Alliance ‘worried’ over new SADC chair

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King Mswati III
King Mswati III

. . . as Swaziland’s King Mswati III takes over reins at summit

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

CIVIC groups falling under the “Alliance of Non-State Actors” have expressed concern over Swaziland’s King Mswati III’s taking over the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) chairmanship saying it had “potential negative consequences for the SADC process in Lesotho unless proactive measures are taken”.

The Alliance, which consists of civil society organisations, trade unions, students, transport operators, academia and businesspeople in Lesotho, has also called on SADC facilitator to Lesotho, South African Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, to urgently convene a meeting between the three exiled opposition leaders and leaders of the seven-party coalition government to resolve the political impasse in the Mountain Kingdom.

In a statement issued following their meeting with Mr Ramaphosa during his visit to Lesotho earlier this month, the Alliance says it noted with “great concern” the government’s secretive and “sluggish” implementation of SADC decisions. The decisions were made during a special SADC Double Troika Summit held in Gaborone, Botswana on 28 June 2016 to discuss Lesotho’s political and security situation.

Among the decisions was for Lesotho to ensure exiled opposition leaders returned home by the end of August. The summit called on Maseru to implement the Phumaphi Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations, and develop a comprehensive roadmap with clear actions and timeframes. The SADC Double Troika Summit also urged the Mountain Kingdom to ensure the security sector and constitutional reforms were comprehensively inclusive and involved all stakeholders.

“We have noted with great concern that the government approach to SADC decisions implementation is sluggish, but what is more worrisome is the fact that the government acts with highest levels of secrecy and its conduct is unilateral and exclusionist to the extent that other sectors of society other than government do not have information on the reform intentions,” says the Alliance.

“This approach lacks ingredients for popular participation as evidenced by a security sector reform workshop recently held in the country. In the meeting, civil society organisations were not invited, opposition parties excluded and the church not only returned at the registration but its letter of invitation (was) withdrawn.”

The grouping notes failure by the government to implement the SADC decisions would result in Lesotho risking suspension from the bloc and losing out on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the United States (US) market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho. Lesotho is the second largest supplier of textiles to the US in sub-Saharan Africa.

The US has insisted Lesotho would only continue to benefit from AGOA and MCC after taking “concrete actions” that address concerns about “impunity and the rule of law” as well as implementing recommendations made by the SADC Commission of Inquiry.

“We are also concerned that, if Lesotho is disqualified from access to AGOA at least 22 000 jobs in the textile industry will be lost directly, the (textile industry) is second to none as an employer in the country,” asserts the Alliance.

“The high unemployment rate and devastating levels of poverty would be exacerbated by the poor harvest due to drought marked by hiking food and commodity prices.”

To avert the “spill-over consequences” of failing to implement SADC decisions, the Alliance calls on Mr Ramaphosa to facilitate a meeting between the exiled opposition leaders and the government.

Former premier and All Basotho Convention leader Thomas Thabane, Basotho National Party leader Thesele ‘Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho leader Keketso Rantšo fled the country in May 2015 claiming they had been alerted of a plot to kill them by the Lesotho Defence Force, an allegation the military has categorically denied.

The Alliance also calls on SADC to compel Lesotho to “transparently and fully account to the nation” progress made in implementing the Phumaphi recommendations.

“True security sector reform that seeks to transform the Lesotho Defence Force into a professional and cohesive institution is characterised by the following:-

“a. Evidence of being under civilian control, b. Respect for rule of law, and c. Enjoys the confidence of all Basotho.”

The Alliance also appeals to SADC to defer the Double Troika recommendation to suspend Lesotho should the country fail to implement the recommendations “and give Lesotho a period of six months to implement most of the recommendations failing which the recommendation should be revoked.”

It also calls for the government to open doors for civil society organisations to contribute to the mediation efforts undertaken by heads of churches.

“The renowned civil society skills shall without doubt come in handy in the currently slow process. This contemplated civil society capability has been demonstrated in the SADC-post President Masire process in Lesotho in 2010-2012,” the Alliance notes.

It also wants SADC to compel the government to convene a national dialogue for all stakeholders “to initiate a talking process, agree on issues of convergence and identify areas of divergence and pave way for durable reforms, robust engagement and stability in Lesotho”.

The Alliance of Non-State Actors also expressed concern over King Mswati III’s taking over the SADC chairmanship given his own poor human rights record. The Swazi monarch assumed the chairmanship during the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government that ended yesterday in Mbambane.

“We are also anxious that the leadership of SADC being moved from Lieutenant-General Seretse Khama, the president of Botswana to His Majesty King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland, has potential negative consequences for the SADC process in Lesotho unless proactive measures are taken,” says the Alliance.

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