August 2016

Has SADC betrayed Lesotho: how the machinations began?

On the 3rd July 2015 an Extraordinary Summit of the SADC Double Troika was convened in Pretoria, South Africa to consider the deteriorating political and security situation in Lesotho. In the words of the Communiqué issued that day the:

Summit received the report of the SADC Facilitator to the Kingdom of Lesotho, and expressed concern regarding the deterioration of the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho, which forced the main opposition leaders to flee the county fearing for their security, and exacerbated by tragic death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao, the former Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) Commander on the 25th June 2015.

As a result of the above, the Double Troika amongst other decisions decided to establish an “Oversight Committee to act as an early warning mechanism in the event of signs of instability, and intervene as appropriate in consultation with the SADC facilitator”; and to “.. establish an independent Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Brigadier  Mahao,  and its deployment with immediate effect.” The observations and the decisions gave the impression that there would be a rapid move to resolve the issues addressed by the Double Troika.  It also looked like SADC had finally understood the breadth and depth of the Lesotho crisis.  As time went on however the indignation arising from the day light murder by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members of their former Commander, and the enthusiasm to resolve the issues seem to have waned.  In retrospect, it is apparent that the Lesotho government’s strategy was to try to trek the issues long enough to exhaust the SADC leadership until some of them give up.

The ultimate aim of the Lesotho government was to promote impunity. The government’s complicity in the murder of Mahao became clear for all to see during the proceedings of the Phumaphi Commission which SADC had established. All government representatives from the Prime Minister down to the lowest of the officials pretended that they did not know the killers. None could even explain how the elaborate scheme to hide evidence including washing of the deceased’s body and clothes could take place in a properly functioning democratic state. They also were unable to explain why all the physical evidence was not handed to the investigators.

It’s over a year since the decisions were made and eight months since the Commission Report was adopted in Gaborone in January 2016.  Meeting after meeting has not advanced the course of justice. None of the key decisions made by SADC have been implemented.  On the contrary, more and more of the suspects of the assassination of Mahao and other people; the torture of detained soldiers; and the scheme to cover up commission of those crimes; have been rewarded with promotions and other things. As pointed out in an earlier issue:

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 unmistakable signs of reward. Prime Minister Mosisili has now on several occasions been at pains to thank the military for him being back in office.

It is for the same reasons that the Mahao family recently expressed dismay after meeting the SADC Facilitator, Cyril Ramaphosa in his latest mission to Lesotho, who informed them that no progress has been made to investigate the murder of Lt. General Mahao. On the contrary Ramaphosa informed the family and other stakeholders that a joint group of recruits into both the police and the army were earmarked to begin the investigation. Regardless of the strange question of army recruits being tasked to investigate their superiors who are well-known, this envisaged procedure contradicts Prime Minister Mosisili’s statement in Parliament in March 2016 that in Lesotho well established procedures for investigating crimes like those of the murder of Mahao involve the police who then submit their report to the Director of Public Prosecutions exist. If this route were to take place, it would amount to a transparent attempt to hide evidence which could still exist after more than a year of unsuccessful efforts to hide it. The major concern however is whether witnesses who remain available would still be save when this task team of police and military recruits assume their place in the “investigation”.

It is under these circumstances that the opposition parties in Lesotho and more significantly the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) have expressed alarm at the turn of events in Lesotho. Ahead of the SADC Summit in Swaziland Bishop Seane on behalf of the organisation accused the SADC leadership of failing to pressurise Lesotho government to implement the recommendations of the Phumaphi Report. The statement was very critical but came short of accusing the leaders of complicity. It probably should have said so.

The question then is why there has been this state of affairs. More importantly, the question is whether there has been a deliberate retreat by SADC on this matter as was suggested by Minister Moleleki, contrary to what was in the Record of the latest Gaborone SADC Double Troika Summit, or whether this is due to incompetence by SADC. If it’s the former, how was the whole fraud arranged?

Shortly after the SADC Double Troika Summit in Gaborone in January 2016, in several media announcements, the different arms of the Lesotho government went into overdrive to inform the people that even though Prime Minister Mosisili had ultimately taken the Phumaphi Report from SADC, after he had vowed not to, its recommendations would not be binding and the government would choose what is acceptable and what is not. An all out campaign to lobby SADC and other international organisations was launched. The most prominent of those activities was a mission to both Botswana and Mozambique in February 2016.  The lobbying troupe was led by Deputy Prime Minister Metsing with several Ministers and officials. The initial focus of this group was to seek to negotiate with both the SADC Chair and the Chair of the Troika on how to soften the decisions. When Metsing’s troupe failed to soften the stance of the SADC leadership a new strategy was adopted and that is what has led us to where we are.

