LDF, has set the tone for politics in Lesotho. The report sets out certain accountability standards which the Lesotho government is unwillingly being forced to adhere to.

The Phumaphi Commission as already pointed out in earlier posts investigated roots of instability in Lesotho in general, and the murder of Mahao in particular. Amongst the key issues which the Commission recommended are the following:

  1. a) Removal of Lt. General Kamoli as Commander of the LDF;
  2. b) Suspension of all those officers in the LDF suspected of involvement in High Treason and other cases of murder, while their cases are being further investigated;
  3. c) All physical evidence held by the LDF in criminal cases including that of the murder of Mahao be surrendered to the police who should be capacitated.

These recommendations are straight forward but from the beginning observers could see that  the government would find it difficult to implement them since it meant that it is being pushed to separate itself from those of its allies above who have been identified as the key cogs in making Lesotho ungovernable and using the army as a refuge for committing crimes. The Report identifies several cases ranging from High Treason to murder for well over twenty of the most senior officers in the LDF.

It has been the central message of this blog that accountability and rule of law are no longer optional in view of the broad international consensus that those standards should be national norms. A contrary perspective has been put forth by Lesotho government propagandists that adherence to those norms is a matter of choice. Thus some have made hay of the fact that Lesotho is a sovereign state with the ability to make its decisions independently. At the beginning the argument ran this blandly, but as more developments took place whereby their case became ever more tenuous, they began to steer clear of the central issues, but viciously attacked anybody who argues that the only open route is the one in the SADC decision of January 2016.

In the recent past however, key Lesotho international partners have had their say on the direction they would expect if Lesotho were not to suffer international isolation and probably worse consequences.  We have had the withdrawal of budget support by the EU because of accountability issues. The MCC has recently suspended consideration of a new multi-million dollar compact to the country because of concerns about accountability and rule of law concerns. Again the US has now indicated that Lesotho’s 2017 eligibility for AGOA will be dependent on the implementation of the Phumaphi Report Recommendations.

These recommendations are about accountability and the rule of law. In a country which operates within the law these should not be a matter of debate. But they have become central in discussions in Lesotho with those allied to the government attempting to minimise the impact of SADC decisions on those recommendations.

 When Denial is Idiocy

Like Tariq Aziz, former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, who denied the presence of U.S. troops in the capital while all could see them five hundred metres from where he was speaking, there continues to be a futile attempt to portray the situation in Lesotho as peaceful and stable and with the government in control of the situation.  The propagandists have however not been able to explain why there has been a Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry in Lesotho. They have equally not been able to explain why both AU and UN Peace structures have had a say in recent weeks about the situation in Lesotho leading them to decide to establish a liaison and support for SADC in its endeavours to bring about peace and stability in Lesotho. They have equally been unable to explain why two structures of the US government, MCC and the Trade Section in the President’s office dealing with AGOA have all been insisting on implementation of the SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Report. The only thing that one increasingly hears is the mumbo-jumbo about sovereignty and ill-thought-out aspersions about some of the regional leaders who are handling the Lesotho case.

State propagandists are however increasingly finding that what they publicly say and what happens on the ground are completely different. Three examples will suffice to illustrate what they have been going through.

They vowed that the Phumaphi Report would not be accepted and published until the Hashatsi case, was finalised in the Lesotho courts. Prime Minister Mosisili brought the Report from Gaborone on the 19th January 2016 and had it published soon after;

They vowed that they are not bound to implement the recommendations of the Phumaphi Report. After one week of a futile shuttle diplomacy by Deputy Prime Minister Metsing to Botswana and Mozambique, Metsing ended up telling the media that the government will implement the recommendations.

Ø  After declaring that opposition political party leaders in exile had no credible reason for fleeing the country, the government has been feverishly negotiating for the return of those leaders with security in line with the letter by Mozambican President Nyusi to Prime Minister Mosisili. Incidentally, the propagandists have at the same time argued that Nyusi has no credibility in the Lesotho matter since Mozambique has its own internal difficulties leading to some people taking refuge in Malawi.

What this essentially means is that state propaganda points to the opposite direction to what reality is. But as this divergence increases, the shriller becomes their attacks against whomever they see as disagreeing with their delusional perspectives. But for misinformation to be effective, it must be intelligently driven rather than to concoct facts and hope that what one puts in the media will be taken as the truth. It is important to emphasise putting out information to the public arena requires a bit of intelligence and skill. These are not the attributes which some of the government propagandists have. Theirs is merely to say what they believe their employers would like to hear. It is this what makes it difficult to have sensible conversations about Lesotho politics with those who see their job as defending positions rather than providing credible information.

