THE past couple of weeks have witnessed momentous events in the politics of the country. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force finally left the country after a year. During its tenure, the force helped stabilise the security situation in the aftermath of the 5 September 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo, by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
Former deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing and other opposition leaders also returned from self-imposed exile to take their place along other leaders and stakeholders in the multi stake-holder national dialogue.
The national dialogue was part of the processes aimed at coming up with an agenda for the constitutional, security sector, governance, judicial and media reforms that were recommended in 2016 by SADC.
Despite a SADC deadline for the implementation of constitutional and security sector reforms by May 2019, the reforms processes had stalled due to the bickering between the government and the opposition over the latter’s demands for a GNU and a TRC.
And while the return of Mr Metsing and others is a positive development, there could still be some obstacles in the reforms process as the opposition is sticking to its guns regarding the issues of the TRC, GNU and the release of former army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli and others who it considers to be “political prisoners”.
In this wide-ranging interview with Lesotho Times Senior Reporter ’Marafaele Mohloboli (MM), the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lesego Makgothi (LM) discusses the government’s views on the reforms process and its stance regarding the opposition’s demands. Mr Makgothi also speaks on the SADC mission, issues of police brutality and also provides updates on the murder case of former First Lady Lipolelo Thabane.
MM: The multi-stakeholder national dialogue has come and gone. What were the outcomes? Where does the reforms process go from here?
LM: We are currently waiting for a report from the National Dialogue Planning Committee Secretariat. Once the report is ready and we have gone through it, it will be a matter of calling for third national leaders forum to endorse the report which will spell out the way forward. The plan is to call for the national Leaders forum as early as the second week of January next year. District consultations will follow immediately after the national leaders’ forum which will then be followed by a second plenary of the national multi-stakeholder forum. The second plenary should take place in late February.
MM: There is talk about people in all the districts being consulted for their input on the envisaged reforms. How will this be done and who will be in charge of the consultation process?
LM: The district consultations will be in line with the Lesotho National Dialogue Stabilisation Project (LNDSP which is funded by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund and seeks to generate a national agreement on the content and processes of reforms and national reconciliation. The LNDSP is also aimed at supporting preparatory steps towards the reform of the security sector and enhancing the participation of the Lesotho public in the national dialogue and reforms through access to timely and accurate information).
We have several implementing partners for the district consultations funded under the is project (LNDSP) namely the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), United Nations Women and others.
The government and the UNDP chair the board of the LNDSP. The implementing partners are the ones who will conduct the district consultations under the leadership of the LCN. The government will only be an observer and assist with secretariat services.
There will be a clear time table that will be communicated on radio stations and newspapers on the strategy of the consultations throughout all the country’s 10 districts.
This will be crafted in a way that people at the grassroots level will be able to air their views and recommendations regarding the reforms.
After these consultations, the implementing partners will issue a report to the National Dialogue Planning Committee which will set the agenda for Plenary II of the multi-stakeholder dialogue.
MM: SADC gave Lesotho until May 2019 to have implemented constitutional and security sector reforms. Do you think the country will meet this deadline? What needs to be done between now and that time for the deadline to be met?
LM: The initial dialogue (Plenary I) was successfully held although this was much later than its intended date. We are still on course for meeting the deadline of May 2019.
The request by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to SADC that it must not to pullout its Standby Force all at once has been approved. We have 50 members of SAPMIL who will only pull out by the end of March 2019. The final SADC contingent which acts as the Early Warning Mechanism is only expected to leave around May 2019.
This clearly shows that SADC appreciates the efforts of the government in keeping up with its promise of implementing all SADC decisions and recommendations.
MM: The opposition still insists on its demands being met and these include establishment of a government of national unity (GNU), truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as well as the release of the so-called political prisoners like Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. Will the government consider and accede to these demands?
LM: There is absolutely nothing to consider at all. In our last meeting with opposition we made it clear that we have passed that stage of preconditions for them to participate in the reforms process.
Their demands are totally impractical. You can’t call for elections causing the country unnecessary expenses lose dismally and thereafter demand a GNU. It is not as if the sitting government has failed in terms of governance or we are emerging out of a genocide. That madness should stop. The TRC is a process on its own. It is not something that can be conducted over a short period of time let alone running in parallel with the reform process. This needs thorough preparations and funding. The TRC is not SADC’s decision but it is a recommendation maybe to be considered by the government. But that will only be after the whole process of reforms provided we can source funding for it.
