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September 2016

Clutching on straws: Mosisili’s desperate moves to cling to power

Overview

“The strongest is never strong enough to be always master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty” Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1770).

The weakness of a lot of regimes in Africa is the rulers do not know or do not want to be told simple truths and knowledge from the past. But more important is the fact that to them experience and knowledge is an enemy. If they had only glanced at Rousseau’s writings, they would have noticed that power without authority is a sure way into the slippery road. For Lesotho Prime Minister Mosisili, he should have noticed that his second ascend to power as Prime Minister was his most perilous since he not only did not command a majority in parliament, but also faced a critical security crisis which would have required wisdom rather than might. It would have required him to bring about national consensus rather than to rely on a system of rule dependent on brute force.

When Mosisili regained power with the assistance of six political parties, most of which strictly speaking did not qualify to get a seat in parliament but were compensated since Lesotho does not have a threshold, he professed to have dispensed with his arrogance. That was not how he handled himself. He pushed away all who do not agree with him; removed all public servants, military and police who got office while he was away for two and half years. But more importantly he alienated his party in favour of his new ally, Leader of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Mothetjoa Messing, who sought revenge and vengeance against his former partners in the previous coalition government. This as we will show was the beginning of his troubles which we now see. Thus rather than forming and running a government for all as would have been expected, Mosisili/Metsing partnership sought to survive though intimidation and violence. In his remarks Tallerand is reported to have observed about the Bourbons in France after coming back to power to have “…learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. So did Mosisili after his spell in the opposition benches. Fifteen years in power did not teach him anything. He also did not forget or forgive those who managed to keep him out of power for two and halve years. More critically he suspected his deputy to harbour ambition to succeed him.

The past few weeks have witnessed inexorable move towards the breakup of the Democratic Congress (DC), the mainstay of the present coalition government. The question therefore is what is happening, why and what are the implications of the breakup of the DC?

Power struggle within the DC

Following prolonged factional squabbles in the LCD in February 2012 Prime Minister Mosisili was invited and joined the DC as a leader. At the time it was assumed that he would have a short stint in the party and would have been expected to leave office after the 2012 elections for his deputy who was instrumental in the formation of the breakaway party. Mosisili apparently had other ideas. He  not only stayed in office but soon when the snap elections were held he continued to lead and has  unsuccessfully been trying to elbow his deputy in favour of Metsing of the LCD. It is in these circumstances that the youth supporters of DC began to mobilise within the party. In subsequent elections of both the party executive and the youth league, the supporters of Moleleki the deputy leader, almost swept the board. Mosisili’s supporters had sway in the women’s league which is chaired by his most ardent supporter, Dr. Sekatle. But it is this which probably worsened the situation. By being a strident supporter of Mosisili and being touted as his preferred successor, Moleleki’s supporters began to challenge what they saw as an attempt to rig the succession process within the party. Sekatle also can be accused of reckless talk as we got to know through a taped speech in her Qacha’s Nek   constituency where she seemed to suggest that if Mosisili left office, such office would be occupied by Metsing. She began to conflate party succession with government succession. In the audio clip which was widely circulated, she was heard clearly to favour Metsing from the LCD as Mosisili’s successor.

Sunday 18/09/2016 brought about the dramatic end to the chess game that both Mosisili and Moleleki had been playing for some time. It was preceded by three weeks of turbulence. First was the unprecedented expose of corruption on a breathtaking scale where the Directors of Lebelonyana, a locally incorporated company, together with a team of DCYL presented its contents in several radio stations. They claimed that:

Ø  The partner of the Minister of Finance summoned them to the Minister’s residence and in her presence demanded a bribe of over four million Maloti/Rand in order to be awarded a contract for supply and management of a government fleet;

Ø  After declining to provide the money, the Minister a few days later cancelled the procumbent process whereby the company had been selected to provide the fleet by the tender panel. The Minister then gave the contract to a South African Company by the name of BIDVEST which had not even tendered for the contract. The Minister of Finance is regarded as a staunch supporter of Mosisili;