The conversation which has emerged in the past few months or so on Lesotho politics, has been marred by people who mean to deceive rather than to inform. It is a conversation which goes beyond talking to the wall. It is one where ignorance and deceit predominate. For some, the important thing is to parrot whatever they think will please their employers. It is a conversation with idiots and parrots rather than a discussion with peers.

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After Agoa: Livelihoods Under Attack in Lesotho

Overview

The Lesotho crisis has been rumbling now for over three years with several individuals trying and ruining their reputations in the process. A concerted process however was begun by SADC in July 2015 when it decided to set up an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate among other things the drivers of the Lesotho instability in general and the murder of Lt. General Mahao by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in particular. The Commission led by a respected Botswana Judge, Justice Phumaphi submitted its report to SADC in November 2015 and that was endorsed by the SADC Double Troika in January 2016 in its Summit in Gaborone, Botswana. The Phumaphi Report, as it has come to be known, has now become the basis upon which Lesotho’s international relations with its regional and international partners revolves. Indeed the Phumaphi Report recommendations provide the template which is used for judging whether to provide assistance and trade in those areas where accountability and rule of law are conditions for support.

Even before we venture into the key issues of Phumaphi and the conditionalities, we must remember that in these days of political and security crisis in Lesotho, the country is perhaps in its most vulnerable. There is a huge unemployment crisis which people hardly talk about, but if not dealt with, will explode sooner rather than later. While in the past the largest component of that unemployment rate was largely the unskilled workers, lately it has also ballooned to unemployed graduates. Secondly, statistics have recently indicated, that Lesotho has the 2nd highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world. That is a phenomenal challenge for a poverty stricken country which also has no credible health facilities to talk about. Thirdly, as things are the country is facing a huge food shortage as a result of not only unimaginative polices, but also the worst draught we have experienced for decades. Prime Minister Mosisili in December 2015 declared a food emergency and called for food aid from international partners. These are hard times.

Several pointers of our performance indicate that dark days are not far-off unless there is a change in direction. Implementing the Phumaphi Commission Report recommendations has an added urgency since the broader international community is now using that as a yardstick on which Lesotho will be judged. As pointed out in an earlier posting, both the African Union and United peace structures have now joined the campaign to have the Lesotho crisis resolved on the basis of the Phumaphi Report recommendations. Those are applying political and diplomatic pressure. The United States on the other hand is turning in the screws on the economic front. This is most uncomfortable in the context of the fragility of both the economic and political structures of Lesotho.

Key Issues of Phumaphi Report

As mentioned earlier SADC endorsed the recommendations from its Commission in January as per its Communique issued on 19th January 2016. This was reiterated by a subsequent letter to Prime Minister Mosisili in March 2016 where he was given timelines for implementing the decisions. The most significant of those decisions are essentially four:

  1. a) Relieve Kamoli of the Command of the LDF because of his alleged involvement in the crimes not only of High Treason, murder and violations of rule of law in other instances but also the perception that he is a divisive character within the force. A precondition for security review requires that the person who is at the centre of the crisis must give way lest he frustrates and interferes with the process;
  2. b) Restore the rule of law by suspending all those in the LDF who have cases ranging from High Treason to murder while their cases are being further investigated. The physical evidence which they have must be handed over to investigators. It’s normal in any democratic system that while investigations are undertaken those who can destroy or contaminate evidence must be removed from their positions;
  3. c) Ensure the return of the exiled opposition political leaders in conditions of security. In addition ensure that all exiled Basotho are provided with a safe return to the country;
  4. d) Undertake Constitutional, public sector and security review in order to minimise the recurrence of the situation in the future.

These are straight forward issues which any government which does not have blood on its hands should be able to accept unconditionally. The fact however is that for some in the government are deeply involved in the above transgressions by those elements in the LDF who are now the focus. But for others, there is unimaginable fear of Kamoli’s potential retribution if his carefully constructed haven was blown away. They are really afraid!

Enter the Americans! Future of Agoa Eligibility for Lesotho

As we are aware AGOA was enacted by the US in 2000 for qualifying African States to facilitate and improve duty free access to the US. From the beginning, AGOA was conditional on states to be committed to the observance of the rule of law; make efforts to combat corruption; have economic policies to reduce poverty; and protect workers’ rights. It was thus a reward for those countries which are focused on improving the livelihoods of their people. Market access has been a major reason for some of the factories which have moved to the different factory shells in Lesotho over the past decade. Statistics indicate that around 40,000 jobs have been created as a result of market access to the US. Granted those are low wage factory jobs, but in a country beset by high unemployment and poverty, that is not something that can be sniffed off. The overall impact around the factories and in those areas the workers come from has been observable.

