‘We keep fueling unnecessary fights’



The government has finally received the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry report into Lesotho’s instability. The report was compiled by a team of regional legal and security experts, led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana. The commission was initiated following the fatal shooting of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015. Lt-Gen Mahao was gunned down by LDF members allegedly as he resisted arrest for suspected mutiny. However, the government had said it would not receive the report because the commission’s legitimacy was being challenged in the High Court by LDF Special Forces Commander Lt-Col Tefo Hashatsi. But on Tuesday this week, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili received the report at the end of a SADC Double Troika summit held in Gaborone, Botswana. The change of heart apparently followed a resolution by the Double Troika to immediately suspend SADC activities in Lesotho, pending a full meeting of all 15 members of the regional bloc. But after Lesotho agreed to receive the report, the issue was suspension was taken off the table but the summit said Lesotho should “provide feedback to the Chair of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (Mr Nyusi), and publish the report within 14 days (by 1 February 2016).

The Double Troika summit was attended by Botswana president Ian Khama (SADC chair), South Africa President Jacob Zuma, Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Mozambique President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, Tanzania Prime Minister Majaliwa Majaliwa, and Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi who was standing in for President Robert Mugabe.

National University of Lesotho Political Economist, Dr Letete Maluke, speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the SADC Double Troika resolutions and their implications for Lesotho.

LT: President Jacob Zuma of South Africa on Monday announced that SADC Double Troika summit in Botswana had resolved to immediately suspend the regional bloc’s activities in Lesotho because of government’s refusal to receive the Phumaphi report. However, a day later, an official statement from SADC did not talk about the suspension but only that the Lesotho government was now required to publicise the report by 1 February this year. What could the summit’s developments mean for Lesotho?

Maluke: After the announcement that Lesotho was facing suspension from SADC, we have heard so many issues in which people have been talking about how Lesotho is going to be negatively affected. People ended up confusing the roles played by SADC with those of other regional bodies such as the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) of which Lesotho is a member. For instance, people started saying revenue Lesotho receives from SACU was going to be affected should Lesotho be suspended from SADC. People went further to say the Loti would no longer be pegged on the South African Rand in the event of suspension. But all this was wrong.

LT: Why do you say this? You sound as if the suspension, had it been effected, would have meant little to Lesotho.

Maluke: You see, SACU is made up of five countries, namely Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Decisions made within SACU affect those five countries only. At the same time, issues discussed within SADC affect member countries (Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). SADC does not have jurisdiction to superimpose its decisions on SACU countries.  SADC cannot also superimpose its decisions on members of the Common Monetary Area (CMA), which are Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and South Africa. All these regional bodies have different mandates and functions. Each operates on its own. In principle, it is not true that SADC decisions will affect Lesotho’s position in SACU and CMA. I think this was just a hype. This is our country, all of us, but sometimes it seems we are really not sure what we want out of it. We keep fueling fights even where it is not necessary. We do not know when to start a fight and when to settle for peace. We know we have issues in the country, but how we deal with these issues is what matters.

LT: Could you elaborate on that?

Maluke: People seem to be so excited about the sanctions as if they would also not be victims themselves, yet they would affect the entire society, should they be applied. And believe me, that is not going to be a good experience at all. It does not matter which political party is in government, but come the sanctions which the people are so excited about, we are all affected. Most importantly, what people should understand is that all these regional agreements are like partnerships; they are agreements of cooperation. We want to cooperate in as far as peace, defence and security are concerned. SADC countries want to work together in partnership to assist each other to establish peace, defence and security. And that is simply because issues of peace and security have significant implications on national development – development generally construed as change in the living conditions of the people.

Cooperation, by definition in the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, means a member state remains in control of its sovereign status. This means the regional body cannot force anything on any of its member states. Even where such a member state has problems, the regional body cannot force its decisions on that country even where it believes its decisions are a solution to that country.

SADC can only make recommendations and suggestions; SADC can only suggest certain reforms for Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili and his government to implement. It is not a punishment. No country can be punished by SADC under this context. As you read SADC protocols, there is no clause that says if member states don’t do this, they will be punished in any way.

The other important issue Basotho should remember is SADC is invited to intervene by any member-state because, among other reasons, such a country may not have enough expertise and resources to solve its problems. This again means SADC cannot force its intervention into member-states. Sometimes we seek SADC intervention just because we need an outside opinion of someone neutral, especially in a case where our government is directly involved in the dispute. This was exactly the route was taken by Lesotho in the present case. The government in power could have instituted its own Commission of Inquiry, but it took note that it was somehow involved in the matter.

