AS the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) prepares to deploy 258 soldiers into Lesotho on 20 November 2017 as part of ongoing efforts to end perennial instability in the Kingdom, the Lesotho Times sat down with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane for a detailed review of his government’s work since he re-assumed power. In his first major interview since taking the oath of office on 16 June 2017, his second in five years, Dr Thabane issues a strong warning to his predecessor, Pakalitha Mosisili, who has spoken out against the SADC deployment. Dr Thabane warns Dr Mosisili of severe consequences if the former prime minister continues seeking to destabilise the current coalition government. Dr Thabane also vows to fight corruption while ending Lesotho’s blighted tag as the “bad-boy” of the SADC region. Excerpts;
Lesotho Times: You returned to office as Prime Minister on Friday 16 June 2017. Can you take us through what you inherited and your plans in putting an end to Lesotho’s perennial instability?
Dr Thabane: I inherited a huge mess. The world will be aware of the litany of human rights abuses under the previous regime (of former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili), the killings of opponents, the torture of citizens and all the impunity that forced many Basotho including myself into long periods of exile. I inherited a cesspit of corruption. I found a total neglect of the economy. I found a total neglect of corruption. You will be aware of the corrupt deals like the Bidvest deal (in which South Africa’s Bidvest was awarded a multi-million government fleet contract without a tender process and amid kickback claims). I inherited an unimaginable mess by a self-serving elite that benefited immensely from corruption and was ruling for itself and not the people. My coalition has started reversing that neglect. We have taken steps to hold those responsible for rights abuses accountable (former army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli accused of perpetrating many atrocities is now in jail). We have restored the rule of law as an indispensable pre-requisite for development. Corruption remains a problem because it benefits a few and robs the poor. I am determined to root out corruption in all its manifestations in the Lesotho system. The issue of corruption will be dealt with from my office. I am not going to delegate the fight against corruption. I will lead it myself. I invite the nation to support this effort. I am moving the DCEO (the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences) into my offices so that I can monitor it myself and ensure that it (the DCEO) discharges its mandate effectively. I will take it (the DCEO) back to its relevant ministry (Ministry of Law and Constitutional Affair) when it has finished nailing all the crooks.
Lesotho Times: Having inherited such a mess, what is your vision for Lesotho?
Dr Thabane: At the end of the five years that I have applied for to be in this office, Lesotho would have definitely moved from being a least developed country to a developing country.
Lesotho Times: Amnesty International recently accused your government of failing to tackle human rights abuses in your first 100 days in office?
Dr Thabane: Nothing is further from the truth. I have been doing all that I can and everything that is feasible to restore the rule of law in Lesotho. But of course I need support from the region, continent and the big powers. Thankfully, we are receiving immense assistance from our regional body SADC and our international development partners. I also thank the British and the Americans in that regard. Amnesty International are free to come here and see what we have done and what we continue doing. We will be happy to engage them because they need to be better informed to avoid issuing incorrect reports. Many have been arrested and charged for different atrocities committed. We are making progress.
Lesotho Times: What is holding SADC back because the deployment of its forces has been delayed umpteen times and there is no guarantee that the forces will even be here on the next promised date, 20 November 2017?
Dr Thabane: The sooner SADC can do the deployment the better. I cannot over-emphasize Lesotho’s need for help from our regional partners in helping us do the things that we must to achieve permanent stability here.
Lesotho Times: What are those things?
Dr Thabane: After getting rid of Hitler, Germany went on a course of massive development and transmogrified into a first world economy. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are indispensable pre-requisites for development. Germany would never have moved to where it is now with a Hitler in charge. Here in Lesotho, we have our own little Hitlers. In fact all talk of instability emanates from the actions of these little Hitlers. We need to contain them and hold them accountable. Lesotho is classified as a least developed country but we ought to have done better.
Lesotho Times: Soon after you were sworn into office, we saw the murder of army commander Khoantle Motšomotšo by other senior army officers who thought he was cooperating with you too much at their expense? With such brazen incidents, will we ever see political stability in Lesotho, the current efforts of SADC notwithstanding?
