The American government has allegedly threatened to withdraw aid to Lesotho should the coalition administration fail to adhere to “democratic principles” and observe the rule of law as enshrined in the country’s constitution.
According to some Basotho working at the American Embassy in Maseru, their management this week informed them that Lesotho’s ratings on good governance—which is one of the criteria the United States government uses to determine its aid beneficiaries—would be “severely affected” if the coalition government proceeds to re-appoint Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli as Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander and “illegally” removes Lt Gen Maaparankoe Mahao.
Lt Gen Kamoli was dismissed as LDF commander in August 2014, but refused to vacate the post for Lt Gen Mahao, arguing then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had not followed due process in relieving him of the post for alleged insubordination.
However, the newly installed seven-party coalition government led by Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Pakalitha Mosisili, has since indicated that Lt Gen Kamoli is the rightful commander of the LDF—and declared that Lt Gen Mahao’s appointment was illegal.
Dr Mosisili last week gave Lt Gen Mahao seven days to “show cause” why he should not be fired from the post to which he was appointed “illegally” on 29 August 2014.
According to the workers, this development—and the fact that Lt Gen Kamoli has not been cleared of wrongdoing for the LDF attacks of three key Maseru police stations on the morning of 30 August 2014, which Dr Thabane later said was a coup attempt—had made the American government cautious in its dealings with the government, which came to power last month.
The workers also said the Americans were concerned that no-one had been charged for the 27 January 2014 bombings of three Maseru homes. According to the workers, the Americans said they perceived these as acts of terrorism and the US government “does not deal with terrorists”.
“What this means is that all the aid agencies which are bankrolled by the US government could end-up withholding funding or simply putting development projects on hold to the detriment of Lesotho’s economic development,” said one of the workers on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation.
“The US is interested in assisting Lesotho in any way possible, but this could change if the new coalition government is not careful in how it deals with governance issues.
“For instance, one of the conditions for countries to qualify for AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) is good governance and observing the rule of law, and by re-appointing Kamoli to the LDF post, the Americans could feel uncomfortable about it.
“We were told that we could find that by December this year when the score-cards are assessed for qualification to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, our country would not be qualifying anymore as a result of our government’s failure to adhere to democratic principles and the rule of law.
“The management also emphasised on AGOA, which as we all know, is very crucial to Lesotho’s economic survival.”
AGOA is a legislation approved by the American Congress in May 2000 to assist sub-Saharan economies and improve relations between the continent and the US. The law provides trade preferences for quota and duty-free entry into the United States for certain goods, notably textile products.
The legislation has played a big role in sustaining Lesotho’s textile industry, which is the single biggest private sector employer with approximately 39 000 workers, and should the country be removed from the list of benefitting nations, it goes without saying that the industry would be severely affected if not completely collapse, leaving scores of families destitute in the process.
Contacted for comment on the issue, the US Embassy Public Affairs Officer, Julie McKay said in a statement: “The United States remains a committed partner to the government of Lesotho and Basotho people and is proud to support Lesotho as it works to fight HIV/AIDS, strengthen democratic institutions, and promote economic growth.
“The long-standing commitment of the United States to supporting good governance and the rule of law around the world is well-established and our foreign assistance programmes reflect that commitment”.
Ms McKay further said an example of her country’s commitment to development is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – a bilateral United States foreign aid agency established by the American Congress in 2004.
“Countries are determined to be eligible to submit compact proposals based, in part, on their performance on the MCC scorecard which looks at each country’s continuing commitment to ruling justly, economic freedom, and investing in its people. Compact eligibility is assessed on an on-going basis. A demonstrable commitment to the rule of law and accountability are also critical pillars for the MCC,” said Ms McKay.
She pointed out that in December 2013, Lesotho qualified for the MCC Compact, based on several factors.
“This decision was based on Lesotho’s strong performance on the MCC scorecard, and commitment to the MCC partnership and principles. Beyond expecting a continued commitment to good governance, ensuring the sustainability of Compact I investments and advancing important policy reforms will also be important ways for the government to demonstrate its continued commitment to the MCC partnership,” said McKay.
Ms McKay added Lesotho’s continued development depended on the ability of the country’s leaders to “move forward together in a manner that builds confidence among all Basotho”.
She added the United States had welcomed the commitment of the seven parties’ coalition government to restore Lesotho’s stability and introduce constitutional and institutional reforms. In addition to the DC, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, Popular Front for Democracy, Lesotho People’s Congress, Basotho Congress Party , Marematlou Freedom Party and National Independent Party are also part of the new government.
“We welcome the commitment by the new government, articulated in its coalition agreement, to enhance stability and engage in parliamentary, civil service and security sector reforms, and will look for opportunities to support those reform efforts,” said McKay.
Meanwhile, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Tebello Metsing, yesterday told the Lesotho Times that he was not aware of such threats from the Americans.
Mr Metsing emphasised the US-Lesotho relationship was based on “mutual respect and non-interference in the other country’s governance”.
He added: “I doubt the US would make such threats as we work on a mutual basis and without their interference in our local issues as a country. I also fail to understand how Lt Gen Kamoli’s reinstatement would affect our country’s democracy.”