Fear sometimes drives some people to do weird things. Mosisili’s actions and utterances lately are largely driven by fear which leads him to do and take desperate measures. It is not fear of elections, but fear of the consequences of losing elections especially for those people he has spent two protecting to account for their crimes. He appoints his allies to key positions weeks before he is tested in the elections; he refuses to comply with SADC’s decisions on holding a pre-election stakeholder forum, and uses the most unsavoury language to convey his view to SADC; and his allies endeavour to secure all high grounds in the country designated as their areas of operation for national security. All these are a result of his fear and probably regret that he called an election unnecessarily; and could suffer his biggest political defeat since his entry into politics. The signs are clear. His most loyal supporters are disserting him rapidly while his opponents are circling around him. This can explain his erratic behaviour in the past three months or so.
He has berated all and sundry who had been rescuing him from his self-inflicted wounds over the past twenty years or so. He has refused to have an engagement with his colleagues under the guidance of SADC ahead of the 2017 elections. The pre-election stakeholder dialogue, meant to bring about consensus on the election process and its outcome; and commitment by all stakeholders to implement the SADC decisions was probably the most important activity which could have smoothed the way for a peaceful election. It must be recalled that it is the same SADC which he berates now which has on several occasions rescued him after he had lost power in unstable Lesotho.
Mosisili also refused to sign a pledge by political parties to commit to accepting the outcome of the elections a week ago when all significant political parties committed themselves to. This pledge was championed by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) which has always been in the forefront of the mediation amongst the political forces in Lesotho whenever political conflicts have arisen. It took five days of intense pressure by internal external stakeholders for Mosisili’s party to finally pledge that it will accept the outcome of the elections. Even then, Mosisili could not bring himself to the signing ceremony. He delegated that to his new and untested deputy (22/ 05/2017). We can only hope that this half-hearted commitment will ultimately provide a means through which he will be held to his word. Refusing to sign a pledge to accept the outcome of the elections was a telling development. Mosisili now understands that his chances of winning have been so whittled that he could only stay in power by force. But that, he probably was told, could be done but would not be sustainable.
Under this environment we have to assess Mosisili’s recent outbursts against SADC and its implications for peace and security in Lesotho. It is also important to ponder additional indicators of rearguard actions which will have implications for the post election period.
Mosisili’s unequal tussle with SADC
It is worth mentioning from the start that Mosisili became Prime Minister of Lesotho once again in March 2015 after cobbling together a coalition of seven political parties after the elections. As a result of his mishandling of the government, by the end of June 2015 scores of soldiers had been detained and tortured, while others had fled the country for allegedly being involved in a mutiny. All the leaders of the opposition political parties had fled the country for fear of being killed; the former army Commander Lt. General Maaparankoe Mahao had been waylaid and murdered by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF); and SADC had by July 2015 decided to establish an international commission of inquiry to find the circumstances of the latter’s murder. The recommendations of the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry was adopted by SADC and all the two years of Mosisili ‘s rule were consumed by attempts to resist to implement those decisions. Following the decision to dissolve Parliament after Mosisili had lost a vote of no confidence, SADC in its Extraordinary Summit in Swaziland decided to have its structures involved in monitoring and smoothing the process towards elections. This is what irked Mosisili.
Summit mandated the Facilitator, supported by the Oversight Committee, to conduct a multi-stakeholder national dialogue before the elections set 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…
Rather than see this as a means by which SADC would help to ensure that there is confidence by all stakeholders that the elections would be held in a peaceful manner and the outcome would lead to a stabilised country, Mosisili saw this as interference in Lesotho’s internal affairs. He railed against SADC not only on the substantive issues but also on procedures taken to reach the decisions in Swaziland. While he rejects outright the idea of holding a multi-stakeholder national dialogue, what seems to have annoyed Mosisili more is the outright rejection of his deputy’s attempts to derail discussion of the issue in the Summit. He laments:
We have been informed that despite protestations from the Head of the Lesotho delegation, Honourable Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing MP, we were NOT accorded the opportunity to be heard. It is for this reason that I take this opportunity to register our strong reservations on the content and procedure adopted by the Double Troika. We cannot, in good conscience, allow our sovereignty to be sacrificed for whatever reason by a regional body of which we are founding members. It would be a sad day if indeed we were to allow the SADC to degenerate into a body where might reigns supreme.
