Everyone on the reforms train now, please!

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Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane

THIS is the third consecutive intervention I make to plead with everyone to get on board the train of the imminent six-sector reforms, following among others the misgivings expressed by the main opposition quarters and some opinion leaders in our midst, citing an inclement political environment.

On 15 September 2017, the former prime minister and Democratic Congress leader, Pakalitha Mosisili, the Popular Front for Democracy leader Lekhetho Rakuoane, and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) spokesperson Teboho Sekata held a media briefing broadly on the subject.

They said the LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing and his deputy, Tšeliso Mokhosi, joined by the DC deputy leader Mathibeli Mokhothu had been forced into exile by fear of death or torture.  They also cited the alleged collapse of separation of powers, to wit (1) a minister recently chided the chief prosecutor for gifting Mr Mokhosi bail on lax terms by refusing to oppose his second attempt (where the Communications Minister Joang Molapo contended that Mr Mokhosi didn’t produce evidence of claimed torture and bad health) despite the investigating officer’s opposition thereto; and (2) appointment of Justice Kananelo Mosito as president of the Court of Appeal while Justice Robert Nugent of South Africa was still in office – having been appointed amidst the electioneering that saw the birth of the current government.

They also charged the prosecution-bashing minister with the “arbitrary” closure of MoAfrika FM, recently christened by them as their fortress persecuted by the state for that. These conditions contaminated the atmosphere of unfettered, fearless and tranquil participation in government as an inalienable right conferred by the Constitution; and precluded a wholesome participation in the reforms, their bulletin declared.

Dr Mosisili’s then private secretary Mamello Morrison openly boasted on radio, just before 2017 elections, that “their” state used “our imported South African red-lipped Boer judges” to overturn sensitive cases that compromised their crude partisan interests. I have cited twice here and elsewhere the dubious public posture of the chief prosecutor, his displaying and public reading on, and voluntary surrender to, MoAfrika FM in May 2015 the correspondence among the prime minister, the ministers of justice and law and himself – where he was boasting of defying politically-motivated machinations by the state to dilute his independence. As for MoAfrika FM, this time it was shut down lawfully by a cruel law of Dr Mosisili’s LCD before it split, which some of us vainly fought while the station cheered it. His apparently politically-motivated dropping or withdrawal or non-prosecution of cases involving prominent families of Dr Mosisili’s various regimes – including one on callous murder – is notorious, and some have been flaunted by him on radio. In November 2014, Mr Metsing openly called him his pillar when he threatened to defy court judgments against him – on High Court premises!

The opposition leaders correctly seize on the killing of LDF commander Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo by the similarly killed, Brigadier Bulane Sechele and his sidekick Colonel Tefo Hashatsi, as index of fragile security. They want an official enquiry, and official funerals for all to avoid bias.

“We understood clearly the importance of implementing the Phumaphi report recommendations; and the dangers of rushing it through, aware of the divisions in the army. Hence we pleaded with Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli to go home voluntarily, and that passed without a drop of blood shed. These three officers’ deaths are testimony to the correctness of our approach. Hence we opted for a general amnesty, in contrast with the Phumaphi wisdom which sowed vengeance and divisions by discriminatorily saying some soldiers should be pardoned while others are prosecuted!”, the former prime minister told the media – charging that he formed a commission on the death of a single officer, and three deaths called for that even more urgently. Yet he failed to do exactly that, blinking first when eyeballed by army criminals, and referring the matter to SADC; and returning to shield them with invocation of national sovereignty in the name of national stability.

Belling the cat, naming the fear

The former prime minister’s position as a client of Kamoli, Sechele and Hashatsi hasn’t changed to date.  His platform of sacrificing justice for their survival as self-anointed national heroes, hasn’t shifted an inch in three years. Yet we pose the question: exactly what would be the end of what some call the Kamoli Defence Force (KDF) of Kamoli, Sechele, Hashatsi and others – from their own mapping of the world? Eternal dominance and majority of the forces of “amnesty” and impunity, christening rebellion as self-sacrificing service to God, King and Country as Congress leaders did on the eve of this apparent bungled coup?  Even as their numbers were declining, shown by the disastrous outing of the Alliance of Democrats (whose position calling for general amnesty or universal trial  as alternative hasn’t formally changed), the cataclysmic crash of the LCD, and the boiled-vegetable dwindling of the DC?

