Potholes in opposition reforms roadmap

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Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane

THE main opposition views on our country’s future continue to baffle many a good citizen. The former prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili’s Democratic Congress (DC) and its second co-ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) only came at the last minute into the church/European Union-mediated, all-party pledge to accept election results and implement reforms.

Of the ninth parliament’s seven-party ruling coalition, the non-congress Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) and National Independence Party (NIP) told this paper four weeks ago that they would unequivocally honour their commitment to reforms, and do their utmost to overcome any hurdles thereto.  Of the main Congress parties, the DC said it would gladly join the action “should we be invited”; while the LCD said ambiguously that the environment was not conducive and it wouldn’t participate “while we still have to duck and hide” – whereas their government had already submitted a two-year roadmap for the same to SADC when it suddenly fell, and published it locally.  In an unpredicted fashion since the landmark open-air solemnisation of peaceful handover of power from one prime minister to his bitter rival in 2012 and 2015, the outgoing prime minister and DC leader opted not to speak at the occasion in June 2017.  The DC has since acquiesced in a limping LCD-led questioning of the election results and calling for an all-party unity government – a gambit which has been thrown into disarray as the party was reported by the Lesotho News Agency to have withdrawn its court challenge, though the party issued an ambiguous, feeble rebuttal of the report.

The deputy leader of the DC and Official Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mathibeli Mokhothu, has blundered again on MoAfrikaFM since the SADC Summit of August 19, 2019 where Prime Minister Thomas Thabane repeated his inauguration pledge to implement all the now widely, if not universally, embraced six-sector reforms covering the security forces, the parliament, the courts, the constitution, the public service, and the media and information. There Mr Mokhothu flew off at a tangent and explicitly alleged that SADC had promised the government to field regional forces to disturb peace and fan instability in Lesotho by “punishing” the loyal and obedient Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) members, forcibly returning to service the soldiers incarcerated (and currently on open arrest after prolonged detention ordeal) on mutiny charges and others who fled to South Africa to escape the prospect of the same ordeal.

Mr Mokhothu’s handler would seem to be one Johnson Fako Likoti, who wrote here on the same subject of an imaginary military intervention under the heading “Can an intervention bring reforms?” Exactly why the two subjects of military intervention and reforms would have anything to do with each other, only Dr Likoti knows. Dr Likoti starts out writing that “speculation is rife that there will be a military intervention in Lesotho as a consequence of assisting the government of Lesotho, to implement paragraph 19 of the communiqué which demands a roadmap and security reforms”. As a sober thought, this statement is nonsensical: how does (an undefined) assistance have military intervention as its consequence? That communiqué nowhere singles out security reforms, but makes general reference to reforms, and only congratulates the government for commitment thereto, and to implementation of all the Summit decisions on Lesotho, while urging, not demanding, production of a roadmap. The SADC decisions are Phumaphi recommendations for completion of the Mahao murder investigation and prosecution of those fingered, release of the LDF “mutiny” accused and safe return of army exiles, suspension and prosecution of LDF personnel named for crimes of treason, murder and attempted murder, and the six-sector reforms.

While admitting there is no mention of “intervention” in the communiqué, Dr Likoti says the Foreign Affairs Minister Lesego Makgothi “had put some spark on this speculation” when he said in a mid-Summit interview that Lesotho had requested the beefing of the SADC Oversight Committee in Lesotho with high-level military personnel- like those on the Phumaphi Commission – to enable the region a first-hand appreciation of the blockages or resistance that might be encountered, in case it had to assist in overcoming the same. Yet, the minister later said, even as this decision was taken, the LDF Commander gave a resounding assurance that he was in full control and did not anticipate any hurdles in the effectuation of the government’s orders. Contrary to the false convictions of the Congress ideologues, he has already said he knows and accepts that dissolution of that dubious court martial is the prerogative of the defence minister.  Stressing that this does not sit well with “some people”, and challenging the minister to divorce his statements, Dr Likoti reminds us that SADC works on the principles of sovereign equality, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and brotherhood. This is important to bear in mind, he says, in light of the unpalatable seeds of the 1998 military intervention.  Likoti doesn’t canvass these seeds of 1998, but could they not have been the same intransigence against prosecution of national business via mutually accommodating, peaceful resolution conflicts?

