Has Lesotho reached its Rubicon?

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Utloang Kajeno

Historical Comparison 

IN the early 1980s, the world’s attention was fixed on the then apartheid South Africa. The world keenly awaited President PW Botha’s speech in Parliament that many hoped would have far-reaching consequences for the oppressive system of apartheid.  However, as fate would have it, he delivered a speech that had little impact on the political future of South Africa. The oppressed black majority had, since the National Party’s coming to power, been denied participation in the governance of their country and therefore had experienced very little socio-economic development.

The media hype and worldwide attention around the speech led it to be called the “Rubicon” speech. However, it never materialised as the tricameral parliament included, though with severely limited legislative powers, only the so-called colored people and citizens of Asian descent. The black majority were therefore excluded from legislative participation in government. I have narrated the SA Rubicon story to draw parallels with what Lesotho is now facing.

Since history has a strange way of repeating itself, Lesotho on 28th June, will have its own “Rubicon” as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has convened an Extra-Ordinary Summit of the Double Troika in Gaborone, Botswana.  The letter from the SADC Secretariat addressed to Lesotho’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations read in part: “Following a directive by the Chairperson of SADC, I wish to inform you that a Double Troika Summit has been convened to take place on 28th June, 2016 at 10:00 hours.

“The Double Troika Summit will consider the political and security situation on the Kingdom of Lesotho, specifically the implementation of the SADC Decisions.

“To this effect, you are requested to submit a progress report that will facilitate preparations of the meeting.  We will appreciate receiving the progress report by 17 June, 2016”

Clearly from the tone, magnitude and the flurry of diplomatic activity as well as subsequent SADC Communique that preceded this invitation to Lesotho, one is left in no doubt that 28 June will be a watershed moment for Lesotho.  It will be our collective Rubicon as a nation amongst the community of nations.

Why the Rubicon analogy?

Wikipedia traces the origin of the word “Rubicon” as deriving from Latin word “Rubico” and “Rubicone” in Italian.  It refers to Julius Caesar’s army’s crossing of the Rubicon River (in the north of Italy) in 49 BC, which was considered an act of insurrection and treason. Julius Caesar uttered the famous phrase “alea iacta est” — the die is cast — as his army marched through the shallow river.

It was so named because its waters are coloured red by mud deposits.  The English meaning for rubicon is simply point of no return. In effect, this day is our rubicon as a nation because it marks a watershed moment and, if you like, a turning point, in our socio-economic and political development and our relations in regard to SADC in particular, and the world in general.

Major events that led to the summit

On 25 June 2015, former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander,  Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao, bs shot dead by his own colleagues while driving from his farm in Mokema, outside Maseru.  The LDF later admits before a packed courtroom in a habeas corpus application that its operatives killed him as he was allegedly resisting arrest for suspected mutiny. Spurred by this development and subsequent strong condemnation by SADC, African Union (AU) and the United Nations, SADC dispatches a ministerial observer mission to Lesotho to assess the security and political situation.  Hard on its heels, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili requests SADC to set up a Commission of inquiry to look into among others, circumstances surrounding the killing of the former LDF commander.

SADC Commission Starts its Hearings.

Having undertaken before SADC to domesticate the Commission so it can start its hearings, the government of Lesotho gazetted what one may call distorted terms of reference, for the Commission, that SADC duly rejected and finally agreeing to amended terms that were encapsulated in resolutions adopted in Pretoria, South Africa.  The Commission therefore started its broadcast hearings at the National Library in Maseru, on 31 August 2015.

Hashatsi Court Case

Because government could not guarantee the safety of the Lesotho soldiers, opposition leaders and other exiles who fled the country to South Africa fearing for their lives, the commission then relocated to neighbouring South Africa in December, 2015 to gather further evidence.

In a move that landed credence to unconfirmed speculation that the government had acquiesced to the lodging of the case, Lieutenant-Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, lodged a court case that effectively sought to deal a fatal blow to the entire findings of the Commission and its propriety in hearing evidence in South Africa.

Despite repeated and determined efforts by the Lesotho government to put a hold to the Commission, the latter nevertheless went ahead after consultations with its parent body, SADC.

Government threatens not to accept report

The government threatened not to accept the Commission’s report after it had been handed-over to SADC, also arguing that the Commission was a Lesotho creature and ought to report to the Lesotho Prime Minister.

After strong-arm tactics by SADC that included threats of disengaging from Lesotho, at its Double Troika Summit in Gaborone, Botswana, in 18th January 2016, the government on the last day of the summit finally accepted the report. It was at this summit that SADC in line with its protocols and treaties, adopted the recommendations of the report thereby declaring them as resolutions which are binding. SADC also reiterated its immunity. SADC in its communique urged the government to publish the report and implement its recommendations which were now binding to be implemented within 14 days.  SADC also made a veiled threat to Lesotho that if it did not implement the resolutions it would consider convening an extra-ordinary Double Troika Summit before the full SADC Summit, in Swaziland in August.

At this summit Lesotho was told in no uncertain terms that if it did not implement, suspension would be recommended to the full SADC Summit in August this year.

SADC Executive Secretary Visits Lesotho

In a move perhaps demonstrating SADC’s annoyance with Lesotho in not doing anything to implement its resolutions, the regional body dispatched its top official, the Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, to Lesotho to assess the progress in regard to implementing the resolutions. Publicly the Dr Tax made some acknowledgments that there was indeed some progress.  However, hard on the heels of her departure, perhaps after reporting to the SADC chair, and SADC chairperson President Ian Khama of Botswana, where SADC has its headquarters, followed the strongly worded invitation to Lesotho, where the resolutions were now referred to as “Decisions”.

The Explosive Invitation to Summit

At this juncture, one will be excused for relying on a mere conjecture as I do not have all the relevant surrounding factors behind SADC convening the extra-ordinary Double Troika Summit scheduled for 28th June, in Gaborone, Botswana. My suspicion that this is diplomatic language is an explosive invite derives from the fact that it has now been close to a year since the demise of General Mahao.  SADC and other international organisations including the European Union, African Union and the United Nations, have been urging the Lesotho government to implement the SADC recommendations, in addition to the security, public service, and constitutional reforms as contained in the SOMILES report (i.e. the SADC Mission to Lesotho).  To date, my own dispassionate observation has been that not a single recommendation or reform has been implemented. At least, no tangible attempts at implementing the decisions have been embarked upon.  I may hasten to add, not even the much-vaunted roadmap at least with timelines, has been submitted by government of Lesotho to SADC as promised.

This is probably what has provoked the ire of SADC to demand the submission of a progress report by the 17 June.  It also goes to explain why the regional body convened an extra-ordinary Summit “to consider the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho, specifically the implementation of SADC decisions”.

It will be remembered that SADC had earlier hinted that it would disengage and suspend its activities in Lesotho if the Kingdom does not implement its decisions.  This summit therefore clearly is the Rubicon for Lesotho.  It is a point of no return that pitches the country with the regional body, in particular, and the world, in general.  It is a swim or sink moment for Lesotho.

 

 

 

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