Ø  Subsequent to that, police interrogated and intimidated the group and they ended up fleeing to South Africa for a few days fearing for their safety. When they finally returned to the country, they were accompanied and met by some Ministers and Members of Parliament from their party who clearly supported their stand. These were aligned to Moleleki;

Ø  Under these circumstances, Mosisili attempted to rally support through holding of political rallies. The first was held at Hololo in Butha-Buthe. The rally was disorderly with those who support Mosisili booing Moleleki and vice versa. Mosisili was stunned and ultimately cancelled all other planned rallies since it was clear that the divisions within his party had intensified. The police had had to be placed in from of the Moleleki supporting crowd in the Hololo rally.

It is under these circumstances that the Sunday march and rally which followed took place. This was first mooted by one Ramat’sella who has been disowned by his political party, Lesotho People’s Congress (LPC), with the aim of demonstrating against U.S. Ambassador who had made statements about impunity in the country. Ramat’sella’s demonstration now took a new turn. After LPC had disowned him and dissociated itself from his actions and statements, he now joined forces with one Sekata from LCD. They now publicly portrayed their proposed march now as a support for Mosisili and Kamoli. It was now not organised by any of the political parties but by individuals. However it was clear that the march was spearheaded by the Mosisili faction of the DC and the LCD. Indeed Sekata, who’s the spokesperson of the LCD, in one radio interview made it clear that they wanted to gauge their support in view of the rebellion within DC. This could not have been otherwise because Ramat’sella has no support from any political party and Sekata in the LCD is fully aware that the LCD is no longer a political force in Lesotho. The DC faction supporting Mosisili also has its own problems because the party structures are controlled by the Moleleki faction. Indeed Mokose, DC Secretary General, specifically distanced DC from the rally.

Significantly several Ministers in Mosisili’s party including the deputy leader did not participate in the rally. Two other leaders of the coalition government also did not participate. Mosisili threatened those of his team who seem to have deserted him. Significantly Moleleki held his own rally in his constituency in Machache and threw down the gauntlet. He condemned the Bidvest/ Government fleet contract as a corrupt deal, and went on to indicate that corruption has also gone even to the recruitment of police in Ministry where which he is in charge, where people got hired irregularly. He denounced Mosisili’s rally in Maseru organised outside party structures.  But more ominously the DCYL which supports Moleleki twitted yesterday that “There’s no such thing as ‘permanent” enemy in politics”. In Sesotho it went on to say those with ears must hear. This has marked a turning point in Lesotho politics. Mosisili is now scrambling to stay in power.

Whereto for Mosisili?

In spite of the bravado that Mosisili exhibited in his Sunday rally, he is in more political trouble than he has ever had in his long political career. First he has lost control of his political party which now will probably take action against him. Unlike in 2012, when he walked away from LCD, he was assured of keeping a majority of his members of parliament, he now can only walk away with a couple of members of parliament. Those who support him but went to parliament on the proportional representation route will have to stay in the DC or resign to be automatically replaced.  Second he has fewer chances of luring the opposition to join him in a coalition government than his deputy. It’s inconceivable that he could mobilise support to remain in power.

On the other hand Mosisili could try his luck by forming a new political party. Social media has been overloaded with that possibility. But that is only relevant if he operates in the opposition benches. Another option for him is that he could rejoin the LCD. He clearly is destined in the opposition benches. Joining LCD however does not improve his prospects. Even with an injection of his supporters into an almost moribund LCD, it is difficult to imagine a massive improvement in support of that party in the next elections.

When parliament resumes in October 2016, Mosisili is likely to lose a vote of no confidence. His option could only be to have parliament dissolved.  This however is not entirely dependent on him. The King does not automatically have to accept the dissolution if the possibility of forming another government exist. Such a possibility clearly exists. The combined numbers of the opposition and the Moleleki faction of DC make such an eventuality possible.

