For some of us, the January 2015 Gaborone SADC Summit seemed like the beginning of the new dawn in Southern African politics. It was a Summit where uncharacteristically, SADC forced the Lesotho government to accept its decisions emanating from the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry and tasked it with implementation. It was a tough stance in view of the fundamental nature of those decisions on the continued survival of the seven party coalition government in Lesotho. Implementation of those decisions was bound to have a destabilising effect on the government for at least two reasons.
First, the insistence that Lt. General Kamoli, Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) be relieved of his Command was fundamental. Kamoli was the clue that held together the civilian and military elements which had been involved in serious cases of High Treason, murder and others. The Phumaphi Commission listed all those who had avoided accountability for their crimes because of his protection. Like in mafia cases around the world, those who are under the protection of the mafia boss cannot be touched unless the boss is taken out. The boldness with which one Sechele, an LDF member, testifying before the Phumaphi Commission, made his stance known was a clear indication that he was himself well protected. Sechele dared the police to try to investigate crimes within LDF. He argued that, no member of the army would be handed over to the police during investigations. But more importantly, in its findings, the Commission found that:
139(q) That there are several investigations by LMPS on LDF members which were hindered by the Lt. General Kamoli by refusing to hand over suspects to the police. This disregard for the Rule of Law by the LDF, is evidenced by existing warrants of arrests (Annex) on some members of LDF including Lt. General Kamoli charged with High treason arising from the 30th August 2014 unrests.
Without removing the head of the network, both the civilian and military suspects would accordingly never account for their actions in a court of law. It is not surprising that shortly after Kamoli left, the regime floundered and was easily eased out. No one knows what would have happened to the opposition if Kamoli was still in total control of the army when they went for the vote of no confidence.
Second, the decision by SADC that all those in the army who are alleged, to have committed serious crimes listed by the Commission, be suspended while their cases are further investigated, touched on the core of impunity in Lesotho. An analysis of the warrants of arrest as shown in the Phumaphi Commission Report shows that a core existed in LDF who are invariably involved in most of those crimes shown. This meant that their suspension would at a go, remove the bulk of the team which was involved in several cases of murder; high treason; and use of bombs in an attempt to eliminate specified high profile personalities in the Lesotho government of the day. Recognition of the significance of this fact is that most of those suspects have now been promoted two times within one year in order to ensure that they are in control of all sectors of the LDF.
The obfuscation which the government attempted to do from January 2016 on the implementation of the SADC decisions on this was largely a result of the understanding that it could not survive without both Kamoli and those of his lieutenants who were committed to the joint project of mutual protect from the law by the government and the army. The question throughout this period was whether SADC was a willing partner in allowing impunity or whether it was gullible? For a while no one was sure, but there was virtually no movement in any of those areas. I dare say that, were it not because of the insistence of the U.S. on this matter, even the departure of Kamoli would not have been possible. Failure to implement the SADC decisions would have ensured that Lesotho would lose its beneficiary status under AGOA.
The question then is whether the Swaziland Summit (17/03/2017) can be seen as a game changer or another adherence to the Lesotho government’s obfuscation?
SADC Summit Decisions in Swaziland on Lesotho
Following the receipt and discussions of the reports from both the Facilitator and the Oversight Committee, the Summit expressed concern about the circumstances in Lesotho which have necessitated the holding of the snap elections. Within the same context, the Lesotho was urged to address the fundamental challenges and bring about political stability. This recognition of lack of focus on the key issues over the past few years is important since it also indicates that SADC itself is fully aware that what it has tolerated since 2015 is not sustainable. SADC was presented with a mirage rather than reality on the fundamental questions about governance and rule of law. It is for the same reasons that the following issues were decided upon:
- Facilitator and the Oversight Committee were mandated to closely monitor the political and security situation in Lesotho during the election period;
- Facilitator and the Oversight Committee were mandated to conduct a “… multi-stakeholder national dialogue before the elections for 3rd June 2017 with the aim of building consensus and trust among all stakeholders and charting the way forward for the implementation of SADC Decisions”;
- Summit also decided that a Double Troika Summit convenes soon after the new government is formed after the elections on largely two things. First, on the need to implement SADC decisions arising from the Phumaphi Commission and the roadmap for such implementation. But more importantly the engagement should emphasise the need to address the “fundamental challenges, commitment to implement SADC Decisions and the consequences of not implementing the decisions and observing timelines” (my emphasis).
