Maseru - Cyril Ramaphosa’s mediation in Lesotho culminated in a successful election last Saturday, and so far the aftermath has been peaceful. But impunity could be the price to pay for stability.
If Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had won, as he seemed to be doing, he might well have faced continuing resistance by his enemies in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
After the narrow victory of five seats by a coalition led by Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC), who will become prime minister, and Mothetjoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), who will be his deputy, the army is right back in favour.
Mosisili and Metsing wasted no time this week in declaring that they would return Tlali Kamoli to the helm of the LDF. Kamoli is the army commander who led the bloody August 30, 2014 attempted coup against outgoing prime minister Thomas Thabane, which threw Lesotho into crisis and led to the collapse of its coalition government. Thabane fled to South Africa, only to return under SA Police Service guard a few days later.
Ramaphosa brokered a political deal to advance Lesotho’s elections by two years to try to resolve the crisis. Kamoli led the coup after Thabane of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) had fired him because he had refused to hand over eight soldiers accused of earlier bombings of the homes of Thabane’s girlfriend and police commissioner Khothatso Tsooana. Thabane said the attacks were aimed at killing him as he often stayed with his girlfriend.
Later, a woman driving past Kamoli’s home with her boyfriend was killed in a hail of bullets after soldiers guarding the army commander’s home apparently mistook their vehicle for a police car.
Dockets were subsequently opened to investigate Kamoli and hold him accountable for these deaths and injuries.
Under the Maseru Security accord brokered by Ramaphosa last year, Kamoli, who was seen as close to Thabane’s political rival Metsing, and police commissioner Tsooana, who was seen as fiercely loyal to Thabane, were both sent abroad on diplomatic postings to ease tensions between the rival police and army before last weekend’s elections.
But the announcement by Mosisili (who was previously prime minister of Lesotho for 15 years before Thabane took over in 2012) and Metsing that Kamoli would be restored to office is being seen here as a legitimisation of all his actions and his attempted coup.
One prominent local businessman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Mosisili had rewarded Kamoli for bringing him back to power. But this also signalled that the new government would resort to “repressive measures” to maintain power, as Kamoli is feared by the new coalition’s opponents.
When Ramaphosa was asked this week when Kamoli would return to Lesotho and his post, he said Kamoli had left Lesotho under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which had supervised the resolution of the post-coup crisis, and so he would return under its auspices “at the right time”.
Though Mosisili and Metsing announced that Thabane’s ally, Tsooana, would also return to his position, this is being seen as a ruse to justify Kamoli’s return.
It seems unlikely that Tsooana will be kept in that position for long. He may even refuse to return because he fears for his life.
Then there is also the question of corruption investigations and prosecutions currently under way against former ministers and officials from the DC and the LCD, initiated at the behest of Thabane.
Metsing himself had just lost a court case before three South African judges in which he had tried to halt investigations into allegations that he accepted kickbacks from a company to which he had awarded a lucrative roads construction contract.
Mosisili’s deputy in the DC, Monyake Moleleki, is in court over allegations that he abused his position as minister of mines for self-enrichment, while former finance minister Timothy Thahane is facing charges of fraud and theft to the tune of R26 million. Other officials of Mosisili’s previous government are being prosecuted for issuing a lucrative tender worth more than R300m to print passports and identity documents to an Israeli company, Nikuv International Projects, without a competitive bidding process, in exchange for kickbacks.
Many Basotho suspect all these cases will now be forgotten since they involve officials from Metsing and Mosisili’s parties.
Even though Thabane could not have done much to improve the lot of impoverished Basotho in his short two-year tenure, his anti-graft drive seems to have resonated with voters, winning him 40 seats of the 80 contested seats last week, from the 26 won in 2012 and 17 in 2007.
But he was eventually defeated under Lesotho’s complex mixed vote system, by the allocation of more of the 40 proportional representation seats to the Mosisili-Metsing camp.
Thabane has so far not publicly conceded defeat in a public forum, except for a terse interview with a local paper in which he “accepted the results”, pending his right to verify them. Despite Ramaphosa’s intense efforts to bring stability to Lesotho, the tiny kingdom’s future remains far from certain.
Independent Foreign Service