Political infighting endangers SADC’s hard work in Lesotho

A national dialogue process has finally started, but Thomas Thabane is facing headwinds from inside his party.

Infighting in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party could scupper Lesotho’s reconciliation and political reform process. This after political parties had agreed at a national leadership forum in Maseru last month to finally meet to discuss ways forward.

Thabane is under pressure from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to ensure that political reconciliation succeeds and that security sector reform moves ahead. To get all the belligerents in Lesotho around the same table is not easy, given the animosity between political actors who have been at loggerheads since 2014.

The main sticking point has been the continued exile in South Africa of opposition leader Mothetjoa Metsing and a request by Lesotho for him to be extradited to stand trial for corruption.

Former South African deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, appointed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to represent him in Lesotho, finally convinced the Lesotho government to withdraw its request. This led to a breakthrough and opposition parties agreed to participate in the talks. Ramaphosa is the SADC facilitator in Lesotho.

Parallel initiatives between SADC and the African Union PSC in Lesotho would be counter-productive

Speaking to the SABC’s Channel Africa, Lesotho government secretary Moahloli Mphaka said the forum was a ‘confidence-building’ exercise and that a national dialogue planning committee had been set up to plan further meetings. The first would be a ‘national multi-stakeholder dialogue’ on 9 and 10 October, he said.

Political parties in Lesotho are on board, but some are still calling for a truth and reconciliation commission and amnesty for those implicated in the 2014/15 violence, Mphaka said. Opposition parties also want the release of former army chief Tlali Kamoli, who has been behind bars for almost a year on charges linked to the August 2014 coup attempt. There has been little headway in this regard.

While inhabitants of Lesotho could be encouraged by progress made in the inter-party talks, the serious problems plaguing the ruling ABC and the governing coalition are worrying. A meeting of the party in August, just after the leaders’ forum, led to a violent confrontation between Thabane and those in the party who are opposed to him and his wife Maesaiah.

Members clashing with Thabane, led by suspended chairperson and former tourism minister Motlohi Maliehe, accuse Maesaiah Thabane of meddling in government business – tender processes in particular.

Some Basotho draw the comparison between Maesaiah and the former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe, whose interference in politics led to a strong backlash inside the country and the ruling party against her and her husband, former president Robert Mugabe. Thomas Thabane, 79, married Maesaiah, 41, in August last year.

Thabane’s wife is accused of meddling in government business – tender processes in particular

Infighting and a possible split in the governing party could throw the current dialogue process into disarray. Whether Thabane will continue his hold over the ABC will become evident during the party’s next conference at the beginning of 2019. Tensions in the run-up to the event could however cause serious damage to the party and Thabane’s government.

Lesotho has a long history of floor-crossing and coalition governments. The latest rumours about a possible deal between Thabane and opposition leader Selibe Mochoboroane of the Movement for Economic Change come as no surprise. Mochoboroane is head of the Public Accounts Committee in Lesotho. The move has been strongly opposed by Thabane’s critics in the ABC.

The main aim of political reforms is to ensure that the army stays out of politics. At the end of last year SADC sent a mission of 269 military personnel, police and civilian experts to help Lesotho’s defence forces. The mandate of the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL) expires on 21 November this year.

SADC refused the Lesotho government’s request to extend the mandate by three months. Mphaka told Channel Africa that Lesotho needed more time, especially since Moseneke was only appointed in May. ‘But deployment to a member state comes with a cost and we accept the decision,’ he said. The government pledged to work with SADC to stabilise the situation by the end of November and complete security sector reform by May 2019.

SADC refused Lesotho’s request to extend the mandate of the mission to support the military

A renewal of SAPMIL is not completely ruled out however. During a visit by the African Union (AU) 15-member Peace and Security Council (PSC) to Lesotho last month, mission chairperson Susan Sikaneta, Zambia’s ambassador to Addis Ababa, said the AU will discuss the extension next month. A report on SAPMIL was expected to be tabled by the end of October, she told Lesotho Times.

The AU in January this year asked member states to contribute to the SAPMIL budget to the tune of US$1.6 million. The total cost of the mission for six months is said to be US$6m. The PSC is tasked with overseeing all crises on the continent, and Sikaneta said it supported SADC’s efforts. Clearly, parallel initiatives between SADC and the PSC would be counter-productive.

Moseneke should be given a chance to succeed. His next big task would be to ensure that the ABC gets its house in order, otherwise all manner of national dialogues and reconciliation processes could again be put on hold.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

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