PRIME Minister, Thomas Thabane, has defended the deployment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force to Lesotho, saying its presence was necessary to stabilise the security situation in the country.
Dr Thabane also warned the opposition against fomenting chaos in the country and advised them to rather join the government in its peace-building efforts to ensure lasting stability and sustainable development.
Dr Thabane, who is also the leader of the main ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) party, said this during a party rally early this week in the Maletsunyane #47 constituency in Semonkong.
His remarks come in the wake of last Wednesday’s press conference by the opposition where former Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, demanded the withdrawal of the SADC Force as a pre-condition for the opposition’s participation in the process aimed at coming up with multi-sector reforms that will create lasting peace and stability in Lesotho.
Dr Mosisili, who is also Democratic Congress (DC) leader, said that the presence of the SADC force not only created a hostile environment which was inimical to the reforms process but also to attracting foreign investors to Lesotho.
The press conference followed the opposition’s walk out of parliament in opposition to the introduction of the National Reforms Commission Bill of 2018.
The bill is aimed at establishing a commission to spearhead national dialogue towards the implementation of multi-sector reforms in line with SADC recommendations.
Law, Constitutional Affairs and Human Rights Minister, Lebohang Hlaele, presented the bill which was immediately opposed by opposition legislators who accused government of arbitrariness for suspending the Standing Order 51 (5) which would have enabled the bill to be scrutinised beforehand by parliamentarians.
The opposition walked out of parliament after they unsuccessfully tried to block the introduction of the bill.
They argued that a national dialogue should have preceded the crafting of the bill to enable it to incorporate the views of all stakeholders.
Dr Mosisili subsequently said they would not cooperate on the reforms process as long as SADC troops remained in Lesotho.
His sentiments were echoed by DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, who told this publication that the opposition had made a collective decision not to attend any of the parliamentary session until the withdrawal of the SADC forces.
“As we have always said, the SADC troops have no business here in Lesotho and they should go as part of our pre-conditions to participate in the reforms process.
“We also want people who have been detained due to political influences to be released from prison and they include the former commander of the LDF, Tlali Kamoli,” Mr Qoo said.
“We want the reforms as badly as they want them, but they should get their act together. We have not even started frustrating the process as yet. More is still to come if they don’t rectify their wrongs,” he added.
However, Dr Thabane defended the presence of SADC Force at the Sunday rally in Semonkong.
“SADC sent its forces in the fields of politics and security and they are not here for fun,” Dr Thabane said, adding, “Their mission is to establish exactly why Lesotho is always in the public eye on issues that cause violence.
“Let this be the last time we shall have to seek the intervention of other countries simply because we cannot deal with our own issues.”
The SADC forces have been in the country since 2 December, 2017.
The deployment of the standby force – made of 217 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 13 civilian experts- was endorsed by SADC leaders to assist the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in managing the security crisis in the country in the aftermath of the 5 September, 2017 assassination of army commander, Lieutenant General Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.
According to SADC, one of the main objectives of the SADC deployment is to “assist in isolating renegade elements within the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)”.
The standby force will also support Lesotho in retraining its army personnel, especially in the area of civil-military relations while working towards security sector and other institutional reforms.
Furthermore, the SADC force will “monitor the investigation of the assassination of Lt-Gen Motšomotšo, prioritise and expeditiously assist in the operationalisation of national unity and reconciliation dialogue with a clear approach, to be facilitated by SADC”.
Dr Thabane also railed at the opposition for seeking to destabilise the country.
“When we were in Parliament a few days ago there were a lot of issues at play and it was evident that there are some people who want to throw this country into anarchy.
“I would, therefore, like to openly urge those people to stop holding night meetings plotting the government’s downfall because that will not do them any good. They have tried before but failed,” Dr Thabane said.
He said they should rather focus their energies on assisting the government to ensure lasting peace which was crucial for socio-economic development.
“I urge them to support this government so that we can all work for peace.
“I went into exile once and I shall not do that again. I know that they thought I was running away from them but I was only running away from (former army commander Tlali) Kamoli’s gun and look where he is now.”
Dr Thabane fled the country in 2015 after allegedly uncovering a plot by Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members to kill him. He was subsequently joined in exile by current coalition partners, Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele ‘Maseribane and Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) leader, Keketso Rantšo.
DR Thabane also accused Lieutenant General Kamoli of plotting to overthrow his first administration in 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli who was forced into retirement at the recommendation of SADC on 1 December, 2016, is currently languishing in remand prison awaiting trial for murder and attempted murder.
The murder charge is for the fatal shooting of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko during the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
Several soldiers, under Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command, stormed various police stations and seized arms they claimed were to be used against civilians at a Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) rally that same weekend.
However, Dr Thabane’s government charged that Lt-Gen Kamoli launched his coup attempt in reaction to his dismissal by the Prime Minister a day earlier.
The 14 attempted murder charges stem from the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former Police Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
The opposition has since criticised Dr Thabane’s Sunday address, saying his government was abrogating its responsibilities to SADC.
LCD spokesperson, Teboho Sekata, said it was surprising to hear a “whole prime minister saying that SADC forces will be dealing with politics”.
“The government is simply shifting the blame for anything that goes wrong on to the opposition. Why is it so difficult for them to hold a national dialogue and bring back the exiled (opposition) leaders so that the reforms are inclusive?
“They are just making things difficult for themselves.”
DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, said “it is true that we are holding meetings as the Prime Minister said and that is expected of us as the opposition”.
“We have only asked that the reforms be inclusive, the soldiers arrested on political issues be released and the exiled leaders be brought back.
“It is not just us who are holding these meetings. We are holding them in concert with other parliamentarians who are part of the government and are not happy with the administration. We shall not cease to hold such meetings,” Mr Qoo said.