By Sofonea Shale
The conclusion of the 34th Ordinary Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit to defer Lesotho’s attainment of the much anticipated leadership of the Organ on Defence, Politics and Security Cooperation has been received with diverse views many of which have very little, if any value, in helping the country to reclaim its political normalcy.
In light of a plethora of polarised ideas canvassed within the narrow base of partisan strands, a logical question is asked: will Lesotho, after the SADC Summit, put its house in order or should the coalition government call it a day?
These questions are important because contestations in the current political divide send a message that Lesotho is on the path of a failed state. Opponents of the coalition government celebrate this SADC position and use it to advance their cause that the coalition leadership is inept and argue that the SADC decision has not only exonerated them from malice but confirmed their claim. On the other end of the pole, proponents of the coalition government define this SADC decision as not being a credible communication to the Kingdom that something has to be sorted out but a brutality on its sovereignty, hence the canvassing of the position that this regional body be ridiculed. In this dichotomy on the national political debate, the minority voices are struggling for space to breathe sense, honesty and vigilance as the media has not only been overwhelmed but also allowed itself to be a platform for and a conveyor of the destructive politicking. The question whether Lesotho will be better after the SADC Summit or worse therefore becomes even more glaring.
While many actors may find these questions asked by the ordinary citizens and voters hard to respond to fairly, honestly and convincingly, this column maintains its pre-SADC Summit position that governance hurdles can be effectively dealt with by a combination of internal and external mediation processes. The civil society vigilance and its proposed engagement beyond Victoria Falls is a splendid plan that has the potential of guiding the country in a direction that when SADC next meets on Lesotho after three months, the situation would be different. However, given the misrepresentation that the Press Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office made about Lesotho civil society’s role at the SADC Summit, it may be necessary to put things into perspective before unveiling the sector’s vision of Lesotho beyond the SADC Summit. The Press Secretary announced from Victoria Falls that three civil society officials, (myself) Sofonea Shale, Seabata Motsamai and one unknown who arrived unannounced at the SADC Summit carrying the message that Lesotho should not be awarded the chairmanship of Troika, were arrested, kept in custody overnight and later deported. The NGOs made it public that it sent five seasoned activists to Zimbabwe to do the lobbying and that these reports are not true. In case of doubt, the Victoria Falls police and immigration who keep records can attest that there was no arrest and deportation of the activists, and even the travel agent can confirm stability in the itineraries. The true copy of the NGOs’ letter to SADC will show that no mention of Lesotho chairing the Organ or otherwise, was ever made.
The message was that in case SADC decides to have a mediator in Lesotho, let that mediation recognise local processes and ensure that the SADC process accommodates other processes such as the Commonwealth, in which Basotho should be able to make a contribution. In fact, for those who may not know, the arrest for human rights defenders and democracy activists is not unexpected because at times they stand up to dictators and challenge leaders’ bad decisions, something which never happened this time. Careful that the Press Secretary is not necessarily a premier’s spokesperson, NGOs expressed expectation that in line with Section 14(4) of the constitution, due correction would be made.
First and foremost in their future engagement, civil society organisations seek to get a comprehensive understanding of the SADC decision on Lesotho. What are the expectations and how does SADC intend to roll-out its work and also test its view on the establishment of the external-internal mediation architecture? This will ensure that the challenges of handling intra and inter conflict of coalition parties, as well as operationalisation of the Coalition Government itself, all of which are a result of constitutional and institutional arrangements which have not yet matured to levels required by the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system and currently emerging political attitudes are robustly tackled yet meticulously handled.
The next important component of the process is to understand the appreciation of the Lesotho government of this SADC decision and how it intends to move forward. It is the intention of the civil society to advocate for the merging of SADC and Commonwealth (New Zealand) processes so that avenues for public participation in the resolution of both the short and long term political issues become Basotho-driven.
It would however, not be easy for the coalition leaders to lead the country to the next level unless their parties support them. The inflammatory, divisive and politically misleading utterances by political party eloquent activists should be stopped. The media remains a nation’s confidant to ensure that when SADC next meets on Lesotho, the Kingdom is found miles ahead of where things were found to be at Victoria Falls.