Govt hits back at Americans

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Staff Writer

PRIME Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s government has sharply rebuked the United States over its insistence that Lesotho should implement major reforms to ensure African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility for 2017.

In a further souring of the frayed relations between the seven-party coalition government and Lesotho’s biggest benefactor, Maseru even went as far as accusing the United States of breaching diplomatic protocol by allegedly leaking on social media a letter addressed to the premier.

The government has also accused the Americans of trying to railroad Lesotho to make decisions that suit “the US Embassy’s fancy” purportedly in contravention of Southern African Development Community (SADC) resolutions.

The strongly-worded response was penned by Dr Mosisili’s Economic and Political Advisor Dr Fako Likoti after the United States government wrote a letter to the premier last week stating that the Mountain Kingdom had failed to meet governance benchmarks to benefit from AGOA.

In the letter whose contents were published in the Lesotho Times’ sister paper Sunday Express, the Americans took particular note of the government’s failure to investigate the killing of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao and not releasing detained soldiers facing mutiny charges as recommended by the Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi-led SADC Commission of Inquiry.

After the killing of the former army commander on 25 June 2015, Dr Mosisili asked SADC to help establish the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, resulting in the Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Phumaphi of Botswana. The 10-member commission carried out its investigations between 31 August and 23 October 2015 and recommended, among other things, that government should investigate the killing and prosecute those found to be responsible.

It also recommended that Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli be relieved of his duties “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation” and officers implicated in cases of murder, attempted murder and treason be suspended while investigations in their cases proceeded “in line with international best practice”.

The missive, which was signed by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa Florizelle Liser, said that while the retirement of LDF commander Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli on 1 December this year “marks a welcome and positive step forward”, it was not sufficient in implementing SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations.

The Americans also urged Lesotho to make “concrete progress” in implementing the recommendations or face being booted out of AGOA.

AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the United States market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho. The Mountain Kingdom is among 37 nations benefitting from AGOA through its textile industry which employs an estimated 40 000 workers.

The law obligates the American president to designate countries eligible to benefit from the trade facility on an annual basis after undergoing a review process. Among the main eligibility criteria for the facility are a market-based economy, rule of law, systems to combat corruption and not engaging in gross violations of internationally-recognised human rights.

A determination on Lesotho’s AGOA eligibility will be made before the end of the year and become effective on 1 January 2017.

Dr Likoti’s response titled “A 50 year relations with the United States of America: Some reflections”, starts off by acknowledging the longstanding relationship between the two countries since Lesotho’s independence in 1966.

“As we reflect on the momentous relations Lesotho had with the United States of America in the past 50 years, one can only marvel at the route and terrain we have traversed. Lesotho recorded many milestones under this partnership and the cordial relations have grown from strength to strength over the years,” reads part of the letter.

“Among the various areas of assistance, one can name the fight against HIV/AIDS, Test and Treat, AGOA and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) to mention but a few. Lesotho has benefited immensely. Various US envoys have always, without exception been at hand to assist His Majesty’s government.”

Dr Likoti says the US Embassy has also been at the forefront in aiding Lesotho in various arenas.

“We saw Basotho youth exposed to an innovative youth leadership program and other such exchange programmes. Who can forget the Peace Corps programme which has remained resilient and pragmatic to this day?

“The Prime Minister of Lesotho, Dr Pakalitha Mosisili has often openly voiced great appreciation of these programmes. The PM is also impressed by the unwavering support of the USA government, especially, the Maseru Embassy to our regional body Southern African Development Community (SADC). I agree with the PM in this regard.”

However, Dr Likoti notes that while “relations are good” between the two countries, he had been “perturbed” by the recent turn of events “where correspondence from the USA government reaches social media before its intended destination i.e. the Lesotho government”. The PM’s advisor insists the correspondence is yet to reach his boss despite being circulated on social media.

Dr Likoti’s ire is also directed at US Ambassador to Lesotho Matthew Harrington, whom he accuses of leaving a nasty parting shot since he “may be on his way out” due to the election of Donald Trump as president. However, in a previous interview with this publication, US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Julie McKay had stressed that while the incoming president makes his own appointments, there was continuity between administrations to ensure the US government continues to function without interruption no matter who is in the White House.

“Is this a harbinger of things to come, a new modus operandi perhaps? Or is this an indication of decay at the core of relations between the two countries or some sinister forces at play here? Or is this because the current Ambassador (Matthew Harrington) may be on his way out of the Kingdom in the Sky?” charges Dr Likoti.

“What is most disturbing is some comment in the media attributed to some US embassy diplomats on the very same issues. The most disturbing is the recent letter published in the Sunday Express of 11th December 2016, which has attracted a lot of frantic comment from all corners yet even as I write (this) piece on 13th December 2016, this letter has yet to reach (the) Lesotho government.”

Dr Likoti adds: “One wonders whether this (social media) is the new communication channel that will inform relations between our two countries or whether indeed people labour under the delusion that   Lesotho is the ONLY beneficiary of this partnership!

“For the past 50 years, this has not happened and the question that begs an answer is, why now?  This issue of communication through social media is a completely new phenomenon, but more importantly it is grossly undiplomatic, bizarre and irregular.”

