By Gary van Staden, Head of Research, NKC African Economics
The third date since July by which Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane was supposed to reopen Parliament came and went this week with no indication that the embattled leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) is ready to face down a motion of no confidence, let alone implement the agreement brokered by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa some two months ago.
Mr Thabane prorogued Parliament sine die (without stipulating when it would reassemble) in June to avoid a no-confidence vote brought by his own party. The three dates on which the legislature was meant to reopen – August 5, August 16, and September 25 – have passed into the clouded history of the country with no indication of when or even if Parliament will be reopened.
The much-heralded July agreement signed by Mr Thabane, opposition parties, and NGOs and labelled a major breakthrough has apparently joined several other ‘breakthrough’ agreements on the trash heap of Lesotho’s toxic politics.
The thrust of the July Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was to give legislative authority to a so-called National Legislative Reform Authority (NLRA) that would co-ordinate the national reforms process in the kingdom. The reform authority will be constituted in terms of an act of Parliament, which will guide the country in effecting constitutional governance, security, and media reforms.
Mr Ramaphosa welcomed the signing as a “historic milestone that firmly set Lesotho on the road to reform. The Basotho people can celebrate the convergence of consensus that has led to this historic agreement and has built a strong foundation for reforms to go ahead.”
But Mr Thabane had other ideas and at first suggested that Parliament be reopened only to legislate the NLRA and then immediately prorogue again to avoid the no-confidence vote; a suggestion even elements of his own party rejected.
He has since looked for ways to avoid or defeat the no-confidence vote – including this week’s extraordinary attempt to secure the support of his arch enemy, Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing.
With the support of Mr Metsing and all 11 LCD Members of Parliament (MP), the prime minister might just survive by a narrow margin of two votes. That is of course assuming that all the MPs back Mr Thabane, all his coalition partners vote against the motion, and all of Mr Metsing’s MPs comply.
That seems a tall order, but Mr Thabane is that desperate.
Some of Mr Metsing’s demands for his support – that Mr Thabane forms a government of national unity and that former army commander Tlali Kamoli be released from prison – are unpalatable to many MPs, so the initiative seems doomed.
Meanwhile, a growing row between Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and Defence Minister Tefo Mapesela is straining civilian-military relations to the increasing concern of civil society. The army has been at the centre of Lesotho’s instability over the years, with its critics accusing it of meddling in politics.
The LDF commander claimed that unnamed political elements were trying to infiltrate and destabilise the forces, but local media reported it was common knowledge that the defence minister was the target.
Lt Gen. Letsoela vowed never to allow “outsiders” to interfere with the army, while Mr Mapesela has accused Lt Gen. Letsoela of “revolting against civilian authority and taking major decisions without consultation.” Strained relations between the military and civilian authority is probably the very last thing Lesotho needs right now.
It is clear that Mr Thabane regards his treaty and other agreement obligations as secondary by some measure to his own political survival. While the ‘breakthrough’ agreements that could assist Lesotho find some measure of stability sit on ice, the prime minister continues to break agreements to reopen Parliament and spends most of his time looking for unlikely alliances to save his political skin.
We remain convinced that agreements that depend on Mr Thabane’s integrity and compliance, including the July MoU, are doomed to fail. Unless Mr Ramaphosa, as the Southern Africa Development Community facilitator in Lesotho, ends the obsession with keeping Mr Thabane in power, nothing is going to change.