And remember, this end of the world was predicted by the former minister at Hololo DC rally in June 2016, and embraced by his deputy in an ominous defeat-accepting speech this last June, where he called for an alliance to defend soldiers who “put their heads on the block to return us to power”! Alternatively, short of staging a “revolution” or popular coup, did they realistically expect the incumbent rulers to “peacefully coexist” with them? Yet such a revolution was popular only in those circles that polled a horrifying decline in June 3 elections.

The “lion of the highlands”, Tau ea Thaba, as Mosisili is fondly called, was here to make a case against a SADC contingency force which was being sanctioned as he was speaking, having been wished into being by his former advisor, Fako Likoti, in these pages at a time when the SADC Summit had agreed only to beef up the already existing Oversight Committee on Lesotho with security experts to give early warning against the likes of this abortive putsch.  Unlike former military ruler Major-General Metsing Lekhanya who needlessly predicted  (way back on July 1 instant!) that any injection of a foreign force could only trigger a fierce fight back by “the LDF” in protection of its “pride”, Tau ea Thaba is circumspect, saying only that after its departure, the country could revert to pre-existing state of affairs.  In its place he proposes a home-grown all-party mechanism where every politician will have a say on how to navigate this watershed conjuncture, with a possible inclusion of civil society, plus a “truth and reconciliation” commission for permanent healing. That is well and good, save that it shouldn’t pretend to be a substitute for flushing criminality from the army.  In the case of 1998, the same Tau established the Interim Political Authority (IPA) where the “reformers” hammered the electoral model and related frameworks for “peace” while the government exclusively went about its business; then the court martial for rebel soldiers, and later still the Leon Commission to hound his adversaries, choosing whom to fry or spare. That is the prerogative of the state at all times. It would be good if national consensus guided the exercise of such prerogative, and it presently doesn’t coincide with Tau’s preference for inaction in the name of preserving stability. This is a euphemism for absolving willy-nilly those who foiled democracy with arms of war for his benefit, as he and his ally Mothetjoa Metsing have publicly boasted on the point of both the birth and demise of their regime. But why would Mosisili, Sechele & Co want to impose this ideal, and not mediate its materialisation through statutory organs and institutions, along the lines of what was unfolding at the time of these “heroic” deaths, where Hashatsi met his notorious wish of dying to stop them? Their alternatives are well known, and they lost a referendum on them on June 3.

The fallacy of threat to reforms

Contrary to popular self-emboldening threats, started in the opposition ranks of 2015, the fact that by definition government is majority of parliamentarians, says it can go about the reforms alone. That doesn’t make them unpopular if they represent what the majority of the citizenry prefer; and vice versa. It provokes a dip in government’s popularity if they are passed through a forced absence of the opposition resultant upon some palpably present, universally provable political instability; including threat to personal safety and security imposed by the state on those opposing it. This is a nuanced subject, since personal security is internationally judged subjectively from how the subject himself perceives or describes his condition. Validating and verifying it is by definition a tall order, especially when the subject is outside the locus whose elements he sees/describes as constituting source of fear and insecurity for him. In the circumstances, if the opposition held out and, like the current main ruling ABC and its first two partners in 2015/16, boycotted parliament in solidarity with their self-exiled leaders, that could only lead to a long-drawn attrition if government in its turn didn’t commence on the reforms in the absence of this bloc.

Once the process is in full swing, and genuinely “inclusive” except for their own absence, and if it were to be proven that the state did its utmost to address their security, thus placing it on a high moral ground; it would be both remiss and self-wounding of the opposition to insist on boycotting the process. Parliament and the reforms process will be symbiotically plugging into each other while running as parallel processes, like the IPA process. Boycotting one while participating in the other might not make good sense, while ejecting from both might well be seen as exiting representative public life, thereby attracting a charge of betraying their mandate, or pilfering the public purse by drawing salaries not sweated for. These were the charges they themselves eminently levelled at the first three coalition parties in the ninth parliament.

Whatever sympathy and toleration that the 2015 opposition enjoyed, probably flowed from the palpably present cloud of fear, a canopy of state terror discharging from throats of state ministers, the rogue soldiery and ruling Congress parties’ spokesmen, the prime minister and leading ministers’ clear support for Kamoli’s single-minded, anti-Thabane statements and near-felling of his government a year earlier, and the dross that came out at the Phumaphi Commission where from very early the country was exposed as being practically run by the army in security affairs, militarily dictating the pulse of public / political life. While the lie of the land is arguably different for today’s opposition in exile, this aspect of our nationhood must be the prime move and entry point of any reforms process, in normalising state-society relations and steadying the hands of the state on the reins of national affairs. Without that, any government is on a knife edge, and the 5 September 2017 killings are stark witness of the same.  If it is proven that the current whimpers and whines of the former prime minister and his lieutenants, with whom he has been variously implicated in hobnobbing with the coup mongers of August 2014, seek only to pamper those who should be made to account therefore, their self-exclusion from the reforms process can only be judged as blackmail of the nation by outlaws.

