In Lesotho, power struggles transcend the threat of COVID-19

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By Thuso Mosabala

Today, politics, business, and even sporting news headlines across the globe seem to have all given way for Corona Virus (Covid-19) related stories.

The virus is spreading across the globe and respect no boundaries, thus invoking in us, the need for our collective effort to defend ourselves. Our sole neighbor, South Africa has already logged three thousand infections and more than forty dead.

But the same cannot be said about the situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho. On Saturday April 18, morning hours the nation woke up to the news that the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) has been deployed to bring about order upon realization that there “were some people and some government institutions” tainting the integrity of the lawful government.

In a rather wanting statement, the Kingdom’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in a live state broadcaster statement said he has resolved to ensure an end unbecoming behavior by dissidents by deploying army to take charge of the situation and return some sense of stability in the country.

“I have instructed the Commander of the armed forces to take potent legal measures in accordance with the Lesotho Defence Force Act of 1996 and the 1993 Constitution of Lesotho against everyone involved in these actions, irrespective of their status,” Thabane said.

This five-minute speech left a sense of uncertainty as to what exactly was going on. Questions such as, “Who are these people? What are these institutions and what kind of actions are these?” were left to the members of the public to speculate.

Interestingly, Thabane made no mention of Lesotho Mounted Police Service but only the army. This is truly worrying as the constitutionally it is expected that, the domain of the internal enforcement of rule of law and order is the prerogative of the police and not army.

It is important to note there is are antagonistic relations between Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli and Prime Minister Thabane.

The latter had unsuccessfully attempted to dismiss the former. This has been the case since police summoned the Prime Minister’s spouse and First Lady Maesiah Thabane and charged her with the murder and later sort to also charge the Prime Minister himself with the murder of his slain wife Lipolelo Thabane.

Thabane’s second attempt to get rid of Police Commissioner through a dubious suspension pending investigation, was halted by the court this week.

Molibeli’s suspension letter was served on him conveniently after police summoned the police authority, Minister of Police Lehlohonolo Moramotse and promulgated intentions to charge him with breach of lockdown regulations after he was allegedly caught in camera buying or ferrying liquor from a Chinese owned retailer.

Added to all this has been a long-protracted tale of intraparty conflict within Prime Minister Thabane’s ruling party, All Basotho Convention (ABC).

In the wee hours of the declaration of a national lockdown in respect of management of the threat of COVID-19, Thabane’s political party’s executive committee divorced Allaince of Democrats led by Deputy Prime Minister Monyane Moleleki in favor of on a marriage of convenience, forming new government with official leader of Opposition Mathibeli Mokhothu’s led Democratic Congress. The already inked new government formation is set to come into operation after parliament resume its functions.

A move that Thabane had given a stern warning against, even instructing security agents to ensure the protection of the democratically elected government.

This is but a tip of an iceberg that characterizes governance issues in Lesotho during a national lockdown imposed in respect of Covid-19.

For Lesotho, nothing gains much attention than the struggle for power and general control of the state. Not even global threat posed by the COVID-19 can invoke in the ‘narcissistic’ political elite, a sense of duty, solidarity to work to protect Basotho, as we have seen in other countries. Measures have been put in place to establish a Command Centre in respect of COvid-19, but due to lack of transparency and allegations made its work is mainly criticized for being an enrichment scheme, with reports of alleged theft of donated protective clothing by public officers rife.

Not long ago, an inspiring scene of unity was at display as about 14 political parties in the Republic of South Africa rallied behind President Ramaphosa declaration of the national disaster emergency. There appeared a strong sense of comprehension of the pressing need to expeditiously unite in response to the threat of the virus.

The solidarity that was on display is something that one would wish for in Lesotho, not only because of Covid-19, but that for the common good of the nation, they can unite and work towards the development that will benefit Basotho.
But for those with some level of understanding of Lesotho’s politics, they will tell you that those thoughts are utopian. Political polarization has divided this country, arguably beyond repair. Not even an impending danger of COVID-19 can bring them together.

Politics in Lesotho

Encompassed by the Republic of South Africa, Lesotho has politics as the fastest growing industry in the midst of unemployment, poverty and disease. Politics therefore, has become the means through which one makes a living and get to compete for the corrupt control of the state apparatus.

As has been said elsewhere by political Scientist, Dr Khabele Matlosa, like many African countries, the post-colonial history of Lesotho has revolved around contestations for power during and after elections, unresolved issues of political impunity, and periodic military intervention in the country’s politics, a damaged international image and, may I add, gross human rights violations by state security agents at the behest of their corrupt civilian authorities.
Owing to lust for control of the state, which also serve as a means for wealth accumulation in Lesotho, elite conflict has seen the country holding three snap elections in a period of five years (2012-2017).

During this time, especially in the year 2012, the outcome of the general elections had produced a hung parliament, hence, to meet the constitutional requirements, a three-party coalition government was formed, the first in the country.

However, a political fallout over control of scarce resources of the Basotho nation between coalition partners soon engulfed it, next thing, army is engulfed in attempt on life of the Prime Minister Thabane when his then concubine come first lady house was bombed, later on, at height of fallout parliament was suspended. Army and police took sides and skirmishes ensued with Coup attempt leading to Thabane fleeing. Parliament later re-opened on Southern African Development Community appointed Lesotho facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa’s brokered deal that led to early dissolution of parliament and fresh election.

The same political fallout characterized the 2015 and 2017 elections, with elements of intraparty conflict, one of the main source of fallouts, often leading to the invocation of motion of vote of no confidence, and a dissolution of parliament in response.

The dissolution of parliament implies end of business before the parliament, and holding of elections within 90 days which have cost the impoverished country failing to feed more than a quarter of its population millions of Maloti.
One would rightly have a point therefore that, the adoption of the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution by the National Assembly is a perfect fixer. The motion for a private members bill for amendment of the constitution was proposed by the leader of the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane.

Rakuoane said the purpose of the motion is to protect the life of the parliament as well as to strive for peace and stability in the country.

The national assembly has already passed the Rakuoane’s proposed bill. The bill as it simply states that, in the case where a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister (Thabane for example) succeeds, the Prime Minister can no longer advise His Majesty for dissolution of parliament, but will have to face the motion and, in the event that he loses, the change can just occur in Parliament. No longer the need to head for snap elections without parliament’s approval.

Covid-19, a scapegoat for underhand Political maneuvers

On Friday, March 20, 2020, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane desperately prorogued parliament under the auspices of Covid-19. The prorogation was later followed by the declaration of the State of Emergency and a lockdown regulation, claiming a “precautionary” measure against the growing threat of the virus. Since few tests conducted on few suspected cases the country remains one of the few countries in the world that has not recorded any positive cases or corona virus.

Aside the State of emergency and Lockdown, measures that are being globally adopted to flatten the curve of the virus, proroguing parliament signaled a desperate act by Thabane to frustrate his detractors.

The prorogation effectively flushing down the latrine, the Ninth Amendment of the constitution bill, given not only the state of affairs within his All Basotho Convention party, but in the arena of party politics in the country. Thabane had other alternatives such as having Speaker of parliament adjourn parliament sittings indefinitely and not suspending it sittings.

However, his desperate shenanigans proved futile as the Constitutional Court on April 18, declared Thabane’s decision to prorogue parliament null and void, setting it aside as a result and ordering the resumption of the parliament.

However, after the constitutional court reversed his decision Prime Minister Thabane delivered a complex statement that left the nation speculating, given the movement of the army that followed! That’s Lesotho for you.

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