Who ‘owns’ the govt of Lesotho?

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Matsokoane Sebatane

This paper last week carried three interesting, mutually contrasting stories. The first was headlined “Govt hits back at Americans”; and the second and third were acerbically critical of what the first was pretending to do, with reference to its author’s contribution of the preceding week. The subject or actor in the news item turned out to be not the government, or the prime minister as head of government, but his personal adviser Dr Fako Likoti, pretending to defend Lesotho’s sovereignty against a perceived assault by the US, and especially its resident ambassador Matthew Harrington. Dr Likoti makes no bones of the fact that he is not conveying the message of his boss, but is acting on his own behalf. He even quotes the prime minister’s past appreciation of the US-Lesotho diplomatic relations, which he claims is changing, and says he agrees with him; then goes on a personal expedition to pillory the Americans on his own private account.

There is no single voice of “government” throughout the full-page “reportage”, but that of Dr Likoti himself alone, who is not a member of the executive or its bureaucracy, i.e the cabinet of ministers or the principal secretaries (PSs), etc.  Not to mention that it would still be remiss of a PS to do as Dr Likoti did, beyond being messenger of his masters in publication of their well-chosen words. Even in Sesotho culture, a child might not be allowed to abuse adults in the name of relaying its parents’ message; and we repeat Dr Likoti is not even such a child to such parents that are the government of Lesotho.

Despite media’s role as educator, by its headline this newspaper told its readership that Dr Likoti was government. Yet the paper was simultaneously publishing a commentary article (Cutting Edge, “Likoti’s insults demean PM’s Office”) which explained why it was not the space of the PM’s adviser to enter the sphere of sparring with activists, politicians and statesmen, and other opinion leaders – as this was the call of the ruling politicians who were their peers or had to account to them. But Dr Likoti doesn’t account to anybody, and nobody asks of him any explanation of the course of public affairs; his noises are just a pastime in self-tickling. In short, like the private garment that is the underwear, which one cannot walk in on the high street, such is the posting of Dr Likoti that he cannot be seen in competitive, partisan debates with anyone.

In the same issue (“Is It a Government of National Unity?”) a person signing off as Motlatsi Thabane wrote in with disappointment at the phenomenon of some inexperienced persons, with knowledge of apparently little merit, who were overly anxious to display themselves as knowledgeable to their principals by projecting respectable individuals including retired public officers as ignorant and telling them to shut up when they intervened in public affairs and pointed out how they should be properly conducted. He said it was “dangerous overzealousness to suggest that people who are wise enough to know when to retire, should keep quiet or be gagged”. Thabane rounded up by saying the very fact that such a suggestion could be printed was evidence of necessity for such seasoned, non-partisan intervention of even retired public servants. I couldn’t agree more. Thabane was opining on the same subject of the Cutting Edge intervention to “redirect” Dr Likoti. Thabane though didn’t mention the interlocutors. In his anti-American expedition of last week, Dr Likoti was back at his most beloved game with even greater verve, to the peril of us all whose flag and name he had wrapped around his knightly figure.

We don’t want to fall into a temptation of believing that, the same way that the prime minister broke ranks with his party leadership in pursuit of a project of self-aggrandizement using extra-party activists, he has also broken ranks with his government to lunge at “the Americans” as a personal crusade using the extra-state agency of Dr Likoti. If the party couldn’t rein him in at that level, we as a nation must stop him in his tracks at this level and say, “Not in our name!” Incidentally, such activists repeatedly said on radio and in the press that they were the “owners” of the government. Could Dr Likoti be an owner of the government, too?

In international diplomacy, which Dr Likoti pretends to teach Ambassador Harrington, the countries’ contact points are their foreign ministers, who in turn are the bosses of the ambassadors through the chief accounting officers of the ministry, in our case the PS Foreign Affairs. It is the minister who summons the resident ambassador if relations turn sour between the countries, and it is that ministry who relays the concerns of the national government, which are not the preserve of the prime minister in cases like ours. In that regard, the receiving or host country reserves the right to ask the sending country to temporarily withdraw its ambassador; or if friction arises out of his conduct, to declare him as undesirable person (persona non grata) and ask for his permanent recall without having to explain itself. So that, even if Dr Likoti were PS Cabinet, he would still be wrong to be sparring with “the Americans” since this is the turf of Foreign Affairs in international relations.

This age-old tradition notwithstanding, Dr Likoti has arrogated to himself to maliciously announce an impending recall of Ambassador Harrington in the media, which he puts down to the recent US presidential polls. Despite earlier refutation of this prophecy by the US embassy here, Dr Likoti is hell-bent on flaunting it as the source of Mr Harrington’s “mischievous”, supposed spoiling of Washington-Maseru relations, as sour grapes. What does Mr Harrington like so much about being in Maseru, Dr Likoti?

True to his affection for fabrication, Dr Likoti charges that in the era of the global village, the world works through regional organizations like Southern African Development Community (SADC), but Ambassador Harington operates against the current of SADC on Lesotho affairs. He said Lesotho was on the right track with its multi-pronged reforms whereas Mr Harrington wants more!

