A FEW years ago, Mothetjoa Metsing, Deputy Prime Minister in all previous coalition governments in Lesotho, seemed untouchable. At the domestic level, his security detail was made up of fierce looking heavily armed soldiers who not only carried heavy guns but also had grenades as part of their weapons repertoire. At the regional level, Mr Metsing was the face of the past regimes, whose leaders largely did not engage with the country’s regional partners. It is not surprising that he seemed to have had the ear of several leaders in SADC. Mr Metsing had mustered the art of engagement. This could be the main reason for his spectacular miscalculation that he would have the protection of his allies in the army in perpetuity and also that he could persuade regional leaders to listen to his cries for help when he lost out in government.
Having lost the elections in June 2017 Mr Metsing incited rebellion in the military and when that failed, he fled the country initially claiming in an SABC interview that his youth advised him to flee since heavily armed police were on their way to arrest him. He later argued that his life was in danger in Lesotho hence his stay in South Africa. Since then Mr Metsing has waged a campaign for what he calls a SADC mediated process for his return to Lesotho. It is in this context that a recent letter and petition to President Zuma in his capacity as Chairperson of SADC has to be understood. It is a cry for help by a politician who used to hold all the cards in the Lesotho political chess game but has lost all the leverage he had.
Mr Metsing’s petition deserves an analysis on what he really wants and also whether he has any negotiating partner in Lesotho, Southern Africa and Africa as a whole. His cry for help is a consequence of his failure to retain power on his own terms as we will show below. What are his demands? Is anybody bothered by his cries? Are there any consequences for ignoring him?
Metsing’s struggle to stay in power
It is not unusual for a politician to seek strategies for gaining power or retaining it. What is unusual is for a political party which has had a diminishing support base like the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) led by Mr Metsing, to manage consistently to maneuverer itself into a position whereby its bigger partners end up surrendering their leadership in government and at times in their political parties to him. Evidence has recently emerged that in both the 2012 and in the 2015 coalitions Mr Metsing called all the shots. He apparently chaired most cabinet meetings and most cabinet sub-committees. But what is even more stunning is that he ended up ensuring that the Democratic Congress (DC), a much bigger party, surrendered its electoral support to him thus ensuring that he was able to get back to parliament in the 2017 elections. Two developments which took place before the handover of power to the new coalition government in in 2017 are important indicators of Mr Metsing’s present maneuverers to wriggle himself back into power.
a) Ahead of the 2017 elections LCD championed an electoral pact of the many congress parties’ splinter groups as a way of ensuring that they would retain power. Mr Metsing did not advocate for merger of those political parties but an electoral pact. A merger would probably have diminished his chances of being a dominant figure since he would only bring a smaller following into the new party.
Such a pact was eventually agreed with the much bigger party, the DC. It involved DC not standing for elections in twenty five out of the eighty constituencies. DC supporters would be asked to vote for LCD in all those constituencies where LCD would not stand. In an earlier article in lesothoanalysis I showed why this would be disadvantageous to DC but would be favourable to LCD. For all intents and purposes LCD borrowed votes from DC thus managing to gain eleven seats, still less than 9% of the total votes. This is a clear case where one party managed to ensure that despite its numerical inferiority it outmanoeuvres a senior partner. Mr Metsing survived but just!
- b) After losing the elections. Mr Metsing was inconsolable but began to focus on the military option. In an uncharacteristically frank manner talking to his supporters, Mr Metsing told all and sundry that his erstwhile allies in the military would face mortal danger if government passed on to the opposition. He went on to reveal the nature of his relationship with the Military by pointing out that the previous government got into power and sustained it on the backs of the military.
He brazenly pointed out that “….. it is because of members of the country’s army who put their necks on the block that we ended up taking power, and if today Thomas Thabane attains power, it is clear that some of them would be in danger”. He continued that there are some people “…whose future should be protected by us, regardless of our individual aspirations”. This is our obligation ….” Mr Metsing knew that he could not protect the militia he had co-founded. This was a call to arms by his troops to stage a coup. Unfortunately staging a coup had already been foreclosed following South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation had earlier pointed out that those contemplating a coup in Lesotho must know that it would not be allowed.
Mr Metsing bamboozled his partners to enter into a politically suicidal election pact where he was the only beneficiary. It did not work and he now went for a military option which had no prospects of success. Failure of all above drove him into self-exile where he now wants to return as part of the government of national unity. In his petition to President Jacob Zuma, Mr Metsing makes several demands which are bound to go up in smoke like his earlier strategies to stay in power.