His deputy on the other has better chances of finding partners in the present opposition and two or three from the existing coalition. What it means is that Moleleki would become the Deputy Prime Minister while Mosisili and Metsing become the official opposition.  Though Moleleki is part of the present coalition, he has not been implicated in some of the outrages associated with both the army and also the vehicle fleet scandal. The tone of his speech in Machache last Sunday indicates that he is resigned to joining a new coalition which excludes Mosisili.

Lest we assume that things can go smoothly, let us also consider that Mosisili/Metsing coalition still has the devil’s option. This would entail mobilisation of the military and police to hang on to power unconstitutionally. With no political options and with the military now without a political base, the two can easily attempt to fight to the death. It is only in this way that the criminal faction in the army and the Mosisili/Metsing political faction can stay in power. Let all be aware that the devil‘s option is not out of question. It is not sustainable but it’s on the table.

 

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Police, politics and Policing in Lesotho

A strong state that acts negatively and coercively, imposing censorship, restricting the expression of grievances and opinions and viewing citizens as objects to be controlled rather than as partners, is a vulnerable state. (Gary T. Marx)

Recent developments in Lesotho about actions of police have brought focus on the state of policing in democratic societies. We have been witnesses to a police force which has no capacity to investigate political crimes ending up virtually outsourcing its investigations; we have seen a police force turning on itself in order to satisfy political masters; and we have now seen the development of a hunter police force which goes house to house beating up students whose only crime is that they wanted to demonstrate about failure by the government to release their allowances.

It must be understood however that police tend to reflect the dominant ethos inculcated from the top. If the government and the top leadership of the police view society as an enemy rather than a partner such police will drift towards that dominant ethos from above. When society decays and the rule of law deteriorate, it is foolish to expect that democratic policing can survive. Amongst the ethos that define democratic policing in society is a police force that (a) is subject to the rule of law embodying values respectful of human dignity, rather than the wishes of a powerful leader or party; (b) a police force that intervenes in the life of citizens only under limited circumstances; and (c) is a police force that is accountable.

It is thus not the job of the police to kidnap some of its own and make them disappear in order to satisfy the political goals of the political bosses; it is not for the police to determine whether people can use a bus or walk to a place of their choosing. The worst they can do is to protect places which they may fear are being damaged or could be damaged. Democratic policing involves negotiations and accommodation with the public rather than using unnecessary force. None of the above ethos are present in the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) as it’s not styled. We have seen the police becoming more militarised and also more unprofessional and unaccountable. LMPS has adapted to the political and security chaos that Lesotho has degenerated into in the past few years. An analysis of some of the unsavory developments within the police will illustrate the point. They involve undisguised unprofessionalism and subordination to the current political climate which does not embrace accountability for all those who are aligned to the present government.

For starters it was obvious that the Lesotho police are either subordinated to the political masters or they lack capacity to investigate crimes which have a political flavour. After the cold blooded murder of Lt. General Mahao, the police failed to do basic preliminary investigations like securing the crime scene and trying to secure physical evidence. If they had, but failed like previous police management, that would have been understandable. To their credit former Police Commissioners from Mlakaza to T’sooana attempted to have LDF suspects investigated for murder, high treason and other serious crimes. They failed to have suspects before the courts, but they documented their attempts. What remains is that the international community and future generations will still be tasked with ensuring that those suspects face trial even after thirty years as the Argentina and Chile cases have illustrated.

The best police work in relation to that murder was ironically made by the South African police. Giving evidence before the Phumaphi Commission, Ballistics expert Major Chris Mangena, who attended a forensic examination on the body of Mahao in Bloemfontein provided an unchallenged scene of incident reconstruction as well as a bullet trajectory determination. The testimony was detailed and credible. It once and for all discredited the concocted evidence of one Sechele of the LDF who claimed that there was an attempt to point a weapon at the members of the LDF who had surrounded Mahao when he was killed.  After Major Mangena’s professional presentation of the evidence, there came a bambling Mapola a member of the LMPS who later became head of the C.I.D. He had no clue about the investigations, but mumbled about some civilians who are being investigated for crimes linked to those of the detained soldiers. Since his evidence was not organised and helpful, Phumaphi summarily dismissed him from any further bambling in front of the Commission.  It is no wonder that the Commission accepted the evidence of Major Mangena and recommended that the LMPS investigations should be resourced – a code for being provided with skilled and professional personnel in their investigations of the murder of Mahao.

