In January 2016, President Ian Khama engineered a last minute deal to save Lesotho from a SADC suspension, a lunchtime masterstroke crafted when some Heads of State had already left for their capitals. This week, however, documents emerged indicating Khama has run out of patience with the mountain kingdom. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports
President Ian Khama has threatened to withdraw Botswana from a SADC oversight committee into the political and security situation in Lesotho, following a regional fall-out ahead of the June 3, 2017 general elections in the troubled mountain kingdom.
Former National Assembly speaker, Patrick Balopi and retired deputy Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander, Major General Jefferson Tlhokwane are Botswana’s two representatives in the SADC oversight committee on Lesotho. The eight-member committee established by SADC in July 2015 serves as an early warning mechanism in the event of signs of instability in Lesotho, and “intervenes as appropriate” in consultation with the SADC Facilitator, South Africa deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa.
This week, documents emerged indicating that Khama had reached the end of his tether with the mountain kingdom and Mosisili, Lesotho’s second longest serving prime minister in history.
The fall-out traces back to a mid-March extraordinary heads of state summit in Swaziland in which regional leaders, wary of the conflicts associated with Lesotho elections, agreed that Ramaphosa and the oversight committee closely monitor developments ahead of June 3.
“Summit mandated the Facilitator, supported by the Oversight Committee, to conduct a multi-stakeholder national dialogue before the elections set for 3rd June 2017 with the aim of building consensus and trust among all stakeholders and charting the way forward for the implementation of SADC decisions,” the Swazi summit communiqué reads.
It continues: “The summit endorsed the convening of a Double Troika Summit soon after the new Government is formed after the elections, to engage the new Government of Lesotho on the need to implement the SADC Decisions and the recommendations of the SADC Commission of Inquiry through a roadmap with clear timelines.”
For many observers in the region, the communiqué appeared in line with the previous attempts SADC made to push Lesotho on political and security reforms, following a troubled period in the kingdom marked by the June 25, 2015 assassination of the former army chief.
However, the communiqué raised Mosisili’s ire who lashed out at SADC, accusing the regional leaders of muzzling the Lesotho representative at the summit and attempting to infringe on the kingdom’s sovereignty. In a three-page letter dated April 4, to SADC chair King Mswati III, Mosisili said the Facilitator and the oversight committee had been charged with a “spurious responsibility” which was “most unrealistic and absurd”.
“How and where on earth would anyone have time for this multi-stakeholder dialogue during the campaign period for elections?” Mosisili wrote.
“Need we remind SADC, through your Majesty, that Lesotho like all SADC states, has devised sufficient guidelines including adopting the SADC principles
Mosisili continues: “While we have no problem with SADC engaging the new Government, we are understandably disappointed that no mention whatsoever is made of progress achieved in this regard.
“But most shocking is the veiled threat of ‘the consequences’ for failure to observe timelines imposed on us. This attitude is a gross violation of the founding principles of our regional body.”
Mosisili wrote that Lesotho would not, “in good conscience, allow our sovereignty to be sacrificed for whatever reason by a regional body of which we are founding members.”
Exactly two weeks after the Lesotho PM’s letter, Khama responded in a brief two-page letter, underlining the regional tensions brought about by the long-running situation in Lesotho.
“It should be borne in mind that SADC member States’ unwavering support to Lesotho’s efforts of consolidating democracy, peace and stability have come with huge financial and other costs,” Khama wrote to Mswati.
“If Lesotho feels that the collective and relentless efforts by the regional leaders in finding a lasting political and security solution is a direct violation of her sovereignty, then Botswana will consider withdrawing her representatives currently serving in the oversight committee.”
Khama said Botswana was “seriously concerned” that Mosisili had interpreted SADC’s involvement in Lesotho as interference in its sovereignty.
For his part, Mswati in a letter dated April 24, pressed Lesotho to abide by SADC resolutions saying the decisions at the Swaziland summit were “made in the spirit of supporting the kingdom address political and security challenges and in solidarity and brotherhood”.
Mosisili is yet to respond to the SADC chair’s letter.
Yesterday evening, oversight committee member, Balopi, told Mmegi the organ was performing its role in helping the mountain kingdom towards credible elections.
“We have met five or so times with all stakeholders in Lesotho from political parties, law enforcement leaders and non-governmental organisations,” he said.
“We have done quite a bit to get people to talk about the issues at hand. We are monitoring the process towards the elections.”
Asked whether the committee was aware of the latest developments triggered by Mosisili’s letter, Balopi answered in the negative.
“We answer to the Facilitator and do not engage in that,” he said.
According to most analysts, Mosisili is behind in the race for the top in the upcoming elections, having seen his party split earlier this year and several strong contenders from opposition parties return from exile.
Mosisili called the snap election after Parliament passed a vote of no-confidence against him in March. Rather than step aside, he dissolved Parliament, necessitating the June 3 election.