One of the issues which is part of the AGOA framework is the periodic reviews that determine continued qualification. This is not an arrangement where once one is in they continue to have access. Thus the relevance of the Phumaphi Report for Lesotho’s continued qualification. Even before the report was endorsed by SADC, another US government institution (MCC) which had previously granted Lesotho over US$300 and was considering a new compact, raised the alarm about the rule of law in Lesotho. It made it clear that it was expecting clear progress in implementing the Phumaphi Report recommendations in issues of accountability and reigning in the LDF to be under civilian control. When those discussions were going on, some in the Lesotho government were arguing that there is no relationship between that and AGOA. They seemed to think that now that AGOA has been extended, it would not raise any concerns. Lesotho’s Finance Minister, ‘Mamphono Khaketla operating under this uninformed basis went so far as to tell Parliament in February 2016 that: “ I am happy to report that our trade relationship with the US remains strong and there is no threat to Lesotho’s continued Agoa eligibility”.

She overdid her emphasis because AGOA, as already pointed out, just like MCC are conditional facilities which can be withdrawn if a party to them fails the review. The ringing bells should have sounded to Khaketla, when she received a letter from MCC on Lesotho’s continued participation in MCC and the issues about Phumaphi Report. But she should have trembled when on the 19th January 2016, US Ambassador to Botswana became the first dignitary to have visited SADC Secretariat and received the Report. He went further to state clearly that the US supports SADC on the Lesotho issue. Institutions which are funded by the US government may be many but they do not have walls around each other. They communicate. But more importantly, they are instruments of US policy. Let those who don’t know learn!

In a major blow to Lesotho recently, Ambassador Froman, US Trade Representative in a letter to Lesotho Trade Minister, Setipa spelled out that the current review of Lesotho’s eligibility for 2016 is confirmed but for 2017 eligibility will depend on the monitoring of the restoration of the rule of law and specifically the implementation of the Phumaphi Report recommendations. Lest the point is not clear, Froman went to specifics. He pointed out that the US would focus on security sector reform aimed at transforming the LDF into a professional army. “…security sector reform process that seeks to transform the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) into professional and cohesive institution that is fully subject to civilian control, respect the rule of law, and enjoys the confidence of Basotho.” He goes on to deal with the allegations of torture of the detained soldiers and whether they are accessible to international humanitarian organisations to verify the conditions of their detention in the light of the SADC Report findings. In essence this letter places the ball squarely in the hands of the government. The future livelihoods of more than 40,000 Basotho are dependent on a sensible reaction by the government.

The initial reaction however seems incomprehensible. Khaketla was in denial from the beginning. Setipa’s responses in the press conference, if accurately captured are plain naïve. He seems to think than UK retailers can in a sense substitute the bigger US market. He should know better why Chinese firms have started production in Lesotho and the other South East Asian countries rather than produce from their home country. It’s production costs. Without free tariffs they would not be competitive.  As for what Deputy Prime Minister Metsing is reported to have said one can only marvel at the evasiveness. It is obvious that he has no clue about what this is all about. He is reported to have said that there are people who would relish Lesotho being removed from eligibility to AGOA. This is a simple matter of Metsing ensuring that the government complies with its international obligations and not about people wishing Lesotho ill. In his position, more than all in those of others, he should have understood  that he is dealing with the livelihoods of thousands of Basotho. He cannot therefore play the game of blaming people who are sounding the alarm that if Metsing and his partners don’t fulfil the obligations of AGOA, the country would suffer irreparable harm.

It is worrying that Metsing is reported to have said that he will not suffer the consequences of his actions. It is perhaps indicative of the callousness of the government that he can actually publicly say that he personally will not suffer. The last I knew people in government don’t take decisions based on whether they personally will benefit or suffer. Metsing is reported to have said:

There are people in this country who so desire that Lesotho’s beneficiary status under AGOA could be withdrawn…….Theirs is a very unfortunate quest because if it collapses (AGOA), Metsing will not be individually affected or any of the ministers. Those who will suffer most are people working in the textile factories who will lose their jobs as a result.

We may wish to take examples from Swaziland, which was removed from eligibility to AGOA in 2014. As we speak now, several factories which were affected have closed down. They continue to close down and the impact in the areas around the factory sites are telling the whole story. Burundi has just been removed Agoa and one hopes that Lesotho does not follow.

