Agreement must not leave out other exiles

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Former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s imminent return from exile should mark the beginning of a new era for Lesotho.

The All Basotho Convention (ABC) leader has been living in South Africa since he fled the country on 11 May 2015 claiming some rogue members of the military were out to assassinate him.

This was the second time in nine months that Dr Thabane had decided to seek refuge across the border for fear of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).

It was that initial flight in August 2014, which was to prove the catalyst of his tripartite government’s demise when SADC brokered an early election in February this year, which ushered-in a seven-party government headed by Democratic Congress (DC) leader Dr Pakalitha Mosisili.

After spending almost all the two-and-a-half years that he was in power fighting his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, over governance issues and at the expense of service-delivery, it was no surprise that Dr Thabane and his partners—Thesesle ‘Maseribane and Keketso Rantšo of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL)—could not garner enough seats during February’s snap elections to retain power.

However, Dr Mosisili’s administration is facing its own challenges which have made it difficult for   effective implementation of development policies. And top among the challenges has been the country’s security, with the LDF the common denominator of these problems.

After Dr Thabane’s flight, Chief ‘Maseribane joined him in exile on 13 May, with Ms Rantšo following suit on 26 May, with both alleging the army was out to kill them for speaking out against its command.

These claims are yet to be tested in any properly constituted tribunal hence this week’s announcement by Dr Mosisili that Dr Thabane would soon come home, could not have come at a better time.

A SADC-established Commission of Inquiry has just started probing Lesotho’s instability and it is only proper that those at the heart of these political and security challenges are available to give evidence.

Yet what is worrisome is the ‘Memorandum of Discussions’ signed by Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili puts more emphasis on the ABC leader’s return and welfare while mentioning in passing “the two other leaders of the opposition who left the country for reasons of personal security”.

The memorandum concedes the absence of the leaders “affects the proper function of democratic institutions, in particular Parliament”. The memo also admits “it is in the best interest of the country that the political leaders return to the country for them to fulfil their political responsibilities”.

But unlike the proposed return of Dr Thabane, the memo is silent on how the security of Chief ‘Maseribane and Ms Rantšo would be handled upon their return.

Even more worrisome is the memorandum’s complete silence on the plight of members of the LDF and opposition political parties, who also fled the country for South Africa at almost the same time as their leaders, and others even earlier.

These exiles say they had to leave the country after receiving death threats for allegedly supporting Dr Thabane’s government.

While Dr Mosisili should be commended for reaching out to Dr Thabane and sitting down to discuss the modalities of his return, to leave out Chief ‘Maseribane, Ms Rantšo  and the other exiles whose lives could be equally in danger, is but to undermine the very noble intention of this gesture.

The SADC probe team is meant to establish the root cause of Lesotho’s security and political challenges. What happens thereafter is yet to be pronounced by the regional bloc.

However, it would be a betrayal of those men and women who risked their lives for their leaders and government, if the agreement being thrashed out by Dr Thabane and Dr Mosisili also fails to cater for their safe and unconditional return.

 

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