The government, since it initiated the formation of the SADC Commission of Inquiry, has always expected that recommendations would come. And the recommendations, unlike other people’s expectations, will not come in the form of instructions to Lesotho. Much as I have not seen the SADC report, I am sure the recommendations in that document are made in such a way that they build towards the re-establishment of peace and security in the country. The recommendations must be aligned to peace and security. Many people are expecting that the SADC recommendations are going to say who is wrong and who is right; NO. Issues of peace and security are very central because without peace, security, stability and well-functioning institutions, there is no investment. No one will want to invest where there is no security and peace.

LT: We had heard about government’s refusal to back down on its stance that the report should not be issued until Lt-Col Hashatsi’s case had been finalised. What’s your take on that one?

Maluke: The fact is we don’t know to what extent the government refuses the report at the SADC summit. We don’t have a good basis for this information. In the first instance, why would they travel all the way to Botswana just to refuse the report? I am trying to apply some logical sense here. Why did the government have to set up the commission and then at the end of the day refuse its outcome? I wouldn’t agree on their refusal of the report because they actually instituted that report themselves.

The government signed the gazette to effect the inquiry for the sake of peace for this nation. And where the government might have suggested that the report should be withheld pending Mr Hashatsi’s case, that does not mean it refused the report. The government might have felt that the case in the court of law could taint the image of the report. If we want this report to come out as clean as it is, why can’t we wait for this case to be concluded? You might find that when this case is concluded, the findings of this report are no longer useful. There should be a legitimate reason for the government to say ‘why can’t we wait for the case to be finalised?’ And that cannot be misinterpreted to mean that the government refused the report.

People have expectations. They will always want to interpret things in their favour. I don’t really think there was any way the government could have refused the report. It is important to note that the executive branch of the whole government is accountable to parliament. And so the executive knows that if we don’t accept the report members of parliament are going to grill them.

LT: Now that there is an official communique in which the government is said to have received the report and urged to implement its recommendations, do you think this is going to chappen?

Maluke: It is very difficult for me to speak on behalf of the government on this one. But the fact remains that these are recommendations; these are suggestions that are meant to build lasting peace and security in this country. The government will have to look at these recommendations with its partners and identify which of them can truly bring peace and stability to the nation.

The government understands the circumstances of its country better than SADC. SADC came into Lesotho just like a consultant. The SADC commission was hardly here for a period of six months. But the government will forever be here. The government and its people know the true nature of the problem in this country. In as far as the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation is concerned, it is clear the regional body will make recommendations and that it is upon the member-state to implement such recommendations at its own discretion. The government should assess the recommendations for the sake of the nation. How the recommendations will be implemented by the government will definitely not satisfy everyone, but it should at least be in the best interest of bringing lasting peace and stability. But we know some people will still complain; it is normal.

LT: Some Basotho believe the current coalition government has done so bad that they are hoping the report should recommend regime-change. Do you agree with this assessment?

Maluke: To be honest, regime-change is costly. Although people might wish for a change of government, they should remember that the last regime-change cost this country over M3 million. People sometimes wish for things that are unnecessarily costly for themselves, when in actual fact they don’t have thorough justification for any regime-change. Perhaps I should indicate that the previous communication which was passed through various media platforms and what the people on the streets were saying, damaged this nation. It might have been communication that was not official. In other words we are not sure whether it was factual or not that Lesotho faced provisional suspension from SADC.

LT: But we saw it on television when South African president Jacob Zuma announced that the Lesotho government had refused the report and that the summit had then recommended the suspension…

Maluke: I was unfortunate not to have heard him speak. I am not sure whether President Zuma might have been misquoted or not. However, the fact of the matter is the previous communication was informal and without documentation to substantiate it. That information becomes a threat to the nation in the sense that investors are going to pull out fearing that there is no peace and stability in Lesotho. Whatever we speak about our own nation, it has implications on us. Whether we think these implications will hit someone who is in power, they hit on us before anyone else. The question is, who are we punishing?

To build peace and stability in any country takes a very long time. It is a long process. I would urge Basotho that as we try to build unity among ourselves and develop the country, let us know when to fight and when to settle for peace. Let us stop fighting forever. There is what is called risk-rating on countries in terms of foreign investment. That talk, per se, about Lesotho being suspended from SADC might have affected the country’s risk-rating in the world. My general understanding of the official communiqué is that issues have been dealt with and Basotho should relax and stop overreacting. I would urge Basotho to focus on building the economy of this country for the sake of the future generation. We should think about building an economy we shall all be proud of in the next 50 years.

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