Professor Mafa M Sejanamane
JUST over a year ago, Lesotho went through general elections that all international election observers concluded had been free, fair and transparent. With no political party achieving an overall majority, it was clear that coalition politics was the only game in town.
A motley of seven political parties ultimately managed to cobble a coalition government under the leadership of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. In his inaugural speech the premier promised milk and honey but, more importantly, spoke about how he would restore the good name of the country which was constantly being tarnished by the unsavoury things done by his defeated competitors. Dr Mosisili promised good democratic governance and accepted the reform package which had been suggested by the Commonwealth Special Envoy to Lesotho, Dr Rajen Prasad. It was an optimistic posture, which those unfamiliar with Lesotho politics could have been impressed with.
The elephant in the room however was army commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli, who had been dismissed by the previous government but backed by those who had cobbled a seven-party coalition government. Almost all those who formed the government had in one form or another supported Lt-Gen Kamoli’s unconstitutional refusal to leave office when a government in power dismissed him.
Dr Mosisili had therefore created, even before going into office, a conundrum which faces him up to today. It was fear of the wrath of Lt-Gen Kamoli who was his ally when former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fired him; it was also the fear of losing the support of some of his coalition partners who would not have countenanced being in government without Lt-Gen Kamoli. It would not have worked. Lt-Gen Kamoli himself would not have accepted that since he is the one who effectively dispatched the previous government by protecting and sanctioning several unconstitutional acts like keeping a minister who had been dismissed like him by force in the Ministry of Communications.
On the other hand, Dr Mosisili now has to face a strong SADC demand that he undo his alliance with Lt-Gen Kamoli. Following the Phumaphi Commission Report which SADC has endorsed, and demands implementation of its recommendations, Dr Mosisili is now faced by his fear of Lt-Gen Kamoli and also fear of the collapse of his coalition on the one hand; and on the other hand he has to deal with the uncompromising stance of SADC. He must fire Lt-Gen Kamoli and have the soldiers who have been shielded from the criminal justice system arrested. His conundrum is real! It is however a self-inflicted wound.
Legitimising an Attempted Coup
Dr Mosisili’s double fears must be properly understood. His first fear, is that of Lt-Gen Kamoli. When in August 2014, Lt-Gen Kamoli made a concerted attempt to stage a coup which was bound to fail as a result of the South African government’s stance, the stage was set for long-term confrontation with whatever government that came in power in Lesotho. Lt-Gen Kamoli’s “coup” did not succeed, and he stayed in power by force of arms after his dismissal. He was ultimately coaxed to go on what was called a leave of absence outside the country until after the holding of the 2015 elections by SA Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa under the Maseru Security Accord.
Two developments are important here in order to understand the prime minister’s dilemma at present. When Lt-Gen Kamoli was fired by Dr Thabane, his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, immediately went on Lesotho Television and declared that he does not recognise Lt-Gen Kamoli’s dismissal because he was not consulted. The issue however was not about consultation, but about the constitutional right of the prime minister to fire the commander of the Lesotho Defence Force.
After Dr Mosisili came to office in March 2015, he thanked the military for ensuring that he was back in power. Since then, he has on several occasions publicly backed Lt-Gen Kamoli and reiterated his gratefulness to the army for supporting him. The question however has always been whether an armed man who has previously virtually taken a government down could ever be controlled by any successor regime. This is essentially the foundation of Dr Mosisili’s fear. Could Lt-Gen Kamoli also do to him what he did to Dr Thabane?
Dr Mosisili also has to contend with the fear of the potential alliance between Lt-Gen Kamoli and his coalition partner, Lesotho Congress for Democracy, which no longer has any significant following in the country but is firmly ensconced in the army. With Tšeliso Mokhosi as Defence and National Security minister and Mr Metsing as deputy premier, like he was under Dr Thabane, Dr Mosisili has to constantly wonder whether they could remove him from power at the time of their choosing. The constant declarations by Dr Mosisili that he trusts Lt-Gen Kamoli are essentially an indication of his insecurity.
Dr Mosisili’s fear therefore is that both Mr Metsing and Lt-Gen Kamoli could overthrow him even though he actively abetted the attempted coup and the unconstitutional refusal of Lt-Gen Kamoli to leave office when he was fired. Bringing back to office of Lt-Gen Kamoli therefore was logical and inevitable, because of fear of his retribution if he was ignored.
SADC demands on Mosisili
In an unprecedented move during its summit in Gaborone in January 2016, SADC demanded that Lt-Gen Kamoli be fired and that all those implicated in the activities of August 2014 be brought before the courts; those who have committed murder and have been shielded by Lt-Gen Kamoli must be suspended and brought to the courts to answer for themselves; the exiled Basotho should be brought back to the country, particularly the leaders of the opposition political parties; and the freeing of the detained soldiers in line with the recommendations of the Phumaphi Report.
In a follow-up meeting between Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, Chairman of the SADC Organ on Politics Defense and Security and the Lesotho delegation led by Mr Metsing, the situation was put bluntly to the Lesotho delegation. Lesotho has a deadline to implement the decisions of SADC. Failure to comply will lead to serious consequences. Needless to say that Mr Metsing was told in no uncertain terms that there are no two ways about the matter. Lesotho has to implement the decisions. Mr Nyusi informed the deputy prime minister “…..the Chairperson stressed that in line with the 18th January 2016 SADC Double Troika Summit decisions, in the event that there is no progress on the above issues, SADC will consider convening a Double Troika Summit to deliberate on the matter.” This is not an ordinary statement. It is unambiguous and those who attended the meeting knew that it was an indication that SADC is focused on accountability. An external element of the fears of Dr Mosisili has now been made clear.
Dr Mosisili’s fears are however not only confined to what steps SADC will take. Two related issues are ever looming in the background. First, is the possibility of losing even more international funding from external sources in addition to the withdrawal of budget support by the EU which has recently been announced. Second is the possibility of losing an even bigger chunk of money from the US under the Millennium Challenge Corporation which made the implementation of the Phumaphi Report recommendations a condition for considering Lesotho’s application. Without the dismissal of Lt-Gen Kamoli, there is no chance of Lesotho being granted the funds.
Will Mosisili break the deadlock?
The issue at hand is that Dr Mosisili has created a conundrum for himself. He brought Lt-Gen Kamoli back from the cold and he is now fearful of any action which he might take. He fears both his deputy and Lt-Gen Kamoli. At the same time, he fully knows that he cannot defy SADC. In the meantime, Lesotho grinds to a halt while prime minister ponders his next move.
It is thus not surprising that for almost a month, Dr Mosisili has disappeared from the scene. The last time Basotho have heard about him and his whereabouts was when he was reported to have gone on a two week holiday in India. But whether he is still in India or ensconced at State House, his conundrum awaits him. He has to take the chance to dismiss his ally or else he has to face up to the furious SADC leadership which will meet after 31 March 2016 to decide how to implement the decisions with or without him. I wish him well!-