The issues therefore are that as Lesotho moves towards elections, SADC has now decided to intensify its intervention and monitoring. The decisions go beyond monitoring. It is now clear that Lesotho has become more than an irritant to the region; it has become a security concern. This is why the Facilitator is expected to monitor closely both the political and security situation in Lesotho ahead of elections.
Understanding the decisions
In an environment where there are concerns as Lesotho moves towards elections, it is critical that there is an intense international participation in order to deter intimidation. Lesotho’s institutions are virtually on the ground. Parliament for example, before its dissolution, was an arena of intimidation, with Members of Parliament being subjected to body searches and other forms of harassment. In parliament, the Speaker was no longer behaving like one, but a political hack pursuing the interests of the government.
The only thing, perhaps which provided the opposition with an opportunity to deal a mortal blow against the government was the everyday presence of some members of the Oversight Committee in Parliament. Without them, I have no doubt Members of Parliament would have been thrown out of the House when they resisted allowing the Minister of Finance to present the budget. The Speaker shouted over and over again that those who don’t want to listen to the budget speech must go out. None left the house until the parliamentary Business Committee sat and rearranged the business of the House. Standing Orders were being flouted with impunity by the one person who was expected to be their guardian. It is for reasons like this that the envisaged intense monitoring will minimise the attempts to subvert the elections.
The second most important decision by the SADC Summit is the decision that the Facilitator with the Oversight Committee should convene a multi-stakeholder forum to forge a consensus and trust on the implementation of SADC decisions. For anybody who has familiarity with the issues in Lesotho, it will be clear that we are faced with an extremely divided nation. SADC decisions on accountability and rule of law are the only issues around which there can be an agreement. This is not because all parties subscribe to those principles, but as a result of broad international consensus that Lesotho must be brought into the fold of civilised community of nations after the aberrations of the past two years where might was seen as right.
The multi-stakeholder forum as I understand it, is largely to agree on the following issues:
- a) June elections should be held in an environment of peace and tranquillity;
- b) Iron out obstacles for the achievement of the above;
- c) Bring about international guarantees to ensure peaceful elections;
- d) Ensure that all stakeholders recognise that SADC decisions arising from Phumaphi Commission are binding and inviolable.
In essence, the international community in Southern Africa is through these decisions saying to one and all stakeholders that the time for obfuscation on the implementation of the decisions is over. Indeed, schemes like the general amnesty bill, which has died a natural death with the dissolution of parliament, are not on the table. The only issue remaining is implementation of decisions.
Finally, SADC has sent out a message that it will follow-up the matters raised in the pre-election stakeholder forum with the newly elected government with two things in mind. First, to ensure that decisions reached in the pre-election forum are followed to the letter within the timeframes spelled out. But more importantly, it will serve as a warning to the new government that failure to implement the decisions will have consequences. If Mosisili had been given as clear a message as this in 2016 he would not have prevaricated the way he has done. It is a situation which we all regret that more than twelve months after the Gaborone Summit, SADC is only waking up to the reality that Lesotho has not moved in the right direction.
Establishing the Phumaphi Commission, even without the diligence to follow-up on implementation will always remain as SADC’s most important decision to assist Basotho to help themselves against a regime which was determined to operate in a sectarian and partisan way to suppress their rights. It is doubtful whether people would have had the courage and the rallying weapon to free themselves from the clutches of Mosisili and Kamoli if they did not have the document to show what is wrong with the Mosisili regime. The vote of no confidence which has effectively demobilised and delegitimized Mosisili directly arises from the setting up of the Phumaphi Commission. It was the Commission which laid the foundation for the collapse of the regime. The spark however was the defections from the leading parties in the coalition, as a result of both rampant corruption and leadership squabbles, which led to the fall of Mosisili.
It is therefore not entirely correct to say that Basotho have managed to solve their problem on their own. SADC has played a role and with the Swaziland Summit in mind, we have to hope that no government can once again decide that corruption and murder can be tolerated. It is accordingly a great day for the people of Southern Africa as a whole that we are on the verge of removing the blot of impunity in our country and the region.
I whole heartedly welcome the intensified monitoring and warnings to whatever government that emerges after the elections that accountability and rule of law should prevail. We say never again!!