Lesotho – Fat is in the political fire

PUBLISHED: Fri, 18 Nov 2016 08:56:11 GMT

The fractious coalition government in Lesotho is threatening to come apart once again after a dozen members of the opposition All Basotho Convention (ABC) pledged allegiance to a breakaway faction of the ruling Democratic Congress (DC) on November 13, placing the current governing coalition in jeopardy.

This development follows Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s sacking of four cabinet ministers accused of colluding with opposition parties to unseat the governing coalition, on November 10.

Mr Mosisili also moved Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki from the police ministry. The move backfired and four other ministers resigned, including Mr Moleleki who claimed at least 21 members of Parliament (MPs) in the ruling coalition were ready to quit.

There were reports of police arresting MPs who were attempting to cross the floor on November 11.

Last week, it was reported that Mr Moleleki was already in talks with exiled opposition leader Tom Thabane to oust Mr Mosisili.

This came about just a few days after South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had met with the opposition leaders, including Mr Thabane, Theselle Maseribane leader of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) frontman Keketso Rantsho, to discuss stabilisation efforts in the country.

Given that the faction fighting in the ruling coalition has been common knowledge for some time, the South African meeting with the opposition leaders, including those still hiding in South Africa, may be more significant than it first appears.

Just a month earlier, under increasing pressure from South African opposition parties and the Public Protector, the South African Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation set up a task team to review tenders awarded since 2014, after growing allegations of corruption: including those around the Lesotho Highlands Water Project where delays in the R26bn project are thought to be due to the need to include LTE Consulting – a company said to be a big funder of the African National Congress (ANC).

The lucrative deals available to Lesotho business and political leaders have been pinned as a key consideration in the ongoing political instability in Lesotho, with rival parties and elites competing for control and access.

Ousted former prime minister and now a key player in the fresh instability in Lesotho, Mr Thabane, has long been deemed by political parties in Lesotho to be South Africa’s preferred prime minister, an issue that arose several times during the recent Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) intervention in the mountain kingdom.

It now appears certain that Mr Thabane and the other ‘exiled’ leaders will swiftly return home suddenly feeling safe again with the recent resignation of army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli providing a convenient excuse.

Not that the ruling coalition needs much encouragement to fall apart. The DC has slowly disintegrated under increasing factionalism.

For several months now, Mr Moleleki has been the leading instigator following a fallout with Mr Mosisili. Unhappiness in the coalition, and specifically in the DC, is claimed to centre on economic issues and a decline in the rule of law.

The power agenda, however, appears to be the real motivation.

After coming to a head last week, Mr Moleleki said at the weekend that Lesotho needed a broad-based and strong government of national unity to replace the rotten current administration.

“I invite all parties represented in the national assembly, including the opposition, to approach us to talk about how we can take this country forward,” Mr Moleleki told local media.

In an October report, we said that the DC-led coalition was coming under pressure from within, with raging succession struggles and increasing factionalism causing growing rifts.

We warned that the squabbles spelled trouble over the medium term as some thorny issues related to security and constitutional reforms remain largely unattended – as are most of the SADC demands contained in its report regarding political stability in the country.

It was obvious to us by then that the SADC intervention and its recommendations had done little to restore peace and stability in the country and may have contributed indirectly to the continuing instability.

One of the key demands of the SADC probe was that Lt.General Kamoli be removed as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander. After lengthy delays and some side-steps, it was announced last week that the controversial soldier was to step down on December 1, after protracted and apparently expensive negotiations with government officials.

Adding to the general confusion were some reports that the governing coalition was about to shut down all social media. Telecommunications operators in the country told media last week that the regulator requested their position on the temporary closure of Facebook and Twitter. There was no sign of such a development at the weekend, but this coming week may be different. 

The clear and present danger here is the prospect of a military intervention following not just weeks or months of political squabbling, but years – the patience of the military has been stretched to breaking point.

That is not yet on the horizon, but it cannot be entirely discounted.

The power struggles in the ruling party may well result in yet another coalition government, perhaps within days or weeks. That holds no promise of greater stability – just another phase in an unending cycle.

The much-vaunted SADC intervention that promised so much was never going to deliver. We argued that point from day one and described the intervention as ill-conceived and doomed, and so it transpired.

South Africa’s interests and badly-managed interventions are clearly linked to the supply of water to Gauteng, but something is rotten in that State too and needs to be flushed out for the sake of Gauteng’s water supply and stability in Lesotho. 

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