THE Constitution of Lesotho, 1993, reads, and I will quote extensively:
Section 1 (1) — “Lesotho shall be a sovereign democratic kingdom”.
Section 82 (1) — “Each session of Parliament shall be held at such place within Lesotho and shall begin at such time as the King shall appoint”.
Provided that —
(a) The time appointed for the meeting of Parliament after Parliament has been prorogued shall not be later than 12 months from the end of the preceding session;Section 83 (1) provides, “The King may at any time prorogue or dissolve Parliament.”
The Concise Oxford English dictionary defines the word “sovereign” as (of a nation or its affairs) acting or done independently and without outside interference. I am quoting these sections of our Constitution, the Supreme Law, and the word “sovereign” advisedly because some politicians in Lesotho, and leaders of the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN), if they had the LCN mandate and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders, want to conveniently ignore the fact that Lesotho is a sovereign country with a constitution, that, like in all states, is the Supreme Law.
SADC, in its founding principles and instruments, emphasises and jealously protects the sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of all its members. The principle of non-interference and sovereignty in the affairs of states can be tampered with, among others, when fundamental human rights are violated, the rule of law is being undermined or a state is aggressive or threatening war against another state.
That Lesotho was denied the chairmanship of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, last week, is disturbing. It smacks of double standards. In its 34th SADC Heads of State and Government Summit held in the Zimbabwean resort town of Victoria Falls, SADC handed the chairmanship of the Organ to South Africa, instead of Lesotho, until the next summit in Botswana, in August 2015, due to the country’s alleged political instability.
For the record, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leadership has, itself, suspended its Youth and Women’s Leagues yet the party is at the forefront of calls to re-open parliament, which the prime minister prorogued for nine months in June this year. If we cast our minds a few years back and consider the present, it will make for an astounding number of countries within SADC that have political instability equal to Lesotho’s, or even worse.
SADC, like most international organisations, has unexpectedly succumbed to the pressure of the big power-brokers in the sub-continent. Let’s take a cursory look at some of these countries within the SADC region, including the major power-brokers. Swaziland has not been having a multi-party system of democratic governance for many years.
Democratic ideals and principles in that country were long done away with by the kingdom’s absolute monarch. There is no rule of law in Swaziland as lawyers, civic organisations and opposition groups in that country are incarcerated, fleeing the country and PUDEMO, the country’s main opposition, operates from underground and from neighbouring South Africa.
Journalists in that country are also being intimidated and incarcerated. In Malawi, the recent general election’s results were hotly disputed as not being transparent, free and fair, and needed SADC’s intervention to resolve the impasse.
Our giant neighbour, South Africa, has a myriad of challenges to its political stability. Just last week, there was a massive walkout in Parliament as one of the opposition parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters, called on President Jacob Zuma to repay funds the State paid in the development of his Nkandla homestead, running into millions of maloti.
Parliament was thereby rendered dysfunctional. This was preceded by the heckling of the president about the multimillion-maloti upgrade. Just prior to the general election in that country, a multiparty parliamentary sub-committee to look into the “Nkandlagate” scandal was dissolved as the entire Parliament was dissolved, thus rendering this committee a non-starter.
The fact is, even in South Africa, provincial as well as national parliaments are disrupted routinely. At the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana deaths, South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was heckled by families of the deceased amid allegations that he orchestrated the killings by unduly influencing ministers and the police, while he was at the head of a major mining house.
Again in South Africa, during then President Thabo Mbeki’s term, a number of his own cabinet ministers were accused of trying to topple him by the country’s intelligence chief, and were eventually removed from office. Subsequent to that at the ruling party’s elective leadership conference, after the president was recalled and re-deployed, a new party leadership was elected.
During this period, there were the so-called two centres of power in South Africa — one based at the country’s seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, and the other at the ruling party’s headquarters at Luthuli House.
If these examples are not manifestations of political instability, then tell me what they are. Still in South Africa, security agency, the Scorpions, were disbanded in favour of the Hawks, precisely because the country’s police service could not allow the Scorpions to encroach into what they considered their territory.
Conversely in Lesotho, there are palpable tensions between the various role players. But tensions between different security formations is not unique to Lesotho.
Further north in Zimbabwe, during the government of national unity, the sitting president, Robert Mugabe, was from a different political party to the then prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.
The two could hardly agree on anything to the extent that during one of his rallies, Tsvangirai was severely assaulted. Now if these examples are not manifestations of political instability, then tell me what they are. Mark my words, I am not saying Lesotho does not have domestic political problems. If SADC is to use Lesotho’s political problems as a yardstick, then no country would be eligible for the chairmanship of any Organ.
There are many examples of SADC member-states that have politicians jockeying for positions and outright bickering to the extent that their infighting borders on political instability, and Lesotho is no exception in this regard. That is why none of these countries was sidelined by SADC.
Political infighting and disagreements between the disciplined forces is not a problem that is unique to Lesotho. Lesotho, like all the countries around the world, including in SADC, is not, and shall never be a Utopia. The bottom line is Lesotho is a vibrant, at times robust, sovereign democratic kingdom that observes democratic values and principles.
One would understand if the prorogation of Parliament was done in violation of the Constitution of Lesotho, then SADC intervention would be understandable.
However, as I pointed out before, indeed there are political disagreements in Lesotho but to escalate them to the level of political instability is being myopic, disingenuous and setting a bad precedent, which at any rate, was never followed or will never be followed in the rest of SADC.
It cannot be overemphasised that the Constitution empowers His Majesty to prorogue parliament on the advice of the prime minister, for not more than nine months. Anything to the contrary would be unconstitutional.
In a similar vein, it cannot be convincingly argued that Lesotho is not a sovereign democratic kingdom. As I pointed out before, international law only allows interference in the domestic affairs of another country if certain standards, conventions and principles have been violated.
In Lesotho’s case, none have been violated, and neither has the Constitution, the Supreme Law. However, this is not to argue that outside interventions and mediations, like those by Namibia and South Africa, are not welcome.
These well-intentioned measures should be done within the parameters of our laws and customs as a sovereign nation. No international organisation or individual state should dictate to any independent sovereign country how it should run its affairs, for as long as it does not violate the above-mentioned principles.
For instance, the rule of law, good governance, and human rights as well as non-aggression, among others, should be observed by such a state, to ensure non-interference in its affairs. Turning to the LCN delegation’s alleged gate-crashing of the SADC summit, the jury is still out. We are yet to know what really transpired there and the circumstances surrounding their presence at the summit.
However, a few pertinent questions need to be answered. Why is it that neither SADC, nor the Lesotho and Zimbabwe governments, appeared to know of their venture and message to the summit? Did they have the mandate of the LCN or was there some motive behind this visit, which will come out at some stage, in our country’s political history?
Is it proper to steal the thunder, so to speak, of the democratically elected prime minister of His Majesty’s government, in far-away foreign lands and at such an august summit? One wonders whether their actions have not done the LCN immeasurable damage in the public domain as a credible and impartial organisation. Had all the local remedies been exhausted? Is it proper to attend a summit without any accreditation? Is it is not proper to overtly act for a particular political party or parties, rather than masquerade under the guise of the LCN? Were they acting in their personal capacities or for the LCN, as a collective? These are salient questions that cry out for answers so that this nation and its government can be put in a clear picture.
As for the SADC summit’s action, the bloc has set a precedent that I honestly doubt it will follow. History and future events shall judge them. They are not far-away, I know.