Dr Thabane: The problem with Lesotho has wrongly been labelled as a political issue. It’s not political. It’s a problem of the behaviour of certain people who have through cheating and other malpractices found themselves in positions of power. They have, in turn, used that power to rape the treasury and enrich themselves. To protect themselves from the consequences of their political actions, they resort to abusing the army. That is why I have set fighting corruption as a cornerstone of my term in office and I ask the nation to support me in that drive. I am determined to root out corruption in all its forms and manifestations out of the Lesotho system. Instability ensues when the corrupt enlists the army in the furtherance of their objectives. Remember, corrupt people are bad and they have money to hire criminals to kill people they do not like. A lot of those corrupt people do not like me. But I did not come into this world to be liked by bad people. I want to be liked by good people. I therefore ask the nation to be brave and come up to give evidence against corrupt people. I also ask for the protection of whistle-blowers.
Lesotho Times: Strictly speaking, does Lesotho need an army, seeing that it’s wholly surrounded by South Africa and faces no obvious external threats?
Dr Thabane: No. It’s not necessary to have a classical army. But the reality is that it is there. The decision to establish the Lesotho Defence Force was made earlier by others and we have inherited it. So the army is now a reality that we cannot wish away? What’s important is for the army to be professional and stick to its mandate and not meddle in politics.
The way that the present Congress leadership has been using the army is exactly what the Congress movement complained about during the BNP/Leabua Jonathan era. It surprises one that people condemn something and then find it perfectly acceptable when they are the ones benefiting from that same thing.
Lesotho Times: The reform of Lesotho’s security cluster is among key recommendations made by SADC’s Mpaphi Phumaphi-led Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability. How are you reforming the Lesotho Defence Force to ensure that it sticks to its professional mandate?
Dr Thabane: The army, like all employees of government, should accept that it has to operate under civilian control in a democracy. If they (the army) cannot do so, then they must let us know so we can take measures to close down the army. They (army) cannot be a government subsidised body in the country that does not respect the rule of law. The army, like everybody else, should live by the rule of law. It (the army) has to live within the dictates of the constitution. The army cannot be above the constitution. And also, the size of the army and its functions and so on is now a debate that I think Basotho should engage in. The size and composition is the debate that Lesotho must go into together with its cooperating partners. Shouldn’t more money go to police to fight crimes such as stock theft or raping of women? Those questions should be interrogated…….
Lesotho Times: Your predecessor, former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili, has warned you not to bring in SADC forces into Lesotho arguing that local problems must be resolved by Basotho and the bringing in of foreign troops could plunge the country into more instability and chaos as these forces would be seen to have been brought for retribution on your behalf?
Dr Thabane: When he (Dr Mosisili) was prime minister, he did what he thought was best for the country. I am now the prime minister and he must respect my decisions…. and he must go to his home and enjoy his pension. If his pension is not enough and he is not enjoying himself, then he must say so and ask Parliament to review it…. I am now the prime minister and I am not taking orders from him. He must be grateful that I am not taking away his pension. If he provokes me I can take away that pension and dig up his issues which I had decided to ignore. For the sake of peace, I had decided to ignore his misdeeds but if he pushes me, I will go for him. I will go for him like a tonne of bricks. Those who love Mr Mosisili should warn him that I will go for him like a tonne of bricks. He must stop destabilising my government and behave as a dignified former prime minister so that if need arises, I can send him to represent the country at events abroad.
Lesotho Times: Mosisili has also publicly called upon his supporters to prepare for elections, suggesting that he believes your coalition (just like his own) would soon collapse with Lesotho holding its fourth general elections in under six years?
Dr Thabane: I am not going to dignify that with a response. Suffice to warn him (Dr Mosisili) that I will descend on him heavily if he remains bent on creating the chaos that we saw during his rule? Mosisili’s regime did many bad things. Basotho who went into exile were running away from him. He exiled people including me. My focus now is to get this country out of the hell-hole that Mosisili put it into. At the end of the five years I have applied to be in office, I want to see Lesotho moving from being a least developed country to a developing country…
Lesotho Times: The question still remains on how exactly you aim to achieve that?