Under a section that pretends to draw the lessons of 1998, the former cop does none of such; save to say it was motivated by South Africa’s political interests, not political instability or a humanitarian crisis – which he says are the requirements for such action.   Despite the promise of the article’s title, Likoti makes no effort whatsoever to speak to the subject of reforms, but just keeps asking whether the intervention is in the offing, contending that SADC as yet has no clear procedures and criteria for the same, and must follow UN Charter provisions, which are given effect by resolutions of the UN Security Council – unlike the case of 1998; and then recoils into the shell of peaceful resolution of conflicts. But we don’t have outstanding conflicts in Lesotho; even the half-hearted, shame-faced LCD’s court challenge of four constituencies has been withdrawn, and its variegated grumbling to SADC has been rejected out of hand, while posing no threat of violence.  This much Likoti accepts, only for the benefit of saying this scenario “doesn’t warrant the above ministerial statement of policing national reforms by foreign forces”. In the end, Dr Likoti succumbs to a compulsive urge to lie; saying “the contemplated intervention” should carefully consider that SADC owes Lesotho good neighbourliness; and its predictable pretext of a humanitarian intervention can only be valid when internationally accepted as such; though he says contemporary history is riddled with cases of circumventing this process.

Intervention requires acceptance by all national players, Dr Likoti falsely claims; but for now the Basotho should not be forced “by gunboat diplomacy to conduct what is in their national interest”.

Yet this last point turns his argument on its head – modern self-destructing nations are shepherded that way, though we don’t need that now. Although the notion of good neighbourliness is weird to apply in relations of supranational bodies and their members; if SADC were to show any bad neighbourliness, this time around, first time in 37 years, what would be the cause of that? The very attitude of making it a yoyo or Ping-Pong, shielding our rulers from consequences of their atrocious decisions, often trading national sovereignty then invoking it to insulate themselves from any obligations of civil statehood and nation building?  Though the communiqué makes no reference to security reforms, it is clear which quarters of the affected departments of state would resist the reforms, in ways that might warrant assist based on intimate knowledge of the state of security – meaning the degree of subordination of the forces to elected politician and their use only for common good.  Likoti refers this use of the forces only in the common interests as an important condition for UN-sanctioned intervention.

It is now common cause that Dr Likoti, along with former deputy prime minister and LCD leader Mothetjoa Metsing widely propagated a thesis that in Lesotho the army answers only to itself under “their” Khokanyan’a Phiri coalition government, and both Mr Metsing and his former boss Dr Mosisili publicly associated the army with their political fortunes; while the military parades’ instructions to vote for their parties, and vitriol charged at the current prime minister thereat are now legend thanks to the Phumaphi Commission. It was at the Commission that Lt-Col. Tefo Hashatsi admitted that his vow to his Special Force to die for resistance of subordination to civilian authority was also preparedness to kill therefor.  These forces have a long decade of usage for all the wrong political and personal including criminal agendas! Minister Makgothi has said expressly that government doesn’t fully expect the fingered men to take their arraignment lying down; and their variously voiced commitment to resistance cannot be taken lightly. It isn’t resistance to reforms that might necessitate military intervention, though the bulk of LDF could quash any “uprising”; but the effect of such reforms, i.e. restoration of civilian supremacy and the rule of law.

Against this background, one can only understand Dr Likoti’s little, apostolic epistle of hope against the prospect of intervention. But the foregoing might not be surprising if we consider Dr Likoti’s journey to this point. As (economic and) political adviser to Dr Mosisili, Dr Likoti – whom local social media and other opinion leaders love teasing and taunting him by referring to him by the Sesotho translation of his family name “potholes” to imply his thought path is potholed – routinely abused widely revered statesmen, opposition leaders and leading activists, the media, churches and civil society – wrongly and pretentiously speaking and writing as (part of) the government; until he ended up fighting the DC’s battles at the IEC where he was turned away as having no standing or party authority to so do. He had on appointment given an exclusive interview to a South African television channel where he swore he was not chosen for being a DC member because he was not (sic) the party’s member, and shocked many by saying his role would be to learn and suck wisdom from his client the prime minister as he know far better and had insight that he could only envy!.  Being a former briefcase boy of the slain Basotho National Party minister and general secretary V.M. Makhele (of the notorious 1986 Khalong-la-Baroa murders), he made waves on being named as advisor of Mosisili who to this day – per a long train of public sayings – hates the BNP identity and party more than leprosy and equates it to an epitome of death.

As a protégé, a stable hand, and indoctrinated, unquestioning follower of a party bigwig, he went on to join the police  force when it was “reserved” for the ruling party’s boys and girls who couldn’t make it to college for lack of space or low elementary school grades.  Many who grew up with him or got to know him in these capacities were shocked when he furiously took to saying on radio, “We as the Congress of Lesotho know the cruelties of MaNazi (the BNP), and we are committed to fighting their evils and uprooting them” in the dying days of the DC-led ancient regime earlier this year.

Changing identity isn’t a bad thing as we respect everybody’s choice, but insulting your previous identity with pepperings of falsehoods that could easily divide a nation, in prosecution of a political project of hatred is socially protestable and morally reprehensible.

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

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