Tlali Kamoli was a soldier and I don’t recall him being a politician (I may not be in the picture). He is charged under the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act and I don’t see where his charges can enable him to be classified as a political prisoner.
It baffles one why the opposition is so keen to see security people who were instrumental in destabilising the country being freed.
Look at the cases of (former police commissioner) Molahlehi Letsoepa and (former National Security Services boss) Tumo Lekhooa. These are criminals and fugitives who are on the run. Yet opposition is going round the clock brokering for their release and return home. What is their interest in suspected criminal elements?
Why can’t they let the law take its course? I will not be surprised if some of the opposition members are cited in cases before the courts. The way they are frantic tells a very worrying story that is yet to be seen and heard.
MM: What if the opposition pulls out of the reforms over these grievances? Would the government forge ahead without them?
LM: Like I said before, we passed the preconditions stage a long time ago. They (opposition) tried sneaking in these demands during the multi-stakeholder dialogue and they failed. And that is a clear indication that the nation is keen and ready to embark on the journey of reforms.
The reforms are not just for the government and some stakeholders, they are for the entire Basotho nation. If the opposition pulls out, I don’t see the process coming to halt. The National Dialogue Planning Committee has 15 members from various institutions in Lesotho. If the opposition pulls out like they did immediately after the first national leaders forum, the NDPC will go ahead without them as it did that time. They will totally be miscalculating their moves if they feel that it is a way to hold the country at ransom. We are ready and the nation is ready.
MM: You are on record as saying the government will investigate the opposition and NGOs’ allegations of police brutality and those found guilty will be held accountable. How far has the process of setting up a commission of inquiry gone and when is the commission likely to complete its work?
LM: The Minister of Police and the Commissioner of Police are still conducting the investigations on the alleged police brutality. As soon as the report is ready, it will be publicised with recommendations of which there will be a commission of inquiry if necessary.
MM: Back in April this year, the government informed SADC that it had completed investigations into high profile murders like that of Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao. The government also said investigations into the murder of former First Lady Lipolelo Thabane were nearing completion. Have they now been completed and when are the suspects likely to be prosecuted?
LM: Suspects in the brutal murder of Lt-Gen Mahao are already awaiting trial. Indeed, investigations were completed a long time ago. The government in the quest of transparency and neutrality has been pushing for foreign judges to preside over the cases. As far as the case of Former First Lady is concerned, the trail leading towards it has gone cold. The police have devised other means of speeding up the process. However, the cabinet was assured that it is still in the priority list of murder cases that are being investigated by the LMPS.
MM: You were recently away on foreign trips to countries like Turkey and Serbia. We also understand you signed several agreements. Kindly unpack the agreements and explain how they will benefit Lesotho.
LM: The Turkish trip was for the signing of an aviation agreement. This will allow the two counties to work closely regarding the landing of planes in Lesotho for commercial passengers and cargo. The countries will also explore the possibilities of having smaller planes operating here and flying to South Africa. Turkey will also explore the possibility of landing its large commercial airplanes for minor maintenance procedures in Lesotho as well as to avoid heavy landing fees at South African airports.
In Serbia we signed agreements agriculture for the equipping of the Lesotho Agricultural College and providing scholarships for graduates to further their studies in Serbia where they will practice new methods of agriculture in alignment with climate change.
On the aspect of education there will be scholarships in various fields like medicine, education, agriculture, information technology, tourism and culture. The scholarships will be available next year.
MM: Since last year Turkey has been saying that it is ready to set up an embassy in Lesotho. The Turkish government is on record saying that they are only waiting for the go-ahead from government to set up the embassy. Why has it taken this long to give this approval and when is the embassy likely to be operational?
LM: The government has identified two sites for the Turkish government to build a chancery and residences for its staff. The technical teams of both countries are working on that. The cabinet and parliament of Turkey have approved and the Turkish government is now awaiting the allocation of the budget to start operating in Lesotho.
On the margins of UN general assembly (in New York in September), I had a meeting with Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs who said they were in the process of selecting the ambassador to Lesotho while waiting for budget approval.