. . . as Harrington completes Lesotho mission
THE United States has commended the Lesotho government for prosecuting members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) implicated in various crimes, saying the move sent a “strong signal” of Maseru’s commitment to “eliminating a pattern of impunity”.
Lesotho’s largest donor has, however, underscored the need for “concrete actions” in the implementation of set governance and rule of law reforms for the country to be eligible for a second multi-million dollar compact grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
Implementation of recommendations made by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability, the Americans also say, is another benchmark for the country to continue to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
United States Ambassador to Lesotho, Matthew Harrington, said this in an exclusive interview with the Lesotho Times this week after completing his three-year tenure in Lesotho.
The career diplomat began his tour of duty to the Mountain Kingdom in October 2014, and will take up an unspecified new role in Washington.
In Ambassador Harrington’s place will come Ambassador Rebecca Gonzales, who has been a diplomat since 1992.
However, the date for Ambassador Gonzales’ deployment to Lesotho is still uncertain, as she is yet to be confirmed for the role by the United States Senate.
Ambassador Harrington’s tenure in Lesotho began at a tumultuous time in the country. Prime Minister Thabane had recently returned from South Africa after fleeing the country on a tip off that his life was in danger on the eve of the 30 August 2014 attempted coup on his first government.
Dr Thabane only returned to Lesotho in September 2014 under heavy South African police guard.
The coup attempt resulted in the fatal shooting of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko and triggered a chain of events that led to the eventual collapse of Dr Thabane’s first government and the intervention of SADC to prevent all out chaos.
Since a Dr Thabane-led four-party coalition government assumed power in June 2017, it committed to prosecute people implicated in various unresolved crimes especially in the military.
A number of LDF members have already been arrested and charged with various crimes, including former LDF commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
The former army chief was on Monday charged with murdering Sub-Inspector Ramahloko along with three other LDF members.
Lt-Gen Kamoli was also charged with 14 counts of attempted murder for the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesiah Thabane, ‘Mamoshoeshoe Moletsane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner Khothatso Tšooana.
The prosecutions are in line with SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations for ensuring lasting peace in the instability-prone Kingdom.
Ambassador Harrington said he was more optimistic about Lesotho’s political prospects now than at the beginning of his tenure.
“Politically, I would say that I am optimistic in a way that I was not optimistic three years ago,” he said.
“Let us be honest, Lesotho has been through a difficult three years which have been full of challenges on the political and security side.”
The envoy lauded the Lesotho government for addressing some of the Americans’ rule of law and governance concerns to ensure eligibility for developmental aid. He said the United States government annually poured in US$80 million (about M1.091 billion) to Lesotho to fund various developmental projects.
Lesotho has until December this year to implement the benchmarks for eligibility in the multi-million dollar compact grant from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
MCC is a multilateral American foreign aid agency established by the United States Congress in 2004, with beneficiary countries expected to meet certain conditions with regards to good governance and respect for the rule of law to qualify.
In 2007, MCC and Lesotho signed the first US$362.6 million (over M3 billion) compact to reduce poverty and spur economic growth.
The five-year compact among others, helped fund the construction of Metolong Dam, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to mitigate the negative economic impact of poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.
Lesotho was supposed to receive its second compact last year, but on 16 December 2015, the MCC Board opted against voting on the issue, citing governance concerns. Among their main concerns was the 25 June 2015 killing of former Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, by his erstwhile colleagues.
In December 2016, the MCC Board again deferred a vote on the reselection of Lesotho for a second compact “until governance concerns have been addressed”.
A determination on Lesotho’s eligibility for a second MCC compact was scheduled for March this year, but was deferred to December to give the Americans time to assess progress in the addressing of rule of law and governance concerns.
AGOA gives duty-free and quota-free access to the US market to eligible Sub-Saharan African countries including Lesotho.
The Mountain Kingdom’s textile and garment industry, which is anchored on AGOA, employs more than 40 000 people, in addition to other downstream sectors. The AGOA legislation provides the US administration greater flexibility in reviewing countries on an ongoing basis, including by initiating “out-of-cycle” reviews at any point during the calendar year
The benchmarks include implementation of SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations such as prosecution of people implicated in various unresolved crimes and security sector reforms.
Ambassador Harrington said the arrests of soldiers implicated in various crimes was “eliminating a pattern of impunity” in the country.
“I commend the new government for its efforts to address the rule of law and governance concerns. They are making some very difficult decisions when it comes to eliminating this pattern of impunity that we see particularly in the Lesotho Defence Force and moving to ensure that people who have committed crimes are held accountable for those crimes,” he said.
“That move to restore a culture of accountability is really important and the government deserve credit for that.”
Ambassador Harrington added: “But it’s a complicated situation and I think the army has been at the centre of most instances of political instability since it was created 40 years ago.
“I think that ensuring that those who committed crimes are held accountable is very important.”
Anyone who breaks the law should be made accountable, the diplomat said.
“And if there is evidence that members of the LDF have violated the law they should be held accountable.
“And watching what is happening, I think the government is making a real move to do that. My concern (and I think it is not just my concern but that of a lot of observers of Lesotho too) is that the army has been a challenge and there hasn’t been full civilian control of the military, yet the military has been at the centre of most incidents of political instability. So, any attempt to address that is a good thing and so I see that as a positive.”
Security sector reform, the envoy said, was the most important aspect of all the envisaged multi-sector reforms which also encompass the constitution, judiciary, public service, legislature and media among others.
“It is without question that security sector reform is the most important and the most urgent and I am very pleased that the government is moving in that direction.”
He said the SADC Commission of Inquiry recommendations had two parts.
“The first part was the backward looking part and it was about accountability and the need to eliminate this culture of impunity and holding people accountable.
“The second part was the forward-looking piece about how you prevent these sort of things from happening in the future. How to strengthen democratic institutions and this is done through a series of reforms to the security sector, public service, constitution and the judiciary.”
Ambassador Harrington continued: “Not much has happened on that front yet, but I understand that there is a dialogue happening this week and there are steps in the direction of the national dialogue and the government has begun to set up a structure that will take the reforms process forward.”