The issues are very clear, If Lesotho is to remain within the AGOA system of market access to the US, then it has to comply. Conditionalities are not always good, but when they support cases of the downtrodden rather than authoritarian governments, I will always be in the forefront in their support. Where would this country be if it was left to the whims of this government?

The Kamoli Challenge in Lesotho Politics: Dilemma of a Country Under siege

Introduction

In the recent past, the mention of Lesotho in international fora is about the political and security crisis. It is about lawlessness and the inability or refusal of the government to bring criminal suspects to the courts of law. The question however which tends to be missed by analysts is the source of the collapse of the rule of law. It is sometimes brushed aside by those who blame the Lesotho Constitution or those who attribute the chaos to the emergence of coalition politics in Lesotho. The two issues which have been referred to above however, have in reality nothing to do with the crisis. Indeed, Ramaphosa’s diagnosis of 2015 was that early elections would resolve the issue. They were held and produced an even bigger crisis. Similarly the constitutional review recommendations which SADC has put forth would improve the structures, but are unlikely to bring about a stable and accountable system of governance. The Lesotho Constitution may have weaknesses here and there, but those have no bearing on the crisis. Indeed the Lesotho Court of Appeal judgement on the case by the Attorney General versus the King, Prime Minister and others on whether the Prime Minister has power to recommend appointment of the President of the Court of Appeal to the King without consulting his coalition partners has put all those arguments to bed. Coalition government or not, the Prime Minister has power to take decisions.

The central issue about the Lesotho crisis is a security nightmare in general and a military crisis in particular. It is a crisis which revolves around the Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). The dominant figure of Lt. General Kamoli in Lesotho politics cannot be exaggerated. It is a dominance which has reverberated in Lesotho and beyond. He has had a former Prime Minister run away from State House when the latter tried to fire him; has resisted to release soldiers to the police investigating murder; has ensured that those involved in the murder of his successor as Commander and the physical evidence are out of reach of the police investigators; and more importantly,  Kamoli has defied court orders to release soldiers who have been detained and tortured by his men. Fearful of him and his potential retribution, the government has been pretending that no such transgressions have taken place.

In the face of the fear of Kamoli, the noose on the country has been tightening. The Report by the Phumaphi Commission to SADC and its endorsement, have set a chain of reaction around the world to ensure that accountability mechanisms are restored.  The issue therefore is why in the face of potential adverse actions by the international community, the government has not acceded to the demands to implement the SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission. Secondly, it has to be analysed how the resistance is likely to affect the international status of the country.

Kamoli in the Lesotho Political Scene

Appointed as Commandeer of the LDF shortly before the  2012 elections which brought about a new  government, Kamoli built his stature and control of both the military and indirect control of the civilian structures at the time when there was a relative political vacuum in Lesotho. The 2012 election results had brought about an inconclusive outcome, with no political party able to form the government on its own. The first coalition government came to being. This was the time when the political parties in government were still trying to find their way in government and also trying to understand coalition politics. It was a palpably weak government leading to a situation where the military could take advantage. Kamoli embraced that. Not only did he use the transitional period to strengthen his hold on the LDF, but as evidence during the hearings of the Phumaphi Commission showed, he also used the military guards for the former Prime Minister as spies of what the latter was doing and whom he has been seeing.

It is at this time that clear signs began to show that civilian control over the military was loosening. After a year or so, Kamoli had built his power in the Special Forces, which were commanded by Captain Hashatsi, a junior officer who as he indicated in his testimony to the Phumaphi Commission, reported to the Commander. An anomaly of sorts that such a junior officer reported to the Commander. But the thing which brought everything to the surface, was the persistent refusal of Kamoli to hand over several of his confidants to the police for cases of murder and other serious crimes. The communication between the police and the army on those issues were published in several newspapers but neither Kamoli nor the government responded. It was later revealed to the Phumaphi Commission that the matter was raised by the Commissioner of Police in a Cabinet Security Sub-Committee Chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister. It let to nothing, showing that Kamoli was already a dominant figure in the government.

By 2014 there was a clear army rebellion which showed its face, by the bombing of several residences in Maseru including the former Prime Minister’s companion and the Commissioner of Police. Investigations led directly to Kamoli’s confidants in the LDF. Even here Kamoli refused to co-operate with the police. To make matter’s worse, he ignored the directives of the then Prime Minister to stop the court martial process against Brigadier Mahao who was charged for reprimanding a junior officer who had publicly declared that he would not allow anybody to replace Kamoli as Commander of LDF. Kamoli took this issue further and made the then Prime Minister to withdraw the letter. The rebellion was then in full steam, and it was not surprising to find that later when Prime Minister Thabane dismissed him, Kamoli unleashed the army against him in an attempted coup. Prime Minister fled to South Africa where he only came back to the country under SADC security detail.

