MASERU — Lesotho’s opposition leaders are livid that Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last month pledged to send troops to war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) without first consulting parliament.
The opposition leaders said sending troops to the DRC is an unnecessary and expensive exercise at a time when Lesotho has declared a state of famine and asked the international community to help.
They added that spending tax-payers’ monies in helping settle a dispute in DRC should not be the coalition government’s priority because 700 000 Basotho are staring starvation in the face after a poor harvest last farming season.
Thabane should have sought parliament’s approval before pledging to send troops to the DRC, they added.
Thabane pledged to contribute troops for the peace-keeping mission during an extra-ordinary Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in mid-December.
Army spokesperson, Captain Ntlele Ntoi, last month confirmed that a standby company comprising about 150 soldiers was ready for an assignment.
The Sadc Heads of State Extra-Ordinary Summit pledged 4 000 troops for a neutral force to be deployed in eastern Congo, where M23 rebels have waged a bloody nine-month-long rebellion against the government of President Joseph Kabila.
But there is confusion as to how the peace-keeping troops will be funded. Ntoi said both Sadc and the United Nations had all been consulted with the aim of soliciting funding for the troops.
But Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete, told regional media that the troop deployment will be conditional on member states “coming up with both the troops and funding”.
This paper could not independently establish how much Lesotho will have to contribute to fund the deployment of the troops in the DRC.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times on Wednesday, Thabane said Lesotho’s contribution to restoring peace in DRC is not confined to sending troops although armed intervention could not be totally counted out as the LDF is part of the Sadc standby force.
Thabane said “we as Lesotho have joined the Sadc military force and keeping peace includes sending an army”.
“We are not keeping this as a secret.
“The troops are being prepared. If we decide to contribute to the peace-keeping mission by sending troops, we are not sending them there like sheep that are going to be slaughtered,” Thabane said.
“If Sadc says it needs military contribution to a peace-keeping mission anywhere in the region, we shall jump and contribute,” he said.
“We are not attacking any country.
“When Sadc says contribute, we will do so with our soldiers and of course with other means.”
But Basotho Congress Party leader and MP, Thulo Mahlakeng, said although the Sadc summit was held during the parliamentary recession it would have been wise for Thabane to call a special sitting of the August House to specifically debate the issue.
“I understand that parliament was in recession but it would not be wrong to convene parliament just to debate this issue,” Mahlakeng said, adding that he only learnt of the government’s pledge to send troops to DRC through the press.
“Who will pay for the costs associated with sending troops to a foreign country?” he said.
“There is no country whose leadership is sound that will volunteer to fund our sending troops to another country; we will have to finance the exercise ourselves.”
Mahlakeng said it is odd that Lesotho is sending troops to the DRC a few months after it declared a state of emergency over the food security Mahlakeng said it is odd that Lesotho is sending troops to the DRC a few months after it declared a state of emergency over the food security situation.
“Surely, Lesotho cannot afford to send troops to the DRC.
“Our parliament should have been given a chance to debate this issue,” he said.
Basotho Democratic National Party deputy leader, Pelele Letsoela, said it was a pity that parliament had been rendered powerless to decide on critical international affairs.
Letsoela said there is no law binding the executive to consult parliament before deciding on whatever the international community is discussing or is concerned about.
“The government is under no legal obligation to consult us,” he said.
Letsoela said the executive has for years made it a tradition to make decisions binding the nation without engaging the people through their representatives in parliament.
“The executive always assumes that by virtue of having the majority of seats in parliament it has the people’s mandate in whatever it does,” Letsoela said.
He said it is high time that the parliament enacts a law that will bind the executive to seek mandate from the people through parliament before signing any international convention or protocol.
Lesotho Workers Party leader, Macaefa Billy, however offered a different opinion.
Billy said there is nothing wrong with the government deciding to send troops to DRC without informing or consulting parliament because “at this stage Sadc has no other option but to rush to DRC’s aid”.
Billy said the UN peace-keeping mission has disappointed the Africans by standing aside while the rebels massacred people in various parts of the continent and “it is up to us as the African Union and Sadc to ensure the safety of our people”.
“I understand that sending troops to DRC is urgent,” he said.
He added: “People should not be left to die at the hands of armed groups while we wait to debate whether we should intervene or not.”
The main opposition Democratic Congress secretary general, Ralechate ’Mokose, said although Lesotho’s army does not work in isolation from other regional militaries it is still wise for Thabane to address parliament about the issue.
“By virtue of being a member of the regional body Lesotho has made a commitment to take part in regional activities such as peace-keeping,” ’Mokose said.
“Where there is instability in the region Lesotho is expected to contribute to the regional efforts to restore peace because Lesotho is not an island, it works in partnership with other countries in Sadc,” he said.
“However, I understand that the relevant ministry will address parliament about this big issue.”