After the Maputo meeting, Metsing and those around him now began to pronounce that government would implement the decisions of SADC but that would take time. From that time onwards, the question was to stall everything while giving the impression of accepting the decisions. President Nyusi in his letter to Prime Minister Mosisili seemed to have seen through that strategy. He thus followed up the meeting with Metsing’s troupe with a letter which demanded specific timelines of implementation. But the letter went further to indicate that the credibility of SADC was on the line if it was not able to ensure that there was implementation of its decisions. Lesotho government was fully aware of the fact that an outright rejection of the decisions was out of question. Trying to water down the decisions in practice without seeming to reject them was found to be the best way forward. It must be clear that the government never wanted to implement the decisions since it was from the beginning complicit in the crimes which the military did on its behalf.

Nyusi’s deadlines passed without any action. Late in the day, another Double Troika Summit was held in Gaborone in June 2016 and it still produced no concrete results. This has left observers asking themselves whether SADC is willing to enforce its will.  Indeed all that SADC was able to do in the 28 June 2016 Summit was to urge “the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho to urgently fulfil her commitments through demonstrable implementation of SADC decisions.” Even more surprising was that more than a year after deciding to establish the Oversight Committee referred to earlier, SADC then decided to operationalize such a committee. But what is more puzzling about SADC is that the operationalization of the Oversight Committee which the Secretariat was directed to do immediately has either not been done or has been done but is not visible. The Oversight Committee referred to has not set itself up and it has not been able to show its presence in Lesotho. This has been a total disaster because the situation in Lesotho continues to deteriorate. Several more Members of Parliament have had to flee the country fearful of their safety. More significantly, several members of the main coalition partner’s Youth Leaders fled the country fearing for their lives just like the opposition members had been doing since 2015. Though those have since returned from South Africa where they had fled to, they have been recounting the horrors of exile even though they were there for slightly over a week.

The Lesotho situation is not getting better. Failure by SADC to resolve the impasse, whether caused by complicity or incompetence will come down to create a fertile environment in most of the countries concerned sooner rather than later. The majority of the SADC countries themselves are moving rapidly to face political crisis which later may proceed towards a security crisis. Let’s all be aware that failure to assist a neighbour engulfed in insecurity leads directly to insecurity in your own country.

We all hope that the August Summit of SADC in Swaziland will have a closer view of what impunity does. We hope they will look sympathetically at the tribulations of the wives and children of the Lesotho soldiers who have been detained and tortured for more than a year. We also hope that SADC will also sympathetically look at the potential loss of over 40,000 jobs by Lesotho’s factory workers if the country’s eligibility status in AGOA is revoked.  The issues of accountability and lack of a functioning rule of law environment has been highlighted by the US to the Lesotho government as an issue which will not allow the renewal  of the status unless rectified. All these are a result of a government which is beholden to rogue elements in the LDF.

When losing elections gives you more power: case of LCD in Lesotho and EFF in South Africa

The 1990s brought about competitive politics to the Southern African region. In most cases however, democratic elections brought into power politicians from dominant political parties which abused their dominance and created democratically elected despots whose only focus was how to entrench themselves and line their pockets. While this was part of the political journey, it brought about arrogance and corruption. The emergence of self-serving leaders was a result of that dominance which led some politicians to believe that elections were a route to their coronation rather than anything else. The dominant   party syndrome was bound to disappear as people became more conscious and sources of information became more dispersed.

In recent Southern African political history however, there have been indications that the dominant party system was declining. The decline was more noticeable in Lesotho where coalition politics at the national level came to the fore from 2012 to the present. Coalition politics is expected to be one of the main means of government formation in the region in the next few years. In South Africa, at least three metropolitan areas will have to be ruled by coalition governments as a result of the inconclusive Local Government Elections of 2016. The issue therefore is what role losing political parties have in government formation in divided societies?

Traditionally winning parties have had all the power after elections, but as the Lesotho case has shown, minor parties or those who have lost the elections can become even more dominant than the largest party in a coalition. As South Africa inexorably moves towards coalition administrations in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tswane, there is a need to evaluate situations where losing elections gives losers more power than the winners of elections. It is unusual but experience has shown that through dogged refusal to submit to the majority party and refusal to bargain but grandstand, the loser can transform weakness into a temporary strength in a coalition.

