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.