State integrity and reforms

Those who bear the mandate of state power are obligated more than everybody else to come to the process with clean hands. The Coalition Agreement names its first objective as “To rescue Lesotho from the current downward spiral into lawlessness, conflict, political instability, economic stagnation, and degradation of democracy”. They didn’t need to state that to be held to it as a central standard of constitution of statehood; not to mention that it was on that ticket/mandate that their parties were elected. The spate of informal reports of claims of police torture of presumed criminal suspects and “innocent citizens” makes for a very unsettling impression. Though this doesn’t constitute government policy, and cannot by any formal presumption be taken to so do, the prime minister’s remarks during the police ministry 2017/8 budget debate in late July, that the police should inflict pain on suspects when out of sight to set example of fruits of crime, and make sure that they didn’t get caught because he wouldn’t defend them, has been seized upon by the opposition and rights groups as signalling to the peace officers that this regime countenances such human rights violations. Both the police minister and the acting police commissioner have been reported on radio as saying they don’t operate by that diktat, and the commissioner promptly apologised for any cases where that might have happened, imploring members of the public to report the cases so that action could be taken. He pledged that culture was foreign to the police and not in their training or ethic.

The eminent cases of the LCD leader and his deputy’s flight remain inscrutable: the former says he fled after being tipped off that a contingent of police was headed to  his home in Mahobong, intent on apprehending and finally killing him, while his deputy and party spokesman say the national leadership resolved he should hide abroad as a precaution in case anything was planned against him; and the deputy himself says he fled (while on bail on murder charges) after he was told while travelling in town that strange vehicles were seen near his Mabote home! Mr Mokhosi never claimed torture on appearing in court after statutory maximum 48 hours in detention, then consignment to awaiting-trial custody after being denied bail. He reportedly didn’t adduce any evidence to that effect when he was controversially given bail on second attempt, only to flee.

The prime minister was perhaps denied opportunity to “redeem” himself when the Speaker disallowed the LCD leader’s motion demanding that he withdraw his controversial remarks supposedly sanctioning torture, on the break of the current sine die recess of the House. The ruling parties haven’t come out unambiguously to condemn the prospect or purport of continuation of the culture of torture which is legendary in the LMPS. That would have gone a long way to weaken the hype of Statehouse sponsoring torture, or such an ethos having a home in their ranks as the fount of the current regime. In the circumstances, the state could have afforded itself some relief by establishing an eminent persons’ group to investigate the veracity of torture claims. Chief Molapo promptly invited the trademark international organisations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch International Red Cross, etc) to visit Lesotho and investigate Mr Mokhosi’s claims of torture. That invite should remain open and extend to all traceable cases.

The questions and answers for the 2017 regime are the same as those for the 2014 conjuncture: how does a “transformationist” state coincide with a conservative judiciary and prosecution which are amenable to any change, but plainly interested in the preservation of the “rot”? What of the senior officers and diplomats who are dispatched amidst elections with apparent mandate to destabilise the foreseeably incoming alternative regime, some with legendary displays of disdain for the prospective incumbents; with the rent-seeking aim of being “bought out” and profiting from a state they aren’t even remotely interested in serving?  Here you might wish to hearken to the caveat that haste is waste; to multilateralise some of the processes like clearing of the judiciary or pray that the hegemony of the new dispensation will cast its spell on them and convert their manners – which hope proved futile in the first tour of this regime, perhaps due to its avowedly frontal approach. No doubt this time any semblance of a bare-knuckled approach might not topple the government like the 2014 adventure, but it will tax its credibility whereas everybody expects it to in every way act in a manner opposite to the ancient regime. For the umpteenth time, given the path travelled by the past two coalition governments, and their common fate thereon, without insinuating or injecting any bad blood among the current partners; while the premier “gives direction”, and “speaks government” – I advise that it would be soothing to have the various party heads speaking on the current ground-breaking developments, even if only through their party executives.

l Mr Selinyane’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Lesotho Times.

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