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Coalition meets on protest


’Marafaele Mohloboli 

Members of the ‘Alliance of Non-State Actors’ meet in Maseru tomorrow to review the stay-away and demo they organized on Thursday to express their displeasure with government over a number of issues.

The demonstration ended with organisers handing over a list of their grievances to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Kimetso Mathaba, Police Minister Monyane Moleleki and Trade Minister Joshua Setipa.

The organisers had hoped to petition Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili but met with the three ministers instead, who promised to deliver the list to the premier.

The ‘Alliance’ comprised taxi operators, trade unions, the business community and ordinary Basotho, and gave Dr Mosisili 14 days to respond to their grievances.

The spokesperson of the Alliance, Makama Monese, told the Sunday Express tomorrow’s meeting seeks to review Thursday’s events and chart the way the forward.

“Members of the Alliance are meeting on Monday to review what happened on Thursday and also chart the way forward,” Mr Monese said yesterday.

“We will be expecting our response from the prime minister by 25 May as we will also be counting weekends and holidays if there are any during that time.

“It is premature to say what action we are going to take should our grievances not be dealt with. But one thing for sure is we have another ace up our sleeve. We are not going to stop until we are heard and get what we want.”

The Alliance also expressed gratitude to the estimated 4000 people who attended the protest march.

“We are proud to say we succeeded in getting the attention we needed from the country’s development partners and the rest of the world. The attendance was good and sent a message that people are not happy with the government’s way of handling issues of public interest,” Mr Monese said.

Mr Monese also said the deployment of the army on the streets of Maseru on the eve and day of the march “tells a story on its own of how oppressed and intimidated Basotho are”.

He continued: “That’s intimidation at its worst for a democratic state like ours, but we shall fight on because the struggle continues.”

Among the Alliance’s concerns are government’s “reluctance” to implement recommendations made by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Commission of Inquiry into Lesotho’s instability. The recommendations were the result of an investigation led by Justice Mpaphi Phumaphi of Botswana after the fatal shooting of former Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Maaparankoe Mahao on 25 June 2015.

Lt-Gen Mahao was gunned down by his military colleagues allegedly while resisting arrest for suspected mutiny.

The Alliance fears “delays” in implementing the recommendations could result in Lesotho losing key development aid which comes with certain conditions, among them respect for the rule of law.

The American government has since expressed concern over the issue, and there are genuine fears that Lesotho could be removed from the list of countries which benefit from the  African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

The legislation assists sub-Saharan economies and improves economic relations between the United States and the region. Lesotho’s textile industry is a major beneficiary of AGOA and losing it would spell doom to the country’s economy as the sector employs an estimated 40 000 people.

“If we lose AGOA, 40 000 workers in the textile industry will lose their jobs. And this is the second-largest employer in the country after the government. This country already has a high unemployment rate and can’t afford to lose these jobs. Lesotho has been affected by drought and the people are desperate because food prices have gone up as a result so we want to keep our people in employment,” Mr Monese said.

The Alliance now wants the government to “fully account to the nation” what “concrete progress” it had so far achieved in implementing the SADC recommendations. Among the recommendations is that government should ensure criminal investigations into the death of Lt-Gen Mahao are pursued “vigorously” and lead to a “transparent course of justice”. The Commission also recommended that army commander Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli should be dismissed “in the interest of restoring trust and acceptance of the LDF to the Basotho nation”, and all LDF officers implicated in murder, attempted murder and treason should be suspended while investigations into their cases proceed “in line with international best practice”.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Communications, Science and Technology Minister Khotso Letsatsi said: “The letter is yet to be looked into and only then shall it be responded to accordingly.”

Abridged version of the Alliance’s petition

‘We, collective formation of academia, business, civil society organisations, labour, students and transport under the Alliance of Non-State-Actors, are concerned that Lesotho is back on the SADC agenda and that government efforts to normalise the situation are not communicated to the people thus making it difficult to hold it accountable on delivery.

We are further concerned that government does not value genuine and inclusive dialogue which is a better way of delivering Lesotho out of the current situation.

We note with concern possible implications of a letter written to the Minister of Trade and Industry by Mr Michael Freeman, Executive President in the Office of the United States of America Trade Representative, which raises the following points among others:

‘That during the [AGOA] eligibility review … the United States Government identified serious concerns about the Government of Lesotho’s adherence to certain AGOA criteria…’

We are specifically concerned that “…the United States review committee noted that there have been a number of cases of extrajudicial killings and violence reportedly linked to Lesotho’s military forces for which there have been no apparent prosecutions, raising questions about Lesotho’s adherence to AGOA criteria relating to respect for human rights and the rule of law. There also appears to be credible reports of torture by Lesotho’s military forces for which no one has apparently been held accountable, raising further such questions”;

…in recent months, Lesotho has lost (or has been warned of the possibility of losing) the support of some of our most important partners (e.g. EU budget support) because of government’s failure to meet agreed obligations relating to among others good governance;

…His Majesty’s Government’s failure to respond adequately and convincingly to the concerns noted and quoted above and move in the positive direction, as expected by her partners who are looking with keen interest, may prove detrimental to the country’s continued participation in AGOA;

…the sluggish development of a broad-based roadmap for the implementation of SADC decisions as per the SADC Double TROIKA request may on the one hand exacerbate the situation defined above as Lesotho partners’ judgement on the commitment of government to correct things is based on its delivery on these decisions;

…if the government does not act with resolve to put things right and consequently in the worst case scenario Lesotho is disqualified from access to AGOA and suspended from SADC, below are possible consequences: at least 40,000 jobs in the textile industry will be lost directly;  political significance in the regional and global political economy accruing from community of states in the form of SADC would be lost;

…losing AGOA will have immediate negative consequences for the workers employed by AGOA and EU dependent factories, families and dependents of these workers (an estimated additional 120, 000 people), SMME operators who depend on them for custom on a regular basis (Baitšukuli), landlords from whom many of these worker rent accommodation, transport operators who ferry these workers on a daily basis, the national purse, which collects taxes from various transactions of these workers, and the country’s stability, as levels of unemployment burgeon and crime increases due to massive job losses;

…in the unfortunate yet likely scenario that Lesotho loses AGOA and isolated from the regional organisation, other development partners who are equally worried and concerned by the similar situation would have no reason to be stuck with us.

To avert this situation as representatives of various sectors of the public, with both the mandate and obligation to participate in, facilitate and support efforts to build a stable, secure and prosperous Lesotho, we therefore demand that government:

* Transparently and fully accounts to the nation what concrete progress has been achieved on the implementation of each of the recommendations found in the “SADC Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao” report (SADC Report);

* Expedite implementation and devise clear and decent public communication strategy to periodically brief and update the nation on the progress. This shall be a total departure from the current situation where reckless statements are consistently made and claimed to be a reflection of government by people who have no right whatsoever to speak on behalf of government and they are never stopped. This does not only deny Basotho their right to credible information from government but also antagonises other sectors of society under the false pretence;

*True security sector reform that seeks to transform the Lesotho Defence Force into a professional and cohesive institution that is fully subject to civilian control, respects the rule of law, and enjoys the confidence of all Basotho.

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