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Is ‘coup’ a squabble among elites or social instability?

WHEN the Arab spring erupted in North Africa, there was much speculation about the revolution spreading south of the Sahara.
Would the impoverished masses revolt against autocratic regimes in Angola, Sudan or Zimbabwe?
Maybe even an uprising in South Africa with all its jarring inequality?

No one predicted unrest in Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom of two million people officially twinned with Wales and similar in size.
Yet last Saturday, the prime minister, Thomas Thabane, who had flirted with authoritarianism by suspending parliament, was forced to flee as the army surrounded his home and raided police stations and barracks.
He returned home on Wednesday under protection from South African police.

There are plenty of reasons for unrest in Lesotho, ranked 158th out of 187 on the UN’s human development index.
More than half the population lives below the poverty line and over a quarter are unemployed.

Britain’s Prince Harry has visited several times and set up a charity to help children orphaned by the third-highest HIV and Aids prevalence rate on the planet (23 percent).
Average life expectancy stands at 48.7 years. This picture stands in brutal contrast to South Africa, the country that completely surrounds it, which has Africa’s most advanced economy.
However, the UN praises Lesotho for progress towards gender equality.

Literacy rates are high at 80.9 percent for men and 96.9 percent for women in the 15-49 age group.
There is a higher rate of female attendance than male at secondary and tertiary school.
Lesotho is ranked first in Africa and 16th in the world on bridging the gap between the sexes, the UN says, and has adopted several gender-sensitive laws.
Could the breakdown of traditional gender roles also be a source of social instability?

Historically, many Basotho men migrated to work in South Africa’s mines, earning enough to come back and set up a homestead — but changes across the border have curtailed this.
Today, many men are unemployed and at a loose end while it is women who bring in the money, particularly from work at Taiwanese-owned textile factories.
Lesotho is the biggest sub-Saharan African exporter of garments to the US; one of its textile plants supplies jeans for Levi Strauss and Gap.
All of this is important context, and a threat to long-term development.

But whether any of it adds up to more than mood music for the current “coup” — a term disputed by the army — is highly debatable.
There is little sign of a popular uprising on the streets or online. Indeed, analysts are more inclined to regard it as a squabble among elites.

John Aerni-Flessner, an assistant professor of African history at Michigan State University, and a specialist on Lesotho, said on Wednesday: “I think it is mostly about political manoeuvring.
If it were about those (poverty, corruption, governance), more people would be involved, but this is only politicians and also the political positioning of the security forces.”
Aerni-Flessner also described the Basotho as “pretty disillusioned” by politics and regarding it as something unlikely to help their daily lives.
The “kingdom in the sky” has endured several coups in the past but was being hailed two years ago for achieving the region’s first peaceful handover of power.
A coalition government was formed between three parties, only to now spectacularly unravel.

Dr Thabane apparently has the support of the police while his deputy, Mothetjoa Metsing, commands the loyalty of the army.
King Letsie III is head of state, but a largely ceremonial figure.

Simon Allison of the South African-based Daily Maverick wrote: “Lesotho is still left in a seemingly intractable political crisis, with no easy way out.
“Someone is going to have to compromise. Compromise, however, is an unfamiliar concept to the key powerbrokers in Lesotho’s fractured polity.
“Instead, they’re all looking to save their own skins, regardless of the consequences for the country they profess to love.”
The key players have held talks with SADC and pinned their hopes on it to intervene and sort the mess out.
The current chairman of SADC is the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.
— Guardian.

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