In a thirty five page document, Mr Metsing outlines his demands for a “Safe return” to Lesotho. The document is accompanied by a letter which summarises all thirteen demands or pre-conditions which have to be met before he “…on behalf of Lesotho opposition leaders in exile on requisite conditions for their return and related matters” can return to the country. A badly written document though this is, one distils that four main demands. These revolve around the following:
- Establishment of a forensic audit of the June 2017 elections. This as we are aware has been his consistent gripe since he lost the elections. He claims that the elections were fraudulent thus his loss could be explained a result of malpractices by the Electoral Body. The problem with this view is that all the Elections Monitoring groups gave the election a clean bill of health. Most people know that the transparent nature of Lesotho elections make it difficult for anybody to rig them. Mr Metsing thus does not accept the results of the 2017 elections;
- Restoration of the security structures which the previous government had established. This includes, the freeing of Tlali Kamoli, former Commander of the Lesotho Defence Force who is facing several charges of murder, attempted murder and so forth. It must be recalled that SADC endorsed the recommendations emanating from the Phumaphi Commission, to bring before the courts of law all those in the military who committed crimes in the past Mr Metsing not only demands that those who have been charged , be released, but he wants the police unit which investigated those crimes to be disbanded;
- Restoration of benefits which he claims he and Mathibeli Mokhothu, Deputy Leader of the DC and Leader of the Opposition have or should have. The two issues have been argued in the courts and judgement is expected soon;
- Establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU). This is Mr Metsing’s final stroke. He demands to be in government regardless of the outcome of the elections. In the past, it was Mr Metsing who was quite dismissive of the concept from Raila Odinga (former Kenya prime minister), who headed the African Union (AU) Observer Mission to the 2015 elections in Lesotho. He further rejected that when the proposal was put by several mediators in the Lesotho crisis when he was Deputy Prime Minister in 2016. What was wrong when he was in office, cannot suddenly be a way for him to once again be in government. It is perhaps Mr Metsing’s way of saying that such a GNU would be a way in which skeletons in his wardrobe should stay there.
Overall, the picture which emerges from Mr Metsing’s petition to SADC is that of a person who is focused on himself as person and not the interests of the country. He wants impunity for all the actions he and his allies took in the past. This is why he wants Mr Kamoli to be released from prison where he is awaiting trial; he also wants to ensure that he will be at the heart of government to influence judicial developments. Perhaps Mr Metsing is not listening to the cries of the victims of the murders and torture the victims went through while he was Deputy Prime Minister.
The question under these circumstances is whether anybody is listening or bothered by Mr Metsing’s cries for help?
Why Metsing’s demands are being ignored?
From the beginning let us clear a few fig leafs about Mr Metsing and his self-exiled partners. As of the beginning of February 2018 none of them had applied for political asylum in South Africa. This means that they’re just guests in that country and cannot claim any protection under the law against their extradition if they are required to appear in the Lesotho courts for any breach of the law. Mr Metsing, has a case in court where the anti-corruption unit (DCEO) is charging him of several counts of corruption. He thus has a genuine fear that coming to Lesotho would land him in court. Could he also be fearful that the rest of the militia would implicate him in the cases they have been charged with?
Tšeliso Mokhosi (LCD deputy leader) on the other hand has already been charged with murder of Policeman Mokalekale Khetheng whose body was exhumed a few months ago. Even though he claims to be in exile, he has been reporting to the police on a monthly basis as part of his bail condition. Staying in South Africa and then reporting to the police is rather inconsistent with an exile. As for Mr Mokhothu, it is clear that he is merely accompanying Mr Metsing. He also probably does not know why he is not home.
All three have no credible case to be away for political reasons. Mr Metsing has a concrete reason for fearing arrest but not for political reasons but fear of corruption charges. It is for these reasons that their hope to put a spanner on the reform process is futile. They have sought to put the much touted reforms as a bargaining cheap to be given immunity from prosecution and also to sneak into power through the GNU. So far their strategy seems to be falling apart.
Firstly, SADC has reiterated its commitment to the deployment of the force and as will be shown later has begun to take measures to gain broader international support. President Zuma as Chairperson SADC is unlikely to have the time to engage with Mr Metsing on this issue. He certainly has enough in his hands at the movement. Sources have indicated that he is not impressed with this stance particularly where Mr Metsing challenges the authenticity of the June elections in Lesotho. In a similar manner, SA Deputy President Ramaphosa is also tied up with more serious issues than to attend to Mr Metsing. He has nowhere to go!
Second, Mr Metsing and his local partners have demanded that the SADC contingent force should be withdrawn as a condition of their participation into the reforms. In his petition, Mr Metsing tactically does not confront this issue, but says that the presence of the force has emboldened the Prime Minister to purge the security forces and undertake measures which undermine the reforms. He thus wants the force out in line with their earlier demand. We know that the force is not being withdrawn but efforts are underway to bolder political, financial and logistical support internationally.
Finally the process of internationalising the intervention in Lesotho has begun. In its 748th African Union Peace Security Council Meeting on the deployment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) contingent mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho held on 24 January 2018 the SADC the deployment was welcomed. Council Acknowledged that the objective of the deployment is to stabilise the political and security situation in Lesotho; implement the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry; and to create a secure, stable and peaceful environment conducive for the rule of law necessary for the implementation of constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, public and security sector reforms.
SADC’s request for financial and technical support was also appreciated. But more importantly, the Council requested the Chairperson of the Commission:
… to transmit the communiqué to the UN Secretary-General and to request that it be circulated as an official UN Security Council document, as well as to other relevant international stakeholders.
This essentially means that the question of the deployment of SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL) is no longer just a matter for SADC and the AU, but it is now through the United Nations an international programme. Rather than withdraw SAPMIL, it is now being strengthened.
This is indeed Mr Metsing’s last stand. If he fails in his demands, as I think he will, he will have no political future in Lesotho.
The issues about the reforms in Lesotho are very important and require that those in political positions should treat them as serious since the whole region is intent on assisting Lesotho out of its current quagmire. Mr Metsing and his cohort have tried but have failed to derail the process. Essentially his cries for help are falling on deaf ears.
Listening to the voices in Southern Africa, it is clear that virtually nobody is bothered by what Mr Metsing says. It is only a few of his supporters in Lesotho who still believe that he could still lead them into power, if not democratically through other means. But the time for coups and such other things has passed. Mr Metsing is yesterday’s strongman!
- This article was published on Prof Sejanamane’s blog and it represents his views not those of the Lesotho Times.