Dr Thabane: My agenda is to use all the available capable manpower in the country and the tremendous goodwill that Lesotho enjoys from the rest of the world. I will keep very good relations with democratic forces in the world including the USA and its Mr (Donald) Trump. I am aware that a lot of leaders are worried about Mr Trump and his pronouncements on Africa. I see no problem in him asking us (in Africa) to stop being corrupt. If he seriously wants to help African leaders to stop corruption, then he is my man. Lesotho is classified as least developed but we have some very strong sources of revenue that come into the government kitty including the sale of water to South Africa. It’s extremely critical for Basotho to know how much SA pays for water supplied to Gauteng, the biggest economy in SA. It is important for Basotho to know where the money goes from the many taxes that their government imposes on them….. Per capita, and in SADC and indeed in Africa as a whole, Lesotho has a very large number of educated individuals and these educated people cover most of the spheres of life that would make a very big difference if that knowledge was properly utilised in Lesotho. Instead, those brains are all over southern Africa enriching other countries with their knowledge. When they acquired education in Lesotho, it was not paid for by their parents but by the state. There are very few people in Lesotho, who hold high qualifications, whose education was paid for by their parents. But our manpower is in SA, Botswana and elsewhere because successive governments have not had the wisdom to keep them at home. It is absolutely necessary for those people to come back home because most of them did not leave because they wanted more money but because they were under all sorts of discrimination and security threats.
Lesotho Times: You mentioned the Americans but they have demanded that all SADC recommended political and security reforms be implemented by your government forthwith to try and end perennial instability?
Dr Thabane: I understand the US administration’s feeling on that and I undertake to do it, and I appeal to them to keep on supporting us.
Lesotho Times: What have been the major obstacles to implementing these SADC reforms? Your predecessor, Dr Mosisili, has once again warned that the opposition won’t cooperate with your government unless opposition leaders in exile return.
Dr Thabane: But most of the people who were in exile were running away from him (Mosisili). They are my people. I don’t understand what they have to do with him. He exiled people together with me. I came back and risked my neck. The truth is I did not come here through any agreement with Mosisili. I just walked in. Mosisili did not assist my return. The man who assisted me was (Deputy Prime Minister Monyane) Moleleki (Mosisili’s former ally who broke away from then ruling Democratic Congress). Not SADC, not Mosisili assisted in my return. I just came here when Moleleki said come home and I said oh, are you there. And he said ‘yes I have broken away from those people, come back’. And I came back. I wasn’t brought back by SADC, I wasn’t brought back by anyone. I was brought back by my agreement with Moleleki.
Lesotho Times: Lastly, your critics accuse you of repeating the mistakes of the very same Mosisili led coalition government that you replaced by targeting your opponents the same way you were targeted? For instance former deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing has fled to South Africa citing threats from your government and failure to provide him with protection?
Dr Thabane: Metsing is a fugitive from justice. He must go and talk to (Borotho) Matsoso (the head of the anti-corruption directorate the DCEO) because Matsoso has a file on him. All Matsoso will ask him is to go to court and prove his innocence. He must go to court to prove his innocence. He must come back and answer corruption charges against him. We will not molest him. We will give him protection to go to court until the case is over. He must come and have his day in court for corruption. His attempts to portray himself as a victim of my government is very unfortunate when he knows that he is running away from the corruption charges that he must answer to.
Lesotho Times: But Mr Metsing has insisted that you denied him security when he faced threats on his life after you returned to power?
Dr Thabane: There were no threats against him (Metsing). He has been lying (in his interviews in South African media). He has been attributing the threats to me. How do you ask for protection from someone threatening you? He has never been threatened by anyone from me. I never asked anyone to threaten Metsing. I have never done that. He is lying. If he wants to come back he must let us know. We will get him protected. He can even tell us who his friends are in the army…then we will assign them to protect him so he feels safe being protected by his friends. But then he must have his day in court.
Lesotho Times: What is your last word to the world and to your people?
Dr Thabane: To the rest of the world, I say Lesotho is open for business. There is now in place a new coalition government that respects the rule of law and human rights. For too long, Lesotho has been the bad boy of SADC. I am putting that to an end. We have a wide array of investment opportunities for you to consider? Come and set up your businesses here and you will find an abundance of good, skilled and disciplined labour. As I have already explained, Germany could not get rid of Hitler on its own. The rest of the world helped it and Germany is now one of the most prosperous countries in Europe because it God rid of Hitler. Lesotho will become a very prosperous country after we get rid of our own Hitlers. We are inviting the world to help us remove our own Hitlers. To the rest of Basotho, I say let’s keep the peace. Let’s follow good. All people in authority including the chiefs in the villages, politicians and everybody must think of Lesotho as their hope and only hope. And that Lesotho has the capacity to have every citizen eating three times a day, every child going to school and every person living in complete safety.