Another incident which needs elaboration and analysis is the disappearance of Police Constable Khetheng in the hands of Hlotse Police in March 2016. Constable Khetheng who was based in Mokhotlong Police Station, was arrested by four police officers based in Hlotse in broad day light at Sebothoane in Leribe where he was attending a traditional feast. The police involved were ‘Mabohlokoa Makotoko, Molapo, Ntoane and Mphutlane whose ranks I don’t have. The police through the Minister of Police, answering a question in Parliament later denied having arrested Khetheng but claimed that he was seen around the police station and was nowhere to be seen after lunch when they wanted to talk to him. However evidence by Police Constable Makotoko in a sworn statement reveals that either the Minister deliberately lied to Parliament or he was fed lies by the police.

Constable Makotoko obtained an interim court order forbidding the police to transfer her from Hlotse to some remote police station when she refused to sign a false affidavit about the disappearance of Constable Khetheng. In her founding affidavit, she narrates that she and her other colleagues above, went via Sebothoane after being informed that Khetheng was likely to be found there. They found him and put him at the back of a police van with two other suspects. On their way to Hlotse, Inspector Mofolo, their supervisor called the driver of the vehicle instructing him not to enter the police premises with Constable Khetheng. Since they were hungry they went straight to the Police Station and were stopped from entering the premises by Inspector Mofolo who took over the keys of the vehicle. After locking up the other two suspects in the cells, they found that neither Inspector Mofolo nor the vehicle were around. That was the last time Khetheng was seen.

Perhaps the key to understanding the issues around this disappearance and the fear by ordinary policemen/policewomen is best characterised by Constable Makotoko’s affidavit challenging her transfer to a remote police station. She swears:

…I fear for my life over everything. I am best protected at Hlotse police station over any other area in the country. I wish not to disclose my security arrangements. In Leribe I live within a community that knows the proper story behind the disappearance of policeman Khetheng. I do not wish to disappear myself and at the same time I cannot lie to conceal the disappearance of a fellow police officer.

In an application for habeas corpus by Khetheng’s family, Constable Makotoko in oral evidence stuck to this story. It is obviously up to the courts to decide who is responsible for Khetheng’s disappearance, but this shows that we have a police force which has turned on itself. It probably had long turned against police ethos in a democracy. It is a privatised police force which serves the political bosses rather than the public.

Finally, I turn to the militarised hunter police force which has emerged in Lesotho. All this week beginning 05/09/2016 there has been turmoil within and outside the National University of Lesotho. As we learned, a large number of students have not received their living allowances making it difficult for those who live outside campus to even pay their rent. Students decided to go to the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) to express their displeasure. They hired buses to go to Maseru about 35 kilometres away. About six kilometres from Roma their buses were stopped by heavily armed police who forcibly stopped their travel to Maseru. The following day students began to march to Maseru and again they were confronted by heavily armed police who liberally used teargas and bullets to disperse them. Several students were injured and were treated in hospital. Wednesday brought about a new aggressive tactic by the police. They went to the surrounding areas of the University, going room to room where students were. Students were liberally beaten and some had to seek hospital treatment.

No attempt was made to arrest any student who could be suggested to have been breaking the law. The hunter police were unleashed to beat up students. Like hunters, the smell of blood from those who were brutalised enlisted more beating and hunt for others. Thus the ethos we associate with police like rule of law have disappeared.

I reiterate that even in cases where the political situation is bad some means are simply too detestable to associate with policing. Kidnapping and taking the law unto themselves are demeaning to any police force even under conditions of a dictatorship. In spite of pressures to the contrary police are not expected to act in an explicitly political fashion.  When opponents of the regime in power operate within the law, it is police obligation to protect those. Democratic policing is professional and politically neutral. These are the values that the Lesotho police no longer have.

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