Lesotho taken in coup by stealth?

Thomas Thabane and Cyril Ramaphosa at the State House in Maseru, Lesotho, in February. Picture: Siyabulela Duda

Thomas Thabane and Cyril Ramaphosa at the State House in Maseru, Lesotho, in February. Picture: Siyabulela Duda

Published Jun 29, 2015


While no one’s been looking, Lesotho appears to have had a military coup by stealth, says Peter Fabricius.

Lesotho held elections in February and a coalition led by Pakalitha Mosisili replaced Tom Thabane’s government.

So, superficially, all is well.

One properly elected government replaced another, not common in Africa.

In reality, though, the country is being run by the army commander General Tlali Kamoli.

On Thursday his soldiers murdered his predecessor and rival Maaparankoe Mahao, gunning him down near his home outside the capital Maseru in front of his children.

The ostensible reason for this was that Mahao was plotting to overthrow Mosisili’s government by force and was shot while resisting arrest.

Few are buying that argument.

His 13-year-old son who was with him in his vehicle when three army trucks forced him to stop reported to relatives that Mahao threw up his arms in surrender immediately.

It didn’t help.

This was clearly a premeditated assassination.

Thabane, all the other main opposition party leaders and many others critical of the Mosisili/Kamoli regime, have now fled the country.

Mahao was Thabane’s man.

On August 30 last year, when Thabane, then still prime minister, fired him and replaced him with Mahao, Kamoli ordered his troops to attack both of their homes.

Both narrowly escaped to South Africa.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervened and Thabane was restored to his country and to his office under heavy South African guard.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa then brokered a peace accord which brought forward the next elections from 2017 to February this year.

Under a security accord which Ramaphosa also brokered, Kamoli, Mahao and the police chief Khothatso Tsooana – who was loyal to Thabane – were all removed from their posts to depoliticise the security forces and defuse the crisis.

The accord did not say what should happen to the three after they returned. But local journalists say there was a secret pact among the political leaders that the clearly dangerous, reckless and destabilising Kamoli would not be reinstated as army chief.

But Mosisili did just that immediately after the elections.

And not long after that a reign of terror began.

Dozens of soldiers were arrested and tortured for allegedly conniving with Mahao and Tsooana to mount a coup.

When a judge ordered the authorities to produce the detained soldiers, many of them appeared in court limping or still bleeding.

A shocked High Court Judge Semapo Peete warned that Lesotho was not a military state.

But that is clearly the way it is heading.

A few weeks ago prominent businessman Thabiso Tsosane, a friend of Thabane and funder of his ABC party, was shot dead shortly after leaving Thabane’s home.

The Mosisili government – or is it just the high-handed Kamoli taking both the law and politics into his own hands – is clearly targeting Thabane and his supporters.

The US and EU have both warned they will cut off vital aid to the very poor country if Kamoli’s tyranny doesn’t stop.

But Mosisili has dismissed their criticism, invoking the familiar sovereignty defence by saying that only the Lesotho government can decide who to appoint as army commander.

Once more we are seeing Western countries taking the initiative to try to restore peace and justice in a troubled African country.

It is clear that after the February elections, South Africa, the SADC and the AU had stamped Lesotho as “Mission Accomplished” and moved on.

In the AU Peace and Security Council’s report to the AU summit in Sandton this month on the “State of Peace and Security in Africa”, the only reference to Lesotho was to congratulate it for having conducted peaceful and successful elections.

There was no public reference to Lesotho at the summit itself.

Mahao’s murder should and may be the wake-up call for Africa to get involved again.

After all, we don’t want Africa to be complaining once more that foreigners are meddling in African affairs – when Africa itself is nodding off at the wheel of its own destiny.

Pretoria News

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