No, please! The US suspended its assessment of Lesotho for reselection in respect of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) late last year pending the release of the Phumaphi report; whereas Washington already had its own indicators to which Maseru had acceded, and which it had passed before to qualify in the first rounds of these compacts. These included accountability, human rights and the rule of law. When the Phumaphi process revealed startling evidence of glaring regression in these areas, and recommended specific remedial measures like suspension, investigation, and prosecution of soldiers including the commander who was also recommended for dismissal, SADC adopted the report as its property and final position and voice on these matters on Lesotho. Thenceforth the US took the Phumaphi report as its own roadmap in relation to Lesotho in these areas, which were by no means novel. Thenceforth, whereas it has always diplomatically expressed appreciation of the position and orientation of the Lesotho government including reforms roadmap and that security reform workshop of July 2016, the SADC has repeatedly insisted on implementation of all the decisions of SADC (SADC own emphasis at Special Summit on Lesotho, June 28, 2016).

Dr Likoti couldn’t wind up without peppering this ugly affair with a spice of his own truths not known to anyone else. He contends that the mutiny detainees remain in custody by order of the High Court and not directive of the executive, and the US should respect the Lesotho courts, after, all the courts said the men had a case to answer. This is false. First, when the prime minister undertook to the SADC Summit 2015 that his government would follow any roadmap produced by the Commission, he was aware that it might be at variance with the courts. Second, the courts mostly didn’t want to test the veracity of military claims, e.g. that the commander and his cohorts couldn’t comprehend the court’s orders to release the detainees, despite their exertions in the courts and the Commission. Third, due to this last point, when the Court of Appeal refused to release the men it merely said their accusers claimed they had a case to answer; nor could it test that as it was not the place to do so, the case wasn’t about that.

Notwithstanding these “other” known truths, Dr Likoti can still afford to puff authoritatively that: “I am always challenged by this (US) support (for SADC)”, and a few lines later, “These contradictions are of great concern to me”. This has a weight of a world superpower president weighing the options of war or sanctions on a smaller rogue state.

But who is this Dr Likoti? Is he the owner of the government now? In his more stately, less personal, slant he posits: “President Khama as chairperson of SADC, said if we are comfortable with Lt-Gen. Kamoli it is up to us to keep him” (my emphasis). But Dr Likoti cannot be “we” and “us” in state affairs, because he has absolutely no standing in there, unless it has been “given” to him by his boss! This, he says, was because SADC couldn’t see how the Commission arrived at advising for Lt-Gen. Kamoli’s expulsion. To justify this, he posits that the dismissal recommendation is the only section where Lt-Gen Kamoli features, besides Section 115 where he is mentioned first as restorer of order, and second as enforcer of “Operation Pitika” where the report falsely says opposition politicians or members were rolled on the ground in a curfew. This is false. Before naming him for dismissal and advising action on soldiers as described earlier (page 60, para. “b” of report), the report actually names Lt-Gen. Kamoli as among those against whom police warrants were issued for high treason arising from the events of August 30, 2014 and ignored or defied by the LDF  (page 59, para. “q” of report).

Dr Likoti presumes upon his deliberate distortion of reality to froth at “the Americans” for their cautioning against enactment of the universal amnesty bill apparently meant to absolve Lt-Gen Kamoli and Co. in the name of pardoning their victims recommended for release since accusations or charges against them were baseless or doubtful. He says Washington should allow the bill to run its course in parliament and not pre-empt it; yet it was to the executive which coined this “obstructive” bill, as the US’s  development/diplomatic partner, that Washington was speaking; and not to some adviser of a member of that executive, whatever his status on the executive. The cloak of state should be worn only by those draped with it by popular elections, and not anyone else, however proximal s/he is to them, at the expense of the state. In South Korea, a president is falling as a result of that mantle she was draped with being seen as donned by some pretender close to her – the possible fate of our government or at least its fortunes and those of the country, with Dr Likoti being such a pretender. Only Hlaudi Motsoeneng and President Jacob Zuma in our neighbouring republic get away with such.

Postscript: I have since read a Sunday Express of 18/12/2016 piece where Dr Likoti generally repeats these points, except for saying he was writing personally, privately and not as a “government official”! He should know that he is not a government official, he was last such when he was a police officer, but for now he is the PM’s adviser, more like a personal aide; which does not render him part of the government bureaucracy although he is paid from public purse like a house cook and gardener of the PM. But Dr Likoti is also opportunistic, hypocritical, and dishonest. When you write to another country that “We are not about to be tempted to change that well-established form of communication…” (i.e typed letters as opposed to social media, between embassies), you are speaking as government, or on behalf thereof; so that even if Likoti didn’t obtain sanction to that end, he made that pretension, which is why we are so hurt, angry, and embarrassed because he did that in our name, when he naturally doesn’t deserve to wear that mantle.

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