The 2012 coalition government in Lesotho and the current coalition government have been dogged by the junior partner assuming more power and influence than the numerically senior partner. In 2012 no political party had an overall majority after the elections. Out of the 120 seats, the parties which formed the coalition had just 61 seats in parliament (ABC 30; LCD 26 and BNP 5). While the ABC provided the position of the Prime Minister, LCD insisted and got almost all the key Ministries of Finance, Education, Foreign Affairs etc. Sources indicated that the negotiations were always stymied by Metsing, leader of LCD who always insisted that no government could be formed without his support. For his efforts, Metsing secured the position of Deputy Prime Minister. His favourite expression then which I understand he continues to wield in the current coalition is “U ea ntlhoka!” That means that the senior partner cannot rule without his concurrence. Emphasis on being a king-maker rather than ensuring that the coalition achieves its objectives poses the greatest threat to the sustainability of any coalition.

Even after the coalition government had been formed, Metsing sought to exercise a veto on all decisions of the government on the basis that consultations are the only basis of moving forward on any issue. Clearly consultations are important in the sustenance of the government of that nature, but that does not remove the power of the Prime Minister under the Lesotho Constitution. What Metsing sought was essentially to be Prime Minister in all but in name. When that was not achieved he ensured that the coalition was brought down by working inside it to undermine and bring it down.

The 2015 elections which were a result of the collapse of the previous coalition government brought about another coalition. This time, the Democratic Congress (DC) was a majority party in the coalition with 47 seats. The biggest loser of the elections was the LCD which had lost more than 50% of its 2012 support (its seats were reduced from 26 in 2012 to 12 in 2015). It was however the second biggest within the coalition. Using the well known “U ea ntlhoka” stand; Metsing was once again able to manoeuvre himself into being Deputy Prime Minister and also the most powerful member of the government. He also ensured that he consolidated his informal control of the military to a formal control with one of his supporters as a Minister of Defence and National Security. It is under his control that the security situation in Lesotho has ended up being a subject of international scrutiny by SADC and other international institutions.

The power of the loser of the elections has become even bigger in the current coalition government. Indeed the dominance of the LCD in the present coalition is unquestionable. It is largely as a result of this dominance by LCD that the internal conflict within the DC is accelerating, with some in the DC beginning to question why a 10% support party has eclipsed their bigger party. In a recent radio interview, Litjobo, one of the youth leaders of the DC plainly indicated that their main gripe is that a smaller party is attempting to swallow a bigger one. It dominates the government and now is attempting to swallow the DC. The lure to retain power has not moved the top leadership of the party to heed the anguish the youth leaders feel. The loser of the elections is dominant.

As the results of the South African Local Government elections sink, the question of how coalition governments in the municipalities will be formed raises the spectre of minority rule as the Lesotho case demonstrates. In all the aforementioned municipalities, either the DA or the ANC can cobble a coalition government with the support of minor parties particularly EFF which got around 8% in the elections. In the initial pre-negotiations shot Malema, leader of EFF is reported to have said that he could only form coalitions with a party which will accept EFF’s principles particularly on the land issue. If he is to stick to this, it means that there is no possibility of genuine negotiations on what form of administration is needed for the municipality, but the submission of the bigger parties to EFF would be the prerequisite for agreement. Like LCD, EFF is fully aware that bigger parties in divided societies become so desperate to get to office without power. In essence this negates the power of the electorate who would have expected proportionate influence of the small party in a coalition.

The question however is whether the dominance of small parties in a coalition is sustainable? If the EFF were to emulate the LCD strategy of not only securing positions for its leaders, but also vetoes decisions in the municipalities, would that serve the community? Coalition politics at the best of times is difficult to manage, but people who go into coalitions must always go there with open minds. Without flexibility coalitions break down and service delivery suffers. Let us hope that EFF will not adopt the Metsing stand of “U ea ntlhoka”. If you don’t submit to my dictates, the coalition will be undermined and dissolved. Coalition governments are the only way forward in most of Southern Africa as the older political parties splinter and lose support.  Let those who were used to dominant political party model learn that they need to bargain with smaller political parties. At the same time smaller political parties must also learn to accept their status as small rather than to try to swallow bigger political parties.

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