Lesotho, the premier’s advisor states, maintains diplomatic etiquette “that has informed our relations with all countries with which we have diplomatic relations”.

“We are not about to be tempted to change that well-established form of communication, yet we respect those countries which decide to operate differently.  We however remain convinced that communication through social media will stop once and for all.”

Dr Likoti says while Dr Mosisili had been “impressed” by the US’s support for SADC, he always found the Americans, “especially the Embassy in Maseru” to be out of step with SADC.

“I am always challenged by this support, which most of the time, is at variance with SADC decisions. The US Embassy in Maseru, purports to support SADC decisions or rather Phumaphi Commission recommendations. If this was the case, why does this Embassy make pronouncements at variance with the SADC decisions on these recommendations?” he queries.

Despite Lesotho being “congratulated” by SADC for drawing up a reforms roadmap during the SADC Summit in Swaziland earlier this year, he says it was “later rejected” by Ambassador Harrington “who conveniently said that they will support implementation of the  Phumaphi recommendations as if the esteemed Ambassador had forgotten the meaning of ‘recommendations’!”

“These contradictions are a source of great concern to me and other people. In the eyes of SADC, Lesotho is doing well while in the eyes of Ambassador Harrington and all detractors of this Coalition Government we appear to have serious shortcomings. Last Monday, during the launch of Constitutional reforms, the Chairman of the SADC Oversight Committee (Justice Frederick Mwita Werema) commended Lesotho for having done a lot.”

Dr Likoti also takes issue with the Americans’ insistence on Lt-Gen Kamoli’s dismissal whom they branded a “divisive figure”, saying should have been up to Maseru to decide whether he left or stayed.

“The President of Botswana (Ian Khama), in his capacity as the Chair of SADC once told (the) Lesotho government that if we are comfortable with the LDF general, it’s up to us to keep him. This was after they could not find the basis for the Phumaphi Commission to recommend that General Kamoli be dismissed,” he says.

“In fact, section 115 of the Phumaphi Commission report is the only section apart from the dismissal recommendation where Kamoli’s name appears. Section 115 says ‘General Kamoli started featuring in good light with restoring order (sic) within society, as well as bad light by being linked to the infamous ‘Operation Pitika’ where certain politicians especially of the opposition were made to roll on the ground as punishment’.

“We all know that this never happened in this country. No members of the opposition were ever made to roll down as a form of punishment in this country. Not by Kamoli or any member of the armed forces in this country. But we all know that some of our friends alleged that this action took place and hold Kamoli responsible for it.”

Dr Likoti also excoriates the Americans for condemning the Amnesty Bill, 2016 — meant to grant members of the security sector a blanket amnesty for offences committed between January 2007 and December 2015.

“SADC at its Botswana Summit rejected the amnesty recommendation submitted by the Phumaphi Commission. But the Lesotho government pleaded with SADC that in order to establish an enduring peace in the country, amnesty that affected all sides was necessary. SADC relented,” he says.

“They were also assured that this law will be presented before parliament where there will be open debate. Parliament is yet to debate this bill and who knows how MPs will conclude this issue. One was expecting the US Embassy that claims so much support for SADC to be very aware of these decisions. If you really support SADC, you must support its all endeavours in peacemaking.”

He adds: It would appear that our Maseru USA Embassy is far behind SADC. It would be advisable to support regional efforts under SADC than adopt decisions that meet the US Embassy’s fancy. After all the world as a global village now operates through these regional structures.”

Dr Likoti also accuses the Americans of trying to interfere in a court decision with regards to LDF members facing mutiny charges. In their letter, the Americans cited the SADC Commission’s conclusion that the “whole case of mutiny [is] highly suspect”, urging the government to grant the detained mutiny suspects amnesty as soon as possible “or to look for other avenues to facilitate their expeditious release”.

The soldiers were arrested between May and June 2015 for allegedly plotting to violently remove the LDF command. Eight of the soldiers have since been released from Maseru Maximum Security Prison and placed under open arrest, which is a form of bail in the military. The other 15 remain in detention.

“It (calling for detained soldiers’ release) is wrong to do so,” Dr Likoti argues. “The soldiers who mutinied in Lesotho are in detention because the courts said there is a case to answer. Their lawyers tried every trick in the law book in vain. They were not locked up there by the executive arm of the Lesotho government but by the High Court of Lesotho.

“So how can a country with so much democratic experience and law and order credentials even think that the Lesotho government had to interfere with courts of law? I am really confused. Recently, (US) President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team was heavily criticised for interfering with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) conclusion about Russia’s role in the recent presidential elections for saying ‘these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction’. They were widely rebuffed for interfering with democratic institutions. I am sure deserving democrats do not want to see undemocratic practices happening in Lesotho.”

Dr Likoti finishes off with a dig at the Americans: “Lesotho has learned a lot from the USA and that is why our friendship with this country is so strong. However, one example that Lesotho will not copy from the USA is to keep people in detention for 10 years and more without charge or conviction by the courts as is the case with the Guantanamo Bay detainees!”

Contacted for comment last night, US Embassy Spokesperson Dan Kobayashi said: “We will not be able to issue a response on this short notice.”

 

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