By going for the Prime Minister, even though the coup did not succeed, Kamoli had demonstrated the lengths he was prepared to go. He had earlier publicly announced that would not be removed from his Command. When the new coalition government took power after the 2015 elections, Kamoli was reinstated to his Command. The consequences were immediate. Several soldiers were detained and tortured while others fled the country. The former Commander of the army who had just been removed from his Command was ambushed and murdered, thus triggering the establishment of the Phumaphi Commission by SADC. Made up of a seven political parties, the new coalition government was much weaker than the 2012 coalition of three political parties. It was in no way in a position to challenge Kamoli.

When SADC agreed with the Phumaphi Commission recommendations to remove Kamoli from office, it was clear that the government would not know where to start. Though some in the government may be attached to Kamoli, there is an even greater number whose actions would be guided more by fear than by anything else. It is as a result of this that fear that the government has been ducking and diving when confronted by SADC’s decisions on Kamoli and his confidants who are facing several charges the police have listed and are shown in the Phumaphi Commission Report.

Lesotho’s Dilemma    

SADC’s demands to Lesotho Prime Minister are simple and straight forward. It demands that people who are suspected of committing crimes in the army be made to account for their actions in the courts of law. In democratic societies there would be no need to even have to make that demand. But in a case where the Commander of the army is also involved in those crimes and has previously demonstrated that he is above the law, an international commission had to be formed, and a regional body has had to make those demands. Arrests of those armed men ensconced in the barracks cannot be easily done until their protector has already been removed from his Command. The long and short of this is that the first step in implementing SADC decisions in Lesotho is to remove Kamoli from office.

Second tier of demands are about constitutional, public sector and security reforms. These also are dependent on the removal of Kamoli. No reforms can be successfully implemented if there is a Commander who has no respect for the law. The man who refused to leave office by force in spite of the issue of an authoritative government gazette.  Even if reforms were made, what assurance would be there that he would accept the new constitutional order if he has refused to recognise the law as it is now?

However, there is now unpreceded pressure on Lesotho to implement the decisions of SADC. Three recent developments are important indicators of the amount of pressure the government faces. First is the financial pressure which the external partners have put. In recent times, the European Union has suspended budget support as a result of failure to follow financial accountability agreements. This may not be directly related to the SADC demands, but it is also about accountability. In a similar manner, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has directly told the Lesotho government that implementation of SADC decisions is a prerequisite for qualifying for consideration of the second grant to the country. MCC made it clear that evidence must be shown that there is civilian control over the military. No such evidence, at the moment, can be shown that the government is in control of the army.

Second, is the letter from Mozambican President Nyusi, as Chairperson of the SADC Troika, to Prime Minister Mosisili which made it clear that implementation of the SADC decisions has to be done immediately but in any case no later than 31/03/2016 when a clear programme with timelines would be due to SADC. The dateline has passed but failure to implement, it was made clear, would trigger the summoning of the Double Troika.  The visit of the Executive Secretary of SADC to Lesotho a few days ago has not changed SADC decisions. Indeed it is expected that in meetings with the government she spelled out the expectations of SADC. It must be understood that there are issues which the Executive Secretary could only speak about privately with the government and not in public.

Third level of pressure that is now being exerted is at the continental and global levels by both the African Union and the United Nations. The United Nations-African Union Joint Task Force on Peace and Security in its twelfth Consultative Meeting on the 22nd March 2016, in a Communique says:

The Joint Task Force deliberate on the on-going political crisis in Lesotho which has persisted since the 2015 elections. It recognized the timely efforts the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has made by intervening though mediation and a commission of inquiry with a view to resolving the crisis that could threaten stability in the region. While calling on all political stakeholders in Lesotho to give peace a chance, the AU and the UN will continue to support SADC in its peace efforts. The AU and UN call on all stakeholders to support the efforts of SADC and work together towards meeting the deadline of 31 March 2016 for the preparation of a roadmap to implement the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry. The AU and UN are convinced that the effective implementation of the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry presents a veritable opportunity for Lesotho both to resolve the current crisis and also avoid a possible relapse in future. The Joint Task Force called on SADC to urgently deploy its Oversight Committee in Lesotho to assist and monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.

What is clear in the above is that the Lesotho crisis has now become a world-wide challenge which all security and related structures are focused on dealing with. It is no longer just a SADC issue. The country is virtually under siege with all voices demanding accountability. It is now either the survival of the country or the removal of Kamoli from the Command of the LDF. It can’t be both

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