We are aware from multiple sources that Metsing did not have it easy in Swaziland. His previous tactics of charming the facilitator seemed to have run into trouble since all present were now aware that he has used interactions with SADC to play the delaying tactic in implementing the short-term and the long-term decisions of SADC following the adoption of the Phumaphi Report. Indeed, other than the Gaborone Summit in January 2016, Mosisili has avoided attending the crucial meetings of the Double Troika and had delegated attendance to Metsing who had mastered talking reform to avoid reform. This time the strategy did not work. It is this which irked Mosisili to the extent where he threatened to walk away from SADC. “This is NOT the SADC we founded. This is NOT the SADC we would be proud to be a part of. This is NOT the SADC we would like to bequeath unto posterity.” This Mosisili meant to be a threat. As it happened, the world did not fall apart, on the contrary two messages were later relayed to him.
An angrier letter to the Chairperson of SADC came from the President of Botswana showing impatience with Mosisili’s antics. He pointedly showed the absurdity of Mosisili’s claim of interference in Lesotho’s internal affairs by showing how the region has spent considerable time and resources trying to bring about stability in the country. Threatening to withdraw Botswana’s participation in the current efforts, he showed that Botswana has nothing to gain by engaging in this exercise. For observers this was a case where President Khama was trying to show Mosisili that his bluff is really that. Lesotho needs the region, more than ever before. Indeed without SADC and the rest of the international community which has been steadfast in demanding accountability, Lesotho is not in a position prosper. It is even less in a position to threaten SADC.
Another letter from King Mswati , Chairperson of SADC, was equally firm telling Mosisili that SADC has been involved in Lesotho as part of its mandate and urged Lesotho to abide by SADC decisions at the Swaziland Summit. He pointed out that SADC has been seized with developments in Lesotho over a long period and its continued support is in line with SADC objectives and principles, with the aim of bringing about sustainable political stability, peace and tranquillity. Rebuffing Mosisili’s claims of interference, the King spelt out the obvious, “The decisions are in line with the SADC Treaty and the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.” That should have been obvious to Mosisili and his allies. Mozambican President Nyusi had long spelled out that in an earlier letter to Mosisili after Metsing’s shuttle diplomacy in Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.
As can be seen Mosisili’s attempts to defy SADC has not been taken kindly in the region. It has left the country more isolated and vulnerable. In the world of nations, we know that small states like Lesotho can only thrive within a co-operative environment. Mosisili’s actions have weakened Lesotho’s status in the region and beyond. It could be that he has noticed that clinging to power cannot be part of the support SADC would be able to give him. This is why he resisted signing the pledge to accept the outcome of the elections until the pressure became unbearable. SADC with all its weaknesses could not be on his side when he resisted implementing decisions which would bring the rule of law back in the country. It could also not support his concerted efforts to undermine the electoral process.
Could Mosisili’s militia also be up to new tricks which could scupper peace in Lesotho? Could Mosisili’s attempts to block the national dialogue and also to refuse to sign the pledge be related to the emerging attempts by LDF to have all high grounds designated as its operational areas part of this?
In a letter which has been come to the fore, LDF seeks to secure twenty two hills and plateaus for what it calls for the Ground of Tactical Importance(GTI).”They will be used for foreseeable security threat and security purposes.” We need not say anything more rather than to suggest that there may be two reasons for the above. First, the sites may be required for purposes of intimidation of opponents of the regime. Internally there is no need to occupy high ground against unarmed opposition. Indeed the militia is more useful and effective around civilian areas where there is immediate access to people it wants to harm.
Occupying high grounds could only be conceivably be against other armed people if there were to be an armed intervention after the elections. Mosisili’s allies may be showing their intentions. In such situations, showing your intentions and ensuring that somebody is aware that there may be resistance should there be any intervention is a well known strategy. Such resistance may be short-lived but it surely can be offered.
Mosisili’s outbursts against SADC may indicate that he knows that the end is near and does not care what happens after he leaves office. It would remain with his successors to repair the damage in relations with SADC. That is plausible. It however also indicates that he is now aware that his antics and stalling to implement SADC decisions is no longer tolerated by his peers in the region. This is why he has tended to leave the issues of attending such difficult Summits to his deputy who also internally played the role of talking reform in order to block reforms which SADC has decided need to be done.
On the other hand, Mosisili may be playing his last cards by allowing his allies to find a way of intimidating people ahead of the elections. The possibility of disruption of the elections and/or refusing to accept the results remains despite of the signing of the Electoral Pledge by Mosisili’s party. One thing is certain; Mosisili is most unlikely going to win the elections in June 2017. All the indicators, including foregoing to contest elections in twenty six constituencies, shows that he has all but conceded that he has lost the initiative. What remains is merely to guard against disruption of elections. The presence of foreign observers goes a long